I’ve been behind the wheel for decades, logged hundreds of thousands of miles. So much of it has been routine, comfortably seated, cruising along, tension free, often pleasurable. But as everyone who hits the road knows, it can also be harrowing, at times infuriating, as we maneuver through traffic and contend with fellow drivers whose uneven skills, selfishness and aggression often put everyone around them at risk. Just how unsettling it can get will become obvious from the following list of notable challenges drivers face daily.
• I’ve never heard anyone claim that traffic conditions are improving. Rather, advancing gridlock has become the normal state of affairs on many a major artery. How could it be otherwise when the number of vehicles continues to increase while road capacity remains the same? The concept of rush hour is becoming antiquated as traffic jams now consume more and more of each day. Everywhere, travel times have increased, even as navigational devices warn us of tie-ups ahead. Whether self-driving cars can make a difference here is not at all clear. Besides, that’s still down the road.
• Who has not become upset when coming upon a “Construction Ahead” sign? It, of course, signals a possible upcoming delay or stoppage, the result of a lane closure, or flagmen insisting that we slow down. (“Fines double in construction Zone” signs add an additional measure of unease to the situation.) We recognize that roads do require repair periodically, and therefore inconvenience is not too high a price to pay for improvements (except that construction work does not always coincide, as it should, with periods of light traffic). But, then after crawling along for some time, we finally arrive at the construction site. Plenty of equipment can be seen, but where are the workers? One would think that given the delays occasioned by the roadwork there’d be a concerted effort to speed things up. Rarely is that the case. And even when they are present, too often they appear little interested in getting to work. There may be an explanation, but it is not at all apparent to the drivers who grumble as they crawl past, eager once more to get up to speed.
• I often feel discriminated against by those directing traffic at complex intersections or because traffic lights have malfunctioned. They’ve been empowered to determine which of several lanes of cars should proceed at any point. Why is it that my lane is being ignored? Why such obvious favoritism toward other drivers? Were the lights functioning, a more equitable system would govern traffic flow. Am I being overly sensitive? Still, it’s happened too often for me to believe it is mere coincidence.
• It doesn’t seem reasonable that there are so many stop signs at street corners where there is hardly any traffic. Stop signs are a drag, necessary in places, but otherwise overused and bothersome.
• Same story here: Driving along a broad thoroughfare with considerable traffic, your car is obliged to stop again and again by uncommonly lengthy red lights so that cars from side streets can enter. Except that at street after street there are no cars waiting. So, why is traffic forced to stop and wait for extended periods for nothing to happen?
• A siren blares in the distance. You twist first one way, then another, trying to locate what may be a police car, fire engine or ambulance. Until you determine the source of the sound, it can be quite unnerving. Then you must maneuver so as to get out of the way. What a relief as it passes by you and the siren sounds grow increasingly distant.
• There you are stopped behind a school bus, lights flashing, “Stop” signs jutting out. You regret having taken to the road, just as school is letting out. What’s worse is that the bus driver is engaged in conversation with a parent standing on the sidewalk. What a time for a discussion! Finally it’s over; the bus moves and so do you.
• Coming upon a turn arrow, that has just turned red, at a busy intersection. It can’t get any worse. So many other lanes must first be allowed to proceed before the arrow once again turns green. It seems endless. You’d best have something else to do in the meantime.
• Red light cameras, photo-enforced intersections, are the latest road menace. Stiff fines await those caught on camera moving when and where they shouldn’t. You don’t want to be caught on camera crossing the lane. As you approach the corner you may not know how long the light has been green. Still, you enter the intersection and it turns red. You’ve become the latest victim, a photo of your car evidence; of your violation. So you must approach a corner warily, then decide in an instant whether to cross over in rapid fashion or to stop, take no chances, and await a “fresh” green light. Talk about high anxiety!
• It surely appears to be the case that when some event will likely curtail oil supplies (OPEC decision, storm in the Gulf of Mexico, pipeline explosion, refinery shutdowns, etc.), gas prices at the pump jump almost instantly. They are, however, “sticky,” i.e., rather slow to come down, even after the “crisis” has passed.
• Among the most challenging of maneuvers is backing into a parking spot on a busy street, with cars right behind. You understand that other drivers, now obliged to stop, are not happy. You had better succeed on your first attempt. What a relief when you roll in successfully and the cars you’d forced to wait, move on.
• The amber or yellow light dilemma – to stop or to proceed. Problem is the duration of amber lights vary. You’d best know beforehand what you’re dealing with. With a long yellow light it will be possible for you to move ahead. With a short one you might find yourself exposed, moving against a red light and oncoming traffic. It can be tricky. Be careful.
• You are driving straight ahead, but the driver in front, poised in the intersection, is planning a left turn, but not moved over sufficiently to enable you to get by. How inconsiderate.
• The driver forgets to disengage his signal so you expect him to turn at any point. Except he doesn’t. After a time you conclude that he has no intention to do so. It’s all rather annoying.
• There is a long line of cars awaiting a green light. It changes, but the driver in front is in no rush to get underway. He knows he will have a green light. You, however, are not so sure. He makes it; you don’t. Not fair.
• Motorcycles are scary. They roar past you, often making deafening, disorienting noises. They can, while you’re stuck in heavy traffic, zip right by and are soon gone. You envy them.
• Talking about unwanted noise, consider the car alongside, windows open, radio blasting forth sounds most unwelcome and far too loud. Why must you be subject to his awful taste in music?
• A car moving well above the speed limit zooms past you repeatedly changes lanes, and in little time disappears into the distance. You hope a police car is nearby and will catch this speeding menace. Alas, none is around. Hopefully, the day will come when roadside cameras will pick up such “crazy” drivers, and the law will bring them to “justice.”
• It’s stop and go traffic and you are slow to inch forward when the car ahead moves. This prompts the driver behind me, apparently upset, that I haven’t rolled ahead a few more feet, to blast his horn. Okay, we’re now about four feet further along!
• The exit ahead leads on to a major highway. Accordingly lots of cars are lined up, waiting to get on. Entering that line I’m prepared to edge up ever so slowly until reaching the highway entrance. Others aren’t as patient. They speed past me, then well beyond my location, jump ahead of many cars, then squeeze their way into the line. If I were there, I wouldn’t let them in. But their aggressive ways saved them several minutes. And it confirmed for me the obvious fact that many people don’t play by the “rules.”
• Every so often I’m in a car whose driver finds fault with just about everyone else on the road. He’s the victim; the other drivers are making his ride miserable. They didn’t signal – They left their blinkers on – They’re following too close – They’re weaving in and out – They cut in right in front of him. He’s perfect; they’re all incompetent. It would, given this point of view, seem truly a miracle that he can emerge unscathed from this mayhem. I am, on the other hand, repeatedly impressed that so many supposedly “incompetent” drivers nevertheless manage each day to maneuver safely alongside each other. It’s a matter of perspective.