Warning Signs on the Open Road

Every one of us who has ventured onto the road driving or riding has encountered them. Pedestrians daily walk across roads or stand at street corners, their lives endangered by them. Police vainly attempt to stop them, but lack the requisite army of officers to even dent their presence. Courts are thick with them after they run amok on the roads. Insurance companies use them to justify ever-escalating rates.

Who are they? They are the mass of bad drivers who populate our roads and highways with increasing frequency. Not merely the sloppy, the incompetent, or the lazy drivers of daily experience, these are the truly dangerous, the real threats to life, limb and property. And they form an enormous and growing percentage of drivers on the road, encouraged into violence by mounting pressure from TV and Hollywood.

How do we prevent ourselves from becoming statistics at their hands - or rather at their vehicles? How do we avoid becoming targets of their all-too-frequent fits of road rage? How do we even recognize them, hidden craftily among the millions of otherwise normal drivers out there? To aid your survival, I have put together this guide to trends and tendencies that will help you spot - and, we hope, avoid - the really seriously stupid-yet-dangerous drivers on the road. These are the warning signs - in no special order. If you spot them, then stay well back. Change lanes. Change roads. Change countries. Pull over and wait until they are gone from sight. And pray to whatever deity moves you that there isn't another one closing from the rear.

  1. Hats.
    Hats are meant to keep the rain and sun off our heads. Wearing a hat in a car is an indicator that the driver is a few floats short of a parade. Is it raining in the car, so they need a hat to keep their heads dry? Do they need the hat to keep the sun off their heads, just in case it shines through their roof top?
    The kind of hat is another indicator: baseball caps worn backward is a significant warning: anyone not bright enough to figure out the front of a cap should not be allowed to drive a far more complicated vehicle. It is, however, a good warning to potential mates that this person is from the shallow end of the gene pool. These people are also most likely to wear hats indoors, and at the table - which, while not a danger, is an indicator that good manners are at death's door in their company. For that reason alone, they should be shunned. We must try to save the remnants of our civilization from the barbarians.

  2. Mirror and dash ornaments.
    The size of the ornament(s) dangling from the rear-view mirror is in inverse proportion to the skills of the driver. The bigger the ornament, the poorer the driving skills. Be especially aware of vehicles sporting large-size dream-catchers, saints, Chinese pagodas, CDs, miniature Taj Mahal models, fox tails, and religious statuary. Not only are they distracting and aesthetically questionable; they also reduce visibility.

  3. Turn signals.
    Easily the simplest piece of technology to use in a car, it's hard to believe that many drivers have not mastered the art of pushing down or up on the signal arm to indicate a lane change or turn. However, it appears that this mechanical marvel defeats the abilities of a large number of drivers. Beware people making lane changes or turns without signals: that driver has too few brain cells to safely operate the vehicle in question. Lack of turn signals also indicates poor upbringing: using them is a show of good manners and consideration for other people on the road. In the age of TV-saturated brain-dead families, the turn signal is not likely to be functioning.

  4. High beams in daytime.
    Some simple people believe they can see better under the full sun by turning on their bright lights. They probably also have deep-rooted faith in astrology, palmistry, lucky numbers and that Elvis lives. Others are fully aware that this habit annoys other drivers, and do it for that reason. These are usually the same drivers who will not turn down their high beams for oncoming cars at night, because then they wouldn't have the satisfaction of blinding other drivers. Others of lesser brain power leave their bright lights on in case we are suddenly plunged into a full and un-predicted solar eclipse. Another warning sign: those bright little lights that are mounted on bumpers below the headlight. Designed for fog and bad driving conditions, when left on in normal conditions or daytime, they are known as idiot lights - for the obvious reason.

  5. Cell phones.
    It has been medically established that using cell phones while driving - even hands-off phones - is more dangerous and distracting than drunk driving. Almost every civilized country has banned cell phone use while driving and even the barbarian nations are considering it. Only a suicide-bent driver with the morals of a September 11 pilot would drive and hold a cell phone to his or her ear. When you encounter people talking on cell phones while driving, your best self-defence is to beep your horn loudly and continually in their close presence until they hang up.

