Thursday, September 27, 2007

HTT, traffic blows! How can I cope?

Dear HTT,

I'm writing to see if you can send an APB to all of my fellow Triangle residents. Please let them know that when you see an upside down yellow triangle with the words YIELD on it, it does not mean that you must stop. If it was a red octagon, then yes, stopping would be appropriate.

I'm simply fed up with trying to get on the Durham freeway or 40 and having some schmuck- because they ran out of pavement- stop on the freakin on ramp! People, either you slow down or speed up, please don't stop on the on ramp- its dangerous! And if you’re on the lane that the person needs to merge on- slow down, speed up or change lanes- let them in people! For the love of all that is Holy!!!

But my real beef is with a specific Triangle traveler today. I was trying to get off 540 onto 40 this afternoon and I'm one lane away from the exit lane when my fellow traveler, ahead of me, slams on her brakes. I suspect she did this because she couldn't find a way to get onto the off ramp- so she slammed on her brakes to see if she could get on. Not only is this dangerous, it’s extremely non-conforming to the rules of the road. In this situation, one puts one’s signal on (showing intent) then merges into the lane- okay? - one does not slam on the brakes or stop to smell roses. Because if you did that, you would have a wave of rush hour traffic bearing down upon you at 70 plus miles an hour!

So then, (hopefully I'm not boring you), I'm finally merging onto 40 and I look in the mirror to see if I can merge when lo and behold someone behind me is merging into traffic from 540 way before the dotted lines appear…i.e., cutting right into high-speed travelers. I mean I saw cars swerving to get out of the way to stop an accident from happening. I shook my head and looked in rear view again. Who could it be except the same rider who gave me trouble on 540 previously.

Sorry to rant and not ask for advice- but if I may be so bold and venture my own advice- get off the damn cell phone, watch where you’re going, and please, please don't stop on the on ramp when you’re getting on the freeway.


Dear Zorro,

You’re lucky to be alive!

Yes, I think we can all agree that many people on the road simply don’t know how to drive. Oh, sure, they can operate a car, but should they? I myself had two near misses on a recent drive to Atlanta (to see Crowded House, who were fantastic by the way). Both times, people attempted to move into my lane without even looking. I had to swerve to avoid them and was lucky not to hit the median or another driver.

And let me tell you: the horn on a Suzuki Reno does not inspire fear or awe in other drivers. It’s got this tinny “meep meep” like the Roadrunner, which is sort of cute if you’re tooting your horn outside a friend’s house, but straight-up embarrassing if you’re trying to go Medusa on some jerk talking on his cell phone in the Escalade that almost ran you over. Even my road trip companion burst out laughing the first time she heard me beep. “Whoa, watch out,” she said, ostensibly to the other drivers but really mocking me. “She’s really mad now. If you know what's good for you, you won't get in HER way.”

But I digress. See how traffic makes us hot under the collar? Even just in the retelling two weeks later? You offer some excellent advice, although I think you’re giving me too much credit if you think that publishing it here is going to reach a wide spectrum of the Triangle! And although you didn’t technically ask for advice, I have some. Are you shocked?

So how do you deal with bad drivers and horrible traffic? Obviously, you can’t just stay off the roads, at least not in these parts where public transportation options are so limited. It sounds like you already employ excellent defensive driving skills. So, you might try one of the following:

  • Deep breathing: Sounds corny, but it really works for me, unless I’m PMS-ing, in which case, Katy bar the door. Then, in the throes of moodiness, migraines, and cramps, my NJ roots begin to show, and certain fingers get waved and curses uttered. I’m not proud of it. Just being honest.
  • Good music: If I’m singing along to a great song, I’m far less likely to be bothered by idiot drivers, at least in situations where my life isn’t endangered.
  • Smugness: When someone zooms past me at 90 mph, I just gloat about how much more they must spend on gas. And about how I am in no hurry to get to work, so clearly I have my life priorities in order while they clearly don’t.
  • Calling 911 or *HP: Oh, I’m like Gomer Pile doing a citizen’s arrest! I’ll call the police at the drop of a hat and rat out someone driving erratically (aka, possibly drunk). Granted, this doesn’t work for your typical one-off stupid move, but it makes me feel better. And isn’t that what we’re talking about here? Not losing your mind (or life) on the highway.
  • Refraining from tailgating: The surest way to remain in a Buddha-like state of calm is to try to keep as much distance as possible between you and everyone else. I know, sometimes easier said than done, but try it when you can.
Let’s all be careful out there!



