Down East 2013 ©
Yesterday I narrowly avoided yet another fender bender. I was in a line of cars at a shopping mall exit equipped with a traffic light and two lanes with big arrows indicating the left and right turn lanes. I was in the right lane with my turn signal on. A young lady in a Subaru was about a car length ahead of me in the left turn lane. At the last possible moment she wrenched her steering wheel violently to the right. After much honking and slamming of brakes she looked up, took evasive action, and we made it through the intersection with all fenders intact. She was embarrassed. But, not embarrassed enough to hang up and drive.
So, I’m happy to hear that Maine is currently enforcing the new “distracted driver” law. I’m not, however, very optimistic. The problem may just be too far advanced already. It’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has already gotten his bagel and coffee and is busy texting the rest of the herd about his big weekend plans out in the back forty.
Now regarding the turn signal (or lack thereof ) issue. I drive a lot. I always have. For much of my professional life I’ve put fifty or sixty thousand miles a year on my car, most of them in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. Of course there have always been folks with poor driving skills and atrocious “road manners”. You‘ve seen them too. Maybe you are them.
“Left lane bandits” have long been a pet peeve of mine and there’s certainly nothing new about them. They’ve been with us ever since the first interstate highway opened for business. You can spot them on any four-lane in America, dawdling along in the left lane, keeping pace with another car in the right-hand lane. Together these two vehicles (are they perhaps consciously collaborating on this? ) constitute a rolling roadblock C.W. McCall would be proud to yodel about. Why do they drive this way? Are they so asleep-at-the-wheel as to be oblivious to the seventeen cars backed up behind them flashing their high beams? Are they self-appointed vigilante speed limit enforcers? That explanation would at least make a certain kind of sense. Unfortunately I suspect there’s a deeper problem here.
Take the turn signal avoiders. This unsettling phenomenon really just cropped up a few years back. At first I thought it was just young people on cell phones who hadn’t been taught the importance of using turn signals. Then I started watching more closely. Sure enough, there were people my age and older who were busily yakking on cell phones and not signaling turns. So it’s the cell phones, right? Nope. Turns out there were plenty of middle aged and older drivers without cell phone who didn’t use their signals either. This last was puzzling since I was pretty sure that these folks had once used turn signals, and had abruptly stopped using them. Hmmmmm. There had to be some other explanation. Now I think I’ve found it and the picture is not pretty.
The only logical explanation is that all of these “distracted drivers” — the left lane bandits, turn signal avoiders, cell phone yammerers, novel readers, make-up artists, and other “distracted drivers” — are suffering from the same pervasive twenty-first-century malady, i.e. a phenomenal lack of awareness of and connection to the “real world” people around them.
Here’s what I mean. Not so long ago it was common to see a gang of young people walking along chatting, laughing, and interacting with each other. I almost never see that anymore. What I do see is a half-dozen kids with iPods and or cell phones jammed into their ears walking in the same direction but apparently oblivious to each other. I see people in cars, trucks, planes, trains, concert halls, meetings, restaurants, all sorts of public places surrounded by other people texting, talking on cell phones, basically being “alone in a crowd”.
I think that’s what is going on behind the wheel on Maine highways. Folks simply don’t notice or acknowledge each other’s presence. Why should I use my turn signal? I already know where I’m going. Of course being who I am I see humor in a lot of places. But, it stops being amusing when you become aware of the truly shocking accident statistics associated with all this “distracted driving”.
So, I hope I’ll see you on the highway. But, mostly I hope you see me! I’m going to be paying attention and I hope you are too. You’ll recognize me. I’m easy to spot. I’m the guy in the zippy little Mazda 3 with the “HUMOR” license plate. I’m also the man with the retro driving style. Yeah, that’s a good term for it, “retro driving.” Come to think of it, maybe you should consider trying it for a week. One thing’s for sure. It won’t kill you!
So, what the heck. All together now, let’s take the Tim Sample Retro Driver’s Pledge. Repeat after me: “For the next week I won’t talk on a cell phone while I’m driving. I will use my turn signals whether I think anyone is looking or not, the same with stop signs. I pledge to maintain lane discipline, yield at the yield sign, watch out for moose and generally start paying more attention behind the wheel.” Try it. It’s fun! I’ll check back next week and see how it went.
Meanwhile, the summer folks have mostly gone home and the leaf peepers aren’t here yet. The stimulus money has spurred quite few new paving projects in the Pine Tree State resulting in some lovely fresh asphalt two-lane blacktop. Happy motoring, chummy!