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.
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.
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
religious statuary. Not only are they distracting and aesthetically questionable; they also reduce visibility.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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?
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!
Cars or trucks left running and untended while the driver runs inside to shop
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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...
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
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Sept. 13 2002.
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