Monday, January 21, 2013

Editorial: Courtesy, road rage, and driving in Massachusetts


Since relocating to Massachusetts last year, I have reduced the amount that I drive by over 50%, going from just over 800 miles a month to just under 400 miles a month. Yet, despite my reduction in miles driven, I have continued to encounter the same amount of poor, and oftentimes downright dangerous driving, that I did before when living in the DC area. While some of this trend can be attributed to the poorly maintained and often confusing roads in the area that I currently reside, a lot of it has to do with a general lack of courtesy among drivers in the greater Boston area.

One of the most recent examples that I encountered took place a matter of days ago at an intersection of two major arteries in the area controlled by a rather confusing array of traffic lights. Approaching the intersection from one of the roads that has two lanes, with a portion of the right lane splitting off into an island-divided right turn lane, I was able to catch an opening and accelerate briskly into the now empty right hand lane as the light was green and cross the intersection. However, as I approached the other side of this intersection, an SUV that had previously been in the left lane made a sudden, and un-signaled, change into the right lane that I was about to occupy, merely a few feet from the nose of my car. To avoid a crash, I promptly applied near full-force to the brakes, hit the horn, and dove for the now empty left-hand lane.

While the incident itself was enough to get me upset already, what happened next truly sent me into a rage. The driver of the SUV pulled up alongside and proceeded to yell at me, level a false accusation of running a red-light, and threaten to call the police to report the incident. Not only had this arrogant, and clearly clueless, individual nearly caused an accident, but was now making an effort to threaten me for the mistake that he clearly made. This set me off and I laid into him, reminding him just how dangerous his little maneuver actually was and sprinkling my tirade with choice swear words to emphasize just how pissed off his actions had made me. However, rather than having the intended effect, this moron then attempted to play the victim and used his family as a human shield to dodge my offensive of words. It was at this point that I realized I was dealing with a totally self-absorbed and entitled idiot, promptly rolled up my window and proceeded along.

But this incident illustrates one of my biggest pet peeves about driving in the US - the lack of accountability of American drivers. The fact that a man with a car filled with his family, including small children, would perform such a foolish maneuver and then proceed to get insane about it seems indicate that we as Americans have a responsibility to change our attitudes towards each other while behind the wheel. The entire situation could have been diffused had the irresponsible driver simply acknowledged the lapse in judgement, apologized for the mistake, and driven off. Instead, he put his family in even greater danger by approaching me and launching into his indignant, and completely fabricated, defense of his actions.
This is what leads to road rage and to people getting injured for no good reason except to defend their own stupidity.

A few days later, I pulled into the parking lot of a local shopping center and was still in the car, finishing a conference call for work when the driver of yet another SUV pulls into the vacant space next to me, performs a sub-par parking job, and proceeds to ding my door twice and starts to walk away. As I was sitting there watching this happen, I honked at him and gave him the "what the hell?" look to indicate my displeasure at what he had just done. This causes him to suddenly get defensive and he starts yelling about how he did not do anything, did not hit my car, blah blah blah, then walks off to the store. As I was still on the phone, I could not exactly chase after him.

5-minutes later, now finished with my call, I exit my car and proceed to the passenger side to inspect the damage. Two small chips in the paint on my door with clear red paint from his car clearly visible on the edges of the chips. I step behind our vehicles and confirm the miserable parking job, then step into the middle of the aisle, prepared to document the situation with my phone when a police offer happens to walk past me. I stop the officer, explain to him what I was doing and the situation that prompted me to do this. As I am chatting with the officer, the driver of the offending vehicle returns from the store and sees me standing there with the officer chatting.

All of a sudden, the driver's tone goes from dismissive to conciliatory. Now he says he is sorry for the incident, but insists no damage was done. I promptly walk him over and point out the two chips in my door with red paint in them to prove my point. He promptly apologizes and offers up a myriad of excuses for the benefit of the police officer who was standing there with a rather amused expression on his face. The officer kindly points out the rather crap-tastic parking job and the guy sheepishly admits that it was pretty bad. I kindly ask the driver to please be more careful in the future and we all part ways.

This is yet another incident where a little bit of common courtesy would have smoothed the entire situation over much more quickly. Instead of being dismissive and argumentative, had the driver simply demonstrated contrition and apologized, then I would have written off the situation and let it be. I understand that door dings happen. But because he was a jerk about it, I could not help but capitalize on the opportunity to waste some more of his precious time, keeping him there for an extra 5 or so minutes. If he was genuinely in a rush, he would have saved himself time re-parking his vehicle, exiting it without hitting my door, and still would have been able to leave faster.

My only point with these two stories is to point out that we, as a society, should hold ourselves to a higher standard of courtesy behind the wheel. So many of the inane and problematic situations we find ourselves in are the result of an unwillingness to take responsibility and to demonstrate contrition and courtesy to our fellow drivers. By making a change to how we think about things behind the wheel, we can avoid so much confrontation and collectively lower our blood pressure when driving, making everyone's collective experiences so much more pleasant.

What do you say folks? Let's try a little courtesy for a change.