Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.
While I enjoy embedding a good video in a post, I will spare you any road-rage videos, although if you search YouTube on “road rage compilation,” you can view to your heart’s delight, or until your stomach turns (as mine did). However, because it captures so much of the road-rage mental state, this animated video by Your Favorite Martian is worth a view (it would get an E for explicit lyrics on iTunes, so, kids, you might not want to play it for your parents).
As I watched some of these road-rage videos, I began to wonder whether being a jerk as a driver or being a jerk as a human being is the bigger problem, and it seemed instructive that sometimes the “good driver” documenting the bad driver got so distracted that the good driver flipped off the road. One video captured an incident where two drivers had stopped their cars at an intersection and were yelling at each other until one of the drivers started walking down the road taking a poll from all the other cars being delayed, asking who was at fault—the democratic approach.
Most of us don’t need videos, because we can replay scenes from our own experience, scenes that include doing something wrong (or even right, such as going the speed limit) and being flipped off or worse, as well as scenes when someone irritated us to the point that we cursed them, gestured violently, sped around them, or stomped on the brakes.
Me? I learned my big lesson while driving a friend to Denver International Airport. Driving east on I-70, I found a red pickup truck tailgating my very small car, dangerously so. I tapped my brakes multiple times to remind him (it was a he) that we live in a universe governed by nuisances such as mass and momentum. Before I knew it, he had passed me, gotten back in my lane, and slammed on his brakes, bringing me to the brink of an accident with the thought that it probably would have been my passenger—the person least involved—who would suffer the greatest physical harm.
Since then I usually just pull off the road or move over a lane and let the jerks express themselves unhampered.
While some of us find driving a pleasure, most of us drive in a state of irritation, with occasional moments of rage. Frequent ragers don’t survive so well.
In addition to the righteously indignant, like myself, who take upon themselves the task of correcting the world, a dominant element behind all this scuffle is time. Both the bad drivers and those who are outraged at the driving (becoming bad drivers themselves) are in some kind of hurry, or are on some kind of schedule. The inconvenience of being slowed down by some another car (whether that car is slow, cutting in front, or tailgating) triggers a reaction that escalates into a full-blown challenge to one’s worth:
- “Who do they think they are?”
- “I’ll show them…”
- or the transcendental “To hell with them!”
Surely, ignorance and lack of training lie behind much bad driving. But, for example, even people who have discovered the lever that actuates their turn signals are often just a little bit too busy to touch it. In true mimetic response, the driver who is inconvenienced by the sudden merge and has to tap the breaks—the victim in this scenario—becomes fixated on the laziness and impertinence of the driver. Soon a device invented to make driving safer becomes the basis for anger and its consequences.
When I was learning to drive, we were taught to be defensive drivers who expected others to drive dangerously and to be prepared to counter their moves with self-preserving maneuvers. The problem with this approach is that it implies a necessary antagonism and encourages opposition. “Watch out for the other guy!” Put differently, it encourages engagement. We are now knee deep in military terms, so bring on the rage.
A different approach has been coined as “supportive driving.” The concept is that the driver takes the whole traffic picture into consideration and seeks to keep things flowing as well as possible. Thus, getting out of the way of a tailgater is supportive, as is laughing off—or, better, ignoring—another driver’s rudeness. Supportive driving lends itself both to self-preservation and to the preservation of the rest of the cars on the road who may otherwise become collateral damage to winning one’s war with a nitwit. Peace presides over the supportive driver.
No driver, of course, can be fully supportive when time is of the essence. Most likely the good Samaritan had a shorter to-do list than the priest who ignored the man in need. Or at least the Samaritan left for his destination a bit earlier than necessary. Delays could be expected.
The practical step, then, is to build in a little extra travel time. Figure out when you should leave, and then leave earlier. On my best days when I’m driving, my phone is out of my reach and I have a little time to kill.
This need to get somewhere as quickly as possible betrays a loss of perspective. Even a slow car is generally faster than self-propelled forms of locomotion, such as walking, running, and biking. The impatient driver has lost sight of his or her position in the world of locomotion. In the words of God (in the words of Milton), the impatient driver is an ingrate. Why not get out and walk about five miles and see how that goes for speed?
When we rush through life, it is ultimately toward our graves. Where else do we plan to end up? The corollary, of course, is that a good piece of road rage can hasten the whole affair.
At one time C.S. Lewis referred to himself as a dinosaur, and I don’t think he ever learned to drive, so it’s not surprising that he looked askance upon speedy transportation. That position allowed him to make an observation that the rush to cover as much ground as possible shrinks our world, which is another way of saying it deprives us of life:
The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space’. It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.
 Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, 1955, HarperCollins Publishers.