  6. Speeding.
    Sure, we all drive a little over the limit. It's called ambient traffic speed. The sign says 80 km/h, we go 90. It says 100, we do 110. But there's a quantum leap difference between doing 10 over and 60 over. Seriously fast drivers may be a Darwinian exercise in culling the herd, but they also have the nasty tendency to taking out others when their reflexes can't provide the micro-second response required to avoid disaster. Most speeders are impatient, irritable, and advertise their presence by riding your bumper. In a car, your best option is to suddenly slam on your brakes and collect the insurance after they ram you. This is not recommended on a motorcycle. Motorcyclists confronted by tailgaters are advised to throw something over your shoulder. Like a brick.

  7. Meandering.
    Sure sign of a threat is someone whose vehicle drifts around the lane, sometimes crossing the lines, or riding with tires on the shoulder. Generally this is a sign that the driver is distracted a cell phone or other gadget, applying makeup, or more likely trying to reason with the screaming kids, but it may be possible that the driver is lost in contemplation of, say, a newly found Shakespearean manuscript, or attempting to write a haiku that sums up his/her life experience. Or, more likely, intoxicated. No matter, stay well back and let them hit someone else. Besides, the shoulder riders throw up a lot of dust and pebbles, which can be hazardous to your health.

  8. Lane changes
    Ever get behind someone making a left turn into a multiple lane road, and watch them drive immediately into the far right lane as if maneuvering a 747? Or making a right turn into a four-lane road and driving into the far left lane? Or simply trying to turn in either direction, but having to swing far towards the other side just to make the corner? Ever been in a situation where two lanes can turn left or right simultaneously and find the car beside you on the inside of the curve trying to drive into your lane and shove you out of the way? These are obviously learners - probably haven't even passed the written test - who have not been taught to correctly turn corners in a single lane. They are only capable of making outrageously wide corners, endangering everyone nearby in the process. They should never be allowed onto the road. These are the same people who will pull out into a speeding stream of traffic, forcing you to stand on your brakes to avoid slamming into their rear. Then they will travel slower than the speed limit, creating a traffic bottleneck. 

  9. Toys and other onboard devices.
    Aside from cell phones, you'll find a treasure trove of toys and gadgets designed to transfer the driver's attention away from the business of driving. Some cars even sport in-seat TV sets in an attempt to make sure the youngsters are not far from the nipple of crass commercialism. GPS displays, digital temperature gauges, high-tech stereo systems with multi-CD platters... in a saner world, none of them would be allowed to operate when the vehicle is in motion. Most gadgets are simply excuses for higher insurance rates, since they invariably lead to accidents.

  10. SUVs and SAVs.
    Vehicles designed solely to pump up sales at flagging suburban dealerships, and driven mostly by people whose main sporting activity is driving to the mall for an afternoon of shopping, but who are convinced that at any moment they can leave their safe suburban streets and, without any experience offroad, drive up mountainsides to rescue trapped hikers. These gas-guzzling behemoths (the cars and sometimes the drivers, too) come replete with every attention-grabbing gadget available, and are usually over-filled with screaming children whose goal is to occupy the driver's remaining attention span. Worse, the gullible drivers usually fall prey to the advertising hype that, because they are in four-wheel drive vehicles, they are invincible and invulnerable to weather conditions like ice, snow and gravel - thus the high percentage of SUVs seen in ditches and fields during weather that other drivers understand requires slow and cautious travel. High-speed cornering and maneuvering also shows off their poor weight distribution by turning SUVs into rapidly rolling hunks of metal and plastic filled with rapidly disintegrating masses of flesh. Unfortunately, the bioware inside may not survive the tendency to flip. Big enough to create a blind spot where 18 wheelers can comfortably hide, they should be given at least a kilometer of room on any highway. SUVs were originally designed as an April Fool's prank by one of the large US automotive manufacturers. Unfortunately, the witless marketing team thought it was a great idea and got the damn things manufactured despite protests for the designers. The sales people should have recognized the joke in the name: the idea that sport and utility would go together in a workable package is ludicrous. SUV originally stood for "Stupid Ugly Vehicle" and SAV for "Sales Activity Vehicle." These vehicles are to automotives what the Spice Girls were to music and their owners are to driving what the Simpsons are to great drama. Environmentally-conscientious people do not drive SUVs.