Anonymous said...

HTT... you forgot this one:

When a really hostile and aggressive driver zooms up behind me and either rides my bumper or flashes headlights, I:
1) slow down a bit so I turn on my turn indicator and carefully check to make sure that I can move into the next lane,
2) when I can do it safely, I get out of his (and it's usually a him, though not always) way,
3) reflect on how glad I am that I'm not a stupid, hostile, aggressive idiot like he (or she)is, and (most importantly)
4) smile when we both stop at the next traffic light, because he or she hasn't gotten any further than I have.

This works for me because I commute along a highway that has lots of traffic lights, so there's really no point in riding anyone's bumper or flashing headlights to get them to move out of the way.

Of course, it's even more fun if traffic is speeding and I can let the aggressive driver speed past me just as we reach one of the known speed traps on my normal route...

Tom said...


Having driven all over the Eastern U.S. and a fair bit in Western Europe, I consider myself an experienced (if not good) driver. I'm still alive after some exciting times in Boston, NYC rush hour, and the Champs-Elysees going around the Arc de Triomphe -- you know, where they put a tunnel under the road to try to reduce pedestrian fatalities!

I used to get frustrated with bad drivers, and I admit that I still do to some extent, but one day on an interstate in Indiana I had an experience that changed my perspective. I was in the left lane in one of those long lines of cars moving 0.1 mph faster than the cars in the right lane. I don't like that situation because most people are probably actually trying to pass, but some idiot in the front has his cruise control set and would rather not disturb its authority to choose a speed that is not equal to the cars in the right lane. Anyway, as often happens, someone in the back of the line starts "pushing". That's the twisted logic that causes the 46-car piles ups: if I tailgate the guy ahead of me, he'll get frustrated and tail gait the next guy and so on until the one in the front gets the message and gets out of the way, and then we can all go. Or not! So, my luck was that it was the guy behind me who decided to "push". I didn't want to play, so I maintained distance in front of me. The more he pushed the more I kept a normal distance (I didn't break, mind you). I was frustrated with him (it was a guy), and I figured that he probably could not see my expression in my rear view mirror, so I glared at him for the next 5 or 10 minutes while the cars ahead slowly got passed the line of trucks (or whatever) in the right lane. When the last car ahead of me had either gotten in the right lane or disappeared into the distance, I decided NOT to go to any great lengths to get out of this guy's way. He could just wait until I moved forward and got in the right lane. It only took another 30 seconds, then I got over. As he was passing me, he showed me his gun. Fortunately, I didn't get to see down the barrel, but he waived it to me as if he were calling me over to talk to him. That was when I surrendered. I didn't have a white sheet, but I showed him both empty palms (knees driving for a moment) and took a "you win" stance. He sped up and I didn't see him again. After a few minutes of adrenaline, I got annoyed that I didn't get his license plate number, report him to the State Troupers, and get to stop and laugh at him while they hand-cuffed him, etc.

I learned something that day. There are lots of bad drivers. There are dangerous drivers, aggressive drivers, clueless drivers, drunk drivers, drivers who are used to rules from other countries (and I've been one), and of course drivers who are eating, talking, applying make-up, or reading. Even if driving rules and punishments change, some of these will still be on the roads all the time. The key to longevity, I've decided, is to spot them, and to direct your car somewhere where they are unlikely to cause an accident that involves you. Usually, this is just a matter of getting a few cars or more ahead of them, or 1/2 mile behind them. Calling the police might be appropriate in some situations, but looking out for #1 is the quickest, easiest, and safest thing to do. I also like the advice that suggest taking the moral high-ground and recognizing you'll probably live longer and happier than the bad driver.