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"I'm cautious as if my fate were not under my own control."

I think that it's safe for me to assert that fewer than ten percent of the people driving cars are competent drivers. This assertion isn't just my snarkier side finding a platform for whining, but the result of careful observation and recent deep immersion into my fellow drivers' behaviors out there on the open road. I drove 4600 miles over the last three weeks, and during that road trip, I experienced a remarkable sampling of my fellow drivers' skill, as well as my own. It's shockingly poor, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I do not consider myself to be any more a competent driver than I consider myself to be a competent writer or cook. As Dirty Harry long ago observed, a man's gotta know his limitations. Because I judge myself a somewhat less than skilled driver, I lack the confidence I consider essential to drive like any self respecting maniac might. The Muse insists that I drive like an old Italian woman, only lacking a few pounds and that ubiquitous black dress from fully qualifying. I do drive safely, which seems to drive my fellow drivers to distraction.

I carry my personal ethical underpinning. I never exceed the speed limit, except when passing another driver who has clearly demonstrated their inability to maintain that limit.
I speed up five miles an hour over the posted limit for the few seconds required to overtake and pass, then nudge right back down to that limit again, my brief foe falling back behind me. When I find the need to pass, to preserve the forward flow, though I often find a Left Laner, one who never, ever moves to the right after passing, blocking my move. They've scoped out the open road as ample justification for exceeding the speed limit, operating under a libertarian driving ethic: Drive like Hell and deny everything if stopped for speeding. These folks figure that the Staties' radar allows a five (or seven) MPH over the speed limit, so they drive faster than the posted limit, and thereby screw up the overall flow. They never seem to experience their own disruption, leaving their damage in their wake. I have to slow to several MPH below the posted speed to wait for the Left Laners to leave me in their dust before I can slip out into THEIR lane to help maintain flow. Thanks, or something.

The truckers drive more sanely than anyone else on the road, especially in those states which have wisely dictated that they drive a few MPH slower than the general population. They mostly stick to their speed and to their lane, with a few notable exceptions. Some truckers feel compelled to try to pass the truck ahead of them at the bottom of an upcoming hill, and by so doing, hold up the whole procession until their rig can develop enough momentum to overtake their barrier. Overall, trucks, though, seem the most forgiving drivers. They also seem the most reviled. They're not on vacation. They're on the clock and they drive more miles per week than the general population logs in a month of Sundays. They've learned to let bygones be bygones, and they classify most infractions as bygones the moment they occur. They swallow more than they ever spit out, though they experience more bitter flavors than any other drivers. You probably arrived home because they forgave your trespasses against them today.

Our Interstates mostly exhibit herd behavior. Few seem to acknowledge any speed limit, construction zone restrictions, or common human decency. Should an opening appear in traffic, a dozen eager wannabes will quickly swoop it. The flow often moves at greater than completely sane speeds. We manage to kill about 30,000 of our fellows in traffic each year, and still drive like driven maniacs, anyway. This might be a matter of self respect. When I drive, I'm achingly aware that I'm moving two tons of metal and stuff, not just my ego or personality. A moment's inattention could kill someone. A fleeting moment of well-earned retribution could do great and irreparable damage. For me, driving is an endless experience of paranoia. I'm watching as if under serious threat. I'm cautious as if my fate were not under my own control.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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