  11. Pickup trucks.
    Before SUVs, pickup trucks were popular among the suburban mall-going crowd as "sporting" vehicles. Where pheromones and maturity failed to provide the proper macho image, many desk-bound men who needed visible displays of their gender used them as a sign of manliness  While still often seen in their proper rural and industrial settings, urban pickups can be seen customized with extremely high suspension, a phenomenon called 'mud buggers' by people who seldom leave the pavement. Dangerously tall and prone to tip on even slight road cambers, almost impossible to enter without a step ladder, these mudders are often decorated with such 'manly' bumper stickers as silhouettes of large-breasted women, Confederate flags, Bush-for-president, phrases like "ass-or-grass-no-one-rides-for-free" or various pro-gun and anti-liberal messages. This alone should indicate a wide berth is required unless one wishes to relive the death scene in Easy Rider. More serious problems are indicated when you see unsecured dogs travelling in the back of a pickup truck (see below).

  12. Mini vans.
    Wonderful convenience vehicles for small businesses, for carrying large loads of supplies, for mobile cleaning services and other commercial uses, these became co-opted by suburban families as transportation for a passel of screaming children. Very quickly the automotive manufacturers started designing them for that purpose, filling cargo space with multiple seats and making minivans the icon of the average middle-income, white suburban family. Mini vans became the automotive industry's equivalent of white bread: dull, lacking substance and only consumed by people who don't have better taste. Their real danger lies that they provide a visibility block to seeing traffic beyond their squat profiles. The harried mother or father at the wheel is likely to be seriously distracted by the unruly kids, and the kids may use that to throw things from the vehicle, often aiming at other traffic.

  13. Ablutions and preening.
    Women applying their makeup in traffic, men shaving, combing their hair - attention on themselves, not the road, pulling the rearview mirror to the side to look at themselves - we've all seen them meandering and swerving. Their own face is likely the last thing they'll ever see. They will certainly not notice that the traffic ahead has come to a sudden stop!

  14. Kids.
    Little dictators who rule their parents with an iron will and well practiced at control, they scream, cry, kick, throw things (sometimes at other drivers) and demand that mom or dad immediately pull into Toys R Us or else they will continue to holler at glass-shattering decibel levels. Parents who bring up their children using TV as a babysitter will likely give in and swerve across lanes of busy traffic to obey. Any time you see kids bouncing up and down in a vehicle, you know they are not wearing seat belts - if the drivers have no concern for the safety of their "precious" little cargo, do you think they will care about yours?

  15. Pets.
    Immediate sign of impending danger: a large dog crate. Not only has the owner not trained his or her dog properly to sit and stay quietly, he or she feels it necessary to cage the animal during transportation, a sure way to generate a distracting storm of barking and howling, or even vomiting,  in protest. Dogs allowed loose in the back of a pickup truck are a sign of serious mental problems (usually go hand in hand with the gun rack in the back window). This indicates the driver has no concern for the welfare of his or her pets, and also that he or she doesn't give a damn about the emotional trauma it will cause other drivers when said pet flies out of the back and gets killed by hitting the hood of the following vehicle. These people are clinically known as sociopaths. They will not have any more respect for other traffic or people therein than they have for their pets. Beware too drivers who think letting their dog stick its head out the window while driving is "cute" - until of course, the dog gets wounded by flying insects or debris at 100 km/h! And any driver who locks his pet inside a car then rolls up the windows on a hot day should be jailed without the courtesy of a trial!

  16. Parking habits.
    Typical SUV driver finds a parking spot...Cars or trucks left running and untended while the driver runs inside to shop or eat... Parking in a space reserved for the physically challenged or disabled when the driver or passenger is hale and hearty... Parking on the wrong side of the road because it's too inconvenient to walk the additional 20 feet to cross the street... Taking up more than one parking space in a lot... All signs of road rage in waiting. These are people who don't give a damn about you or others and they want you to know it. If they park like cretins, imagine how poorly they drive! Any able person who is caught parking in a space reserved for the physically disabled should have their licence and vehicle confiscated immediately and maybe a limb amputated too. Idling while inside shopping is simply too stupid and insensitive to deserve further comment.

