Just the other day I was driving Melissa home from church. I sat across from the apartment complex on West Ox Road, in the left turning lane. Blink blink, my turn signal flashed in compliance with local laws.
The left turn light was red, but those headed the direction I was facing and going straight had a green. Then yellow. Then red. The cross traffic was given the go-ahead, several cars moved across in front of me off to their destinations. I watched their light turn yellow, then red.
Now it was my turn.
My left arrow, and the opposite left arrow, turned green. I began to move forward, but then I noticed a car heading the opposite direction at full speed on West Ox Road. As I moved further forward, I realized that he was not slowing down.
I stopped, in the middle of the intersection. The man in the car drove through without so much as slowing down. He gave me a lovely, evil glare as if I had done something wrong. I looked up, my left turn arrow was still green. I looked around, his light was still glowing a bright, bright, glorious red.
This man was so oblivious to his surroundings that he blew right through a full red light on a happy, sunny, mid-Sunday-afternoon. It had not just turned red, no, it had been red for a good 2 minutes. There was no sun glare at noon, there was no hindered visibility, there was no reason for this man to do this.
Most people in my shoes, on the other hand, would not have noticed this approaching car was failing to stop. Had any of the 95 percent of other drivers out there been in that intersection that day at that time they would have been in an accident. They would have mindlessly moved across the intersection on their green arrow and into the path of the idiot who doesn’t know that red means stop.
Unfortunately, this is not my only story like this. Once I was making a right turn onto the George Mason campus, and there was a driver in the left lane apparently going straight. I stopped at the red light, and was about to make a right turn on red when this car—in the left lane—made a right turn across in front of me.
I could go on.
The fact is that we are far too lax in allowing people to drive. I don’t know about you, but I only want qualified people to be careening about in a two-ton piece of fast-moving metal. You can do a hell of a lot of damage with a car, especially if you are incapable of discerning a red light from, say, a green one.
Many people that I know are scared to drive. They are scared because they know, as I do, that most people on the road don’t even know the rules. They guess who is supposed to go at a four-way stop (the first one who got there, or the one on the right in a tie), they fail to use turn signals (it’s the little wand on the left), they don’t know that—BY LAW—you have to yield to pedestrians in a sidewalk, they hope, they pray, and for a while they’re just fine until one day they do something stupid and get themselves and others hurt and/or killed.
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say, that licenses shouldn’t grow on trees—and the way we give them out they might as well. Any shaven monkey with a social security number and some luck can get a license (well, in Southern Virginia it doesn’t even have to be a shaven monkey), and as the death-toll mounts in the war-zone of rush-hour commutes maybe we should rethink that plan. Maybe we should require more than two-hours of behind the wheel testing on the easy roads and one paral lel parking job. Maybe we should require more than a “can-do-it-with-my-eyes-closed” little knowledge quiz that the average 4-year-old who watches his mommy drive could pass. No insult intended to those who had to take it three times . . . just kidding.
Imagine a world where people only have to be minimally tested to acquire a license in certain other fields. Would you trust a pilot who went through a week of “behind-the-yoke” training, took a 25 question test, and spent two hours being watched by an instructor? No? How about a doctor getting a week’s worth of “behind the scalpel” training, a few questions before the instructor watches them operate on an ill patient as the final test? No? But you’re cool with all the other drivers on the road being required to meet nothing more than that? Wow, I’m amazed at how much you think your life is worth at the doctors’ office and on an airliner, and how little on I-81.
So here’s some harsh reality for you folks, we can change the world for the better with a little sacrifice. A lot of you out there in Internet land would have to give up your licenses, and those of us who are competent and capable of moving two tons of metal by the rules would get to keep ours. In one swoop we’d ease the gridlock in traffic-filled areas like the DC metro area I call home, AND decrease traffic accidents and deaths by huge amounts. Those of us who get to keep our licenses will have lower insurance costs, lower blood pressure, and overwhelmingly improved lives.
As for those of you who are just flat incapable of being decent drivers, well, meet public transportation! Public transportation is your friend.
The time has come for reform. I, for one, am tired of the close calls and near misses that would never had happened had the other driver looked before he merged, stopped at a red light, followed the signs, paid attention, etc. I’m flat tired of it. We’ve allowed a dangerous, dangerous situation to form and it’s time to put an end to it. NOW. Drivers should be tested RIGOROUSLY, and the state DMVs (or equivalent) should NOT hesitate to reject questionable drivers. Furthermore, people should have to re-take this rigorous driving test every 1-3 years to keep their license. This would eliminate drivers that become incompetent with age, in addition to keeping incompetent drivers off the road in the first place.
In the mean time, for all you capable individuals out there, I have noticed in my extensive travels certain warning signs that another driver on the road is likely to cause you injury. To a certain extent these are stereotypes, but so what! I have noticed patterns, I’m not saying everybody in these groups is a bad driver, but many are. SO, here they are, in pleasant bulleted form:
- NOVA drivers: If you’re in northern Virginia, there’s a school up here called Northern Virginia Community College. Persons attending this school have stickers on their car that say NOVA, and they are bad news. I have been cut-off, close-called, and etc., by NOVA drivers more than any other group. I have witnessed them do crazy things, and I even witnessed one rear-end somebody and then try and weasel out of it. Be careful. Bad news.
- New Yorkers (and out-of-state people in general): People with out-of-state plates are usually sight-seeing, lost, confused, or any combination of the above. You should generally watch out for them, especially on ‘surface streets’. This isn’t as much of an issue on the freeways (except very close to major cities). New Yorkers, however, have a special bad-driving talent. Most of the time I get cut off and it’s not a NOVA driver, they have New York plates. Watch out for Maryland people while you’re at it too, their roads are so weird up there they can’t handle regular ones.
- Floridians: You have to be suspicious about a population that can’t work a punchcard ballot, but beyond that Floridians are most accustomed to long straight roads. Put them in a place with curves and they’re all over the place.
- Old Men with Hats / Old Women Hunched Over Steering Wheel: Usually you notice these drivers for going 10-30 miles-per-hour under the speed limit on a freeway before you notice the hat or the hunch, but still, it is a pattern.
- Cars With Accident Damage: Okay, look at it this way—if the car is still damaged, that means the other guy’s insurance didn’t have to fix it, which means THAT GUY IN THE DAMAGED CAR caused the accident and likely has only liability insurance. Logic, it