2008-09-18 / Editorial

I used to like to drive

By Donna Drago

Flotsam and Jetsam Flotsam and Jetsam I don't remember when I stopped liking it, but now every time I have to get behind the wheel of my car I do it with a sense of dread.

It has nothing to do with the car. In fact, I love my Saab 9-3 wagon. It's probably the favorite of all the cars I've owned or leased over the years. The seats are comfortable and the radio comes in clear. The dog likes hanging his head out the back window. My car is not the problem.

It has nothing to do with the roads. Some are smooth and some aren't, but mostly I don't worry about the roads.

My problem with driving is other drivers.

I'd like to ask everyone who drives the following questions: Are all the signals and lights on your car in working order? If so, why don't you use them?

I'd like to ask one more question. Are you driving so close to my bumper because you're dying to meet me? And another: When you cut me off to switch lanes, are you really getting to your destination any faster than if you hadn't scared me half to death? Is where you are headed so terribly important that all common courtesy must be abandoned to get there?

I don't expect any driver who regularly disregards his fellow motorists to recognize him or herself in these rhetorical questions. People like that are generally oblivious to how they are perceived by others.

There have always been aggressive drivers. Some of them are men who believe that their manhood is threatened if they aren't the first out of the gate at the stoplight. They try to do zero to 60 mph between each set of traffic lights. They rev their engines while sitting at the light. These same folks are the ones that come up behind me on the highway— within centimeters of my bumper, flashing their lights—and then fully turn their heads to give me an evil stare as they pass me once I switch lanes and get out of their way. Sometimes they mouth nasty expressions and make hand gestures. I just feel sorry for them.

In the past several years I've noticed that more young women are becoming aggressive drivers, too. They are even more notorious because driving is always the second or even third thing that they are trying to do at the same time. Have you seen them on the roadways, nearly always talking on a cell phone, while smoking and possibly applying mascara at the same time? These activities would be hard to combine while standing on the sidewalk, but get even trickier when the mascaraapplying smoking-talking woman is also driving a car!

They don't notice stop signs. Or crosswalks.

In the summer, drivers with license plates from nearby states—especially New York and Massachusetts—have all kinds of clever tricks that locals would not have thought of themselves.

Raise your hand if you have witnessed the following stunts on Narragansett Avenue: pulling U-turns in the middle of the block. Driving past a parking spot and then backing up 50-feet, causing everyone else in the lane to back up as well. How about attempting to park a giant SUV in a space that might accommodate a Smart? This, while stopping traffi c in both directions as one person jumps out to guide the other into the space. Can I lend you a shoehorn?

What's needed here is better self-enforcement of the rules of common courtesy. The police can't ticket everyone who fails to signal a turn, or rolls through a stop sign. But passengers in the car can say to their driver, "Hey, you just missed a stop sign," or "Didn't you notice that woman with the baby trying to cross the street?"

We can also try to bone up on the actual rules of the road. Remember the drivers' manual you had to study before you got your license? All of those rules still apply.

Here are a few of them: On page 26, which covers basic safe driving rules, you'll find, "Always signal before changing lanes," and "Don't tailgate." Page 22 has a good one, "Never park within 20 feet of a crosswalk or intersection." This applies to people who park right on top of the crosswalk in front of East Ferry Deli every morning. It's not safe and it's not legal.

Page 17 includes one of my favorites, "Upon approaching an intersection at which you wish to make a left turn, you must give the proper signal in sufficient time to warn the driver of any vehicle behind you. As you gradually slow down, watch the mirror to see that the driver of the vehicle behind you has understood your signal." Very simple to do and very courteous.

Thanks to modern technology, the entire Rhode Island Driver's Manual is available as a PDF online at www/dmv.ri.gov/manuals/ driver%20manual_08.pdf. It comes in Spanish, too. The 73 pages make for interesting reading and would make a good jumping off point for family conversation at dinner time. Perhaps kids can quiz their parents on the rules, then the parents can try to stump the kids. Who knows, it might even make all of us better drivers. And, it might make me less fearful of leaving my yard.

Return to top