Monday, June 05, 2006

No surprises

Via Tim Blair, the unshocking news that the Northeast has, on balance, the stupidest drivers. New Jersey ranked in a tie, fourth from the bottom, which is why I had to give up cursing at other drivers this past Lent.

Note that they can only rank based on how many questions one can correctly answer on a sample test - not how many people routinely cut off, speed, fail to signal, or other regular horrors of the roads. In other words, the skill of the dummies at the wheel are not measured.

You can try it yourself to see how you do. In the meantime, I shall give a little advice to those who so badly need it:

DON'T tailgate. Seriously. You don't need to see the contents of my trunk. And contrary to popular belief, being flashed from behind is not rude; it's the universal signal for "Excuse me, I wish to go faster than you are but I don't want to barrel around you on the right." If you give me a little blink, I'll slide over if I haven't done so already - but that's hard to do if you're too close for me to see your headlights.

DON'T ride the left lane. You don't belong there unless you can't get over or are already passing. This is harder in Jersey, since some highways give us the notorious left-hand exit, which means a steady supply of pokey drivers in the passing lane, galumphing toward the early bird at Denny's. Brilliant. (I think New Jersey exlusively hires traffic engineers who flunked out of programs for better jobs and resent it.)

DON'T slalom. You have wheels, not skis. It's tempting to slip into that little hole when you're stalled out in your current lane, but it's dangerous and frustrating to the people who are finally beginning to move a little bit to have to stop suddenly for your convenience. We're all trying to get somewhere. It's even worse at highway speeds: at least in stop-and-go it's not likely to get anyone killed.

DON'T block the intersection. I was following someone to the tournament on Saturday, and we got stuck at a green light, because some of the fair citizens of Lancaster PA had filled the intersection and gotten stuck. This led to a long line of us edging forward, hoping to wiggle through before the cross traffic had right of way.

DON'T be a jerk. We would have gotten past as soon as the traffic edged ahead enough to grant a single lane through. What we didn't bargain for was the three separate drivers (one of them at the wheel of an 18-foot rental box truck) who bolted into the intersection even though they were stopped at the light. Finally we just pulled the Jersey Power Move and ran our light once it changed.

DON'T gawk. Situation: about a month ago I was stopped on a two lane road in Dunellen, near route 28. Someone was trying to make a left through our stopped lane of traffic and into a side street, but this list hadn't been written yet and he was forced to give up. He bolted forward and sideswiped another driver that had tried to pass him on the shoulder. Together they slid to a stop in the gap of the side street opposite, sharing polite admonitions through the open window. Well, them's the breaks.

Result: a line of cars rolling past, curious but respectful - until the gap. Soon the culprit came into view. This fellow was so engrossed in the proceedings, and so openly staring, that after he passed the accident he adjusted his rearview mirror to keep things in view for another couple hundred yards.

Theory: if you're obviously that much of a jerk, why not just pull over? Can you possibly look any stupider? Hell, shoot the works! Get out and walk up to the crash! Ignore the drivers and bend down for a better look at the damage. Take a picture on your cell phone - you know, the one you were talking on five minutes ago - then call back and start discussing the details in front of them.

And finally, something so egregious that it boggles the mind, and yet I see it happen at least once a month: DON'T back up on the highway. Really. There are other exits, and most of them offer the miraculous option of going back in the other direction to the exit you wanted. If you're really that worried about getting the right street you might as well pull over for a minute and study a map or call somebody. Something - anything - but don't throw it into reverse when everyone else is heading toward your location at 70 mph.

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