This isn’t news by any means, but I think that the problem of inattentive drivers impeding or sometimes preventing the flow of traffic by occupying the left lane of American roadways, streets, boulevards, avenues and interstates is becoming increasingly pervasive. It’s not just that practice, either, but their reaction to being called on it: The stunned disbelief or sheer rage exhibited by most perpetrators of this cardinal sin of the road seems to be just another indicator of our growing disconnectedness as a society.
But as frustrating as these drivers may be, getting angry over the problem translates to misplaced energy; lately I’ve just been feeling more disheartened and fearful of what the future holds than anything else.
It’s a pretty simple concept, isn’t it? Keep right except to pass. Yes, it gets increasingly complicated as soon as congestion increases beyond just a few cars on the road, but it really does boil down to common courtesy. It’s not uncommon for people shopping at a grocery store to quickly excuse themselves and move out of the way when somebody else wants to browse the same shelves, so why is it such a challenge for people to move over and allow faster traffic to pass?
What’s even more confounding to me is the increasingly common case of a driver slowing down or even coming to a full stop on an active street, because they’re lost or have just missed their turn. I’ve come up behind these people more than a few times, in areas that range from my own quiet suburban neighborhood to a junction ramp between two busy San Diego freeways, both with a speed limited of 65 mph. Just think about it for a second: You’re unfamiliar with the area, and you just missed your GPS-prompted turn. Instead of simply proceeding to the next exit and allowing it to reroute, which so many systems and apps do quite well these days, you slow down to roughly 20 mph or perhaps even to a complete stop, never even considering the freight train of cars bearing down on you.
The reverse is true, too; I’m sure many of you have witnessed a vehicle sweeping across two or more lanes, sometimes in addition to a split shoulder, just to make an exit or junction ramp at the last possible second. Where I live, we call this a San Diego Exit.
Another driving transgression worth mentioning also seems to be happening with more frequency these days, when a driver pulls out onto the thoroughfare regardless of the speed of approaching traffic. This happened to me no fewer than five times on a recent errand run—once on my own street—when a driver seemed completely unaware of my presence and simply went for it, forcing ABS activation and raised blood pressure on my part. The YouTube video below from last year captures the potential consequences of the this kind of obliviousness:
Who’s at fault here? The BMW, which looks like a 135i—no, it’s not one of mine—appears to have been speeding or potentially racing what could be a Porsche in the other lane, but none of that changes the fact that the Prius driver pulled out onto a busy street, seemingly unaware of oncoming traffic.
I think smartphone use may play a role in this new surge of inattentive driving, but perhaps not in the way most people default to believing. The advent of smartphones and their intense, unrelenting use by an ever-growing percentage of society is more of an indicator or symptom, not the ailment itself, and the massive growth of throwaway garbage content on a Huxleyan scale, and the unbelievably huge following it is able to generate is the scariest part for me. The sad fact that some people can’t put down their phone while driving—or can no longer effectively process information as a whole—are simply the extension of some greater societal degeneration.
Sadly, members of our modern society seem increasingly entrenched in our own beliefs, arriving at conclusions without adequate any exposure to opposing opinions; left or right, we listen only to that which confirms our already existing beliefs. The ways in which we consume news and entertainment these days don’t help much, either, as it’s become easy to insulate ourselves from anything that has the potential to displace us from our comfort zones.
Perhaps these entrenched beliefs are at work when a driver simply holds up a column of fellow commuters, only to exhibit rage and become dangerous when someone finally conjures up the gumption to shoot the gap. I’ve experienced these reactions firsthand in Arizona, where it isn’t uncommon for two lanes to be blocked by two cars traveling at five to ten mph below the speed limit—truly odd, especially considering the well-paved, winding roads in the northern part of the state. My friends and I called these people road regulators, because that’s exactly what they were: They set the speed, and they’ll be damned if you think you’re going to exceed it in their presence.
Do you find yourself in these sorts of situations? What do you do about it? I don’t have any real solution, but I do consider the overarching issue of in-car isolation and inattentiveness a serious matter, one worthy of discussion.
As for me, the increasing lack of attention on the part of other drivers has prompted me to increase my own. (As a friend points out, you can’t always control events, you can only control your reaction to them.) It’s easy to spot the warning signs of a hesitant driver who may not be paying attention, and more often than not, my intuition has proved correct. One soultion is to avoid the problem entirely; in a recent column, I revealed that I don’t actually drive my pride-and-joy BMW all that often, simply because other drivers take the enjoyment out of the process.
But this all seems a bit too reactive, defensive, judgmental, and negative, doesn’t it? I agree—and that’s why I, for one, am looking forward to certain aspects of the inevitable integration of self-driving cars. Before our roads completely vanish and we’re all commuting in the sky like The Jetsons or Back To The Future, I’m hopeful that the advent and evolution of driverless tech will mean that the Luddites among us who still prefer to drive enjoy clearer, safer pavement. And the robots won’t mind when we pass them.—Alex Tock
[Video and photo courtesy of LA Weekly, Car Crash Videos]