  17. Food.
    Like applying makeup or talking on cell phones, eating food or drinking is too distracting unless you have a passenger to feed you and take care of the inevitable spills. Nothing like searching for the bit of doughnut that fell on the floor while weaving along a busy six-lane highway to encourage other drivers to give you space. Or how about hunting for that last sip of coffee at the bottom of the cup as you tilt it up to cover your vision? Better yet, spilling hot coffee in your lap and trying to manage the problem on a freeway. If their life is so rushed that they can't afford ten minutes to finish a cup of coffee or a doughnut, imagine how calmly these morons will handle traffic problems.

  18. Smoking.
    Smoking reduces oxygen to the brain, so you get more stupid the more you smoke. The reduction in critical thinking is easily seen when drivers throw butts out the window - careless of motorcycles and other vehicles in their path, but also littering. When you see smokers empty their ashtrays on the ground, you know they are in serious need of oxygen (not to mention discipline). And more likely a beating for being so inconsiderate. Everyone, smokers included, knows smoking is a dirty, smelly, harmful and addictive practice that makes you stupid and sick. Smoking is as socially attractive - and odorous - as swimming in raw sewage. No one today even pretends it doesn't cause cancer and other serious ailments, so smokers are automatically suspect because continuing to smoke against all the evidence is not a sign of wisdom or intelligence. People don't quit because they are either too stupid or too weak to make the effort. Besides, smokers are likely to throw their still-lit butts out the window, causing forest fires and hitting motorcyclists nearby.

  19. Gun racks.
    Do you really want to share the road with someone who carries weapons visibly displayed in their vehicle? Even the sign of an empty gun rack is not encouraging: the owner may have his weapons under the seat, ready for action. Road rage is bad enough when the other person has a 3,000-pound vehicle to do you harm. You have to wonder about the mental stability of anyone who enjoys killing small animals that can't fight back. If you're in an urban environment, you also have to wonder where these gunslingers are headed - to play postal at their local fast food outlet? To punish fellow students for imagined slights at their high school? Guns are only the visible indicators of serious problems: they could have a trunk full of homemade explosives heading to the closest government office. You could be driving behind the next Timothy McVeigh. Don't simply give these people a wide berth: move to another country. Canada, for example.

  20. Seniors.
    It's hard to tell which is the more dangerous: speeders or the slowpoke seniors who travel 10-40 kms under the speed limit, stop at every intersection regardless of whether there is a sign or light there, activate their turn signal a kilometer before they actually turn, and slow to 6 km/h to make any corner. They are at their most dangerous during yard-sale time when they are likely to meander, then abruptly stop or swerve without warning in order to check the roadside yard-sale bargains in chipped tea cups and scratched vinyl albums of Abba and Mitch Miller. Beware too the apparent runaway car - look carefully - if you can't see a driver, but can see the knuckles on the steering wheel - you've got a senior driver...

  21. Seat belts.
    No matter how many studies show seat belts save lives, no matter how many people are killed or maimed in traffic accidents each and every day because they weren't wearing them, there are still dimwits who don't wear them. Some actually try to make it an argument about "freedom of choice" - as if anyone would choose a debilitating head injury over the minor inconvenience of wearing a restraint. Insurance companies like these people because they force up insurance rates and make higher profits for the companies. The rest of us should try and grab their keys away from them and throw them into a pond. The keys - and probably the drivers too.

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Looking very pompous and proper. Email me at ichadwick@rogers.com if you want to add your two cents' worth or to just comment. This is humour, so enjoy it or surf on. If you're an annoyed SUV owner, or a member of the NRA, or a hunter, take a deep breath, take another, then turn off your computer and go away. Preferably off the continent, although Pluto is a better option. More pages are in the works. Check back again for updates, many sure to annoy. Last update: Sept. 13 2002.

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