I recently calculated that, in a typical week, I spend between five and six hours driving my car. That’s right: about 3.25 percent of my life is spent strapped in a metal box, powered by highly explosive fuel, moving at varying speeds down a strip of artificial rock surrounded by similar metal boxes. I admit, I am bitter about that discovery. (Are you listening, Bitter Ben?) Until we find a better way to travel—until Star Trek transporters become everyday devices—I can either drop out of life and join a rural commune, or I must continue my bitter driving.
Part of my bitterness about driving comes from the fact that these explosive metal boxes do not all travel in the same way. Some move faster and some move slower. George Carlin had a very funny routine about that fact, one in which he had vulgar insults for those who drove faster than he did and more vulgar insults for those who drove slower than he did. We all know that the highways would be safer if we all drove the same way. Various levels of government have made laws and posted signs about the speeds we should drive on different roads. Some drivers see those signs as mere suggestions, and they work hard to drive much faster, weaving in and out of lanes, dodging metal boxes with explosive fuel. Other drivers—for lack of confidence, or distracted by phone conversations and texts—drive slower than the limit, clogging our cities’ arteries like blobs of cholesterol.
One of the rules which many drivers take only as a friendly suggestion is Slower Traffic Stay Right. This rule has the corollary, always pass on the left. If there is only one lane of traffic, of course, this rule is hard to break. Where two lanes of traffic are traveling the same direction, slower traffic really should stay to the right and people who want to pass should be able to use the passing lane. Only one on road to I generally break this rule. Between work and home there is a four-lane road (two lanes each direction) with a lot of stores and parking lots, with traffic leaving and entering the highway. Here I stay in the left-hand lane for more than a mile, particularly since I will be turning left of this highway when I am nearly home. Of course if conditions allow, I am driving at the speed limit on this highway. I am bitter about those drivers who want to exceed the speed limit, who drive right behind me until I feel that I must be towing their vehicle, or who blast into the right-hand lane to zip beyond me. My bitterness is slightly relieved when I reencounter them at the next traffic light. I’m tempted to open the window and ask them if they enjoyed getting to the red light before I got there.
When three lanes are going the same direction, slower traffic should still stay right and faster drivers should still pass on the left. Depending upon traffic conditions, I usually follow this rule, but sometimes I will drive at the speed limit in the center lane, particularly in an area where a lot of cars are entering and leaving the highway on various ramps. I am bitter about those drivers who could pass me on the left but instead choose to pass me on the right. If they want to drive faster than the speed limit, can’t they at least do so in the fast lane? And why do those drivers who weave around the law-abiding vehicles think that they never have to single a lane change? If they are going to drive at unsafe speeds, can’t they at least let the rest of us have a clue as to where they are going next?
I am bitter about drivers who think that rules are for other people but not for them. I am bitter about drivers whose first priority is to reach their destination as quickly as possible, while safety is far down the list of their interests. I am bitter about roads that merge lanes due to construction or just to traffic design. I would prefer the zipper merge, in which each vehicle remained in its lane until the merge, at which point vehicles then would take turns—one from the left and the next from the right, and so on. Of course I’m not one of those drivers who follows the zipper merge. If a sign tells me that my lane ends in a mile, I get out of that lane as soon as possible. Then I am bitter about the drivers who go full speed down the disappearing lane to pass as many cars as possible. I am tempted to try to prevent those drivers from merging in front of me when their lane ends. Especially when another driver tries to continue to pass more cars after the lane has ended and turned into a shoulder, I want to strand them at the side of the road. In the interests of safety, I resist that temptation.
Driving makes me bitter. Having to drive from place to place can ruin an otherwise nice day. When, oh when, will technology get rid of these explosive metal boxes and offer us a better way to get from one place to another?