If you haven’t read my post on Death Machines, it will help you understand better why driving is a topic I do tend to ramble and rant over.
I drive largely in Sandy Springs in North Atlanta, which is a very densely populated area of town. Anyone who has gotten off 285 and gone North on Roswell Rd on a Sunday-Saturday has probably experienced the excruciating agony of bad driving. There are trips where I am not appalled at someone’s choices/actions, but those are exceptional drives.
Good driving in dense* traffic isn’t actually that difficult. You have to pay attention, but if you follow the simple Rules of Driving (or RoDs) it doesn’t have to be the agony so often experienced. The RoDs can be summed up with these three:
- Follow the law.
- Don’t be a dick.
- Don’t be nice.
RoD #1 actually is three rules in itself, and they are very important. Really the above rules #2 and #3 would be largely unnecessary if drivers would just:
- Follow the rules of the road as they were written. There is a reason or several good reasons you aren’t supposed to cross a double-yellow line. Period. Shockingly, I’ve found when people are following the rules, traffic flows better. It’s almost like the people who made the rules and designed the roads understood how to make it all work.
- Keep up with changes. The law changes and if you don’t know the new rules, you are probably going to cause problems. I know people who don’t know you have to wear a seat belt in pickup trucks (in Georgia). And that law has been in place a while now (5 years? maybe a few more?). Super speeder got some good coverage, but again I’ve heard people say they don’t know what is that upper-bounds limit.
- Know the trump rules. Things like when you should cross a double-yellow line or a solid white line. What do you do if you are sitting in solid traffic and a cop behind you turns on their lights? What about those crazy direction-switching lanes? Knowing how to handle this can help everyone get to their destination alive and with the least amount of time and stress (the rule for cops boils down to “get safely out of their way” – not “Stop in the middle of the road!!!!”… when people do that I get quite annoyed)
Drives me crazy to see people driving in a middle/turn lane, or crossing into that lane to try to make sure they can turn at the light ages in front of them… getting in the way and being dangerous. The number of times people block intersections because they don’t understand they can’t go just because they want to…
Which leads to RoD #2 – Don’t be a dick. I think most people agree, the person who thinks the rules don’t apply to them are horrible human beings and terrible members of society. Even the people who aren’t downright breaking the law, but just being rude… cause problems. Again, in dense traffic this becomes all the more important and the more apparent. And once one person “gets away with it” – others inevitably pull the same thing with a spiral of bad behavior, frustrated drivers, and broken laws. Be polite. Most of the laws are written at the end with something like “be courteous and use common sense.” Perfect example: the law says at stop signs, yield to the person “on the right” – right of what/who?!? When in doubt, don’t be a dick.
And yes, rule #3 is to not be nice. There already exists rules about right of way, not blocking intersections, and overall paying attention to other cars – frankly, if you are following the law (RoD #1) you are being nice enough to keep traffic moving and everyone gets where they need to go. The level of “nice” I am talking about is the person in the right-hand lane who stops (despite traffic moving at the time) because they just need to be the one to let the person out of the parking lot! And they are shocked and disappointed when the car doesn’t go because the left-lane hasn’t stopped yet and the exiting car is trying to get over to the turn lane. And the person stopped is now screwing up all the people behind them.
This “nice” person is actually making traffic flow worse, and creating a hazard. If they would keep moving, lights (at least in Atlanta!) are timed to open up holes. Assuming RoDs #1 & #2 are followed, the person will get out of that parking lot (the law saying that you shouldn’t block parking lot exits if you can safely avoid it…). So yes, the people being “nice” actually are making things worse and the people who are already pushing the bounds on #2 usually get tipped over the edge and begin to drive like they don’t need to follow the rules (and often don’t follow the rules!).
I occasionally get teased for my nigh-obsession with bad driving, but this is one of the risky things I participate in – and I do it daily. I watch for and manage to avoid the stupid drivers, but I see them – daily. I don’t have a lot of options in Atlanta. There is 1 fairly small grocery store within a mile of me (and then 3 more within a 3 mile radius, but 3 miles is quite far in August with a gallon of milk). I would love to take up cycling but because drivers don’t follow RoDs #1 & #2 – I don’t dare. I joke that I like having the steel box around me (yes, I know cars aren’t actually steel), but behind that joke lies my fear of the drivers around me.
If you don’t believe me – WHO Reports “Road Injury” among the top 10 causes of death in the world. I’ve seen the math (the best graph in a quick Google search was wikipedia) where narrowing to the US doesn’t take car accidents off that list either. Am I paranoid? Maybe. But am I wrong?
* In light traffic (or no traffic) it is much easier to manage problems, but when you have people packed in, hot, and late – it’s truly a recipe for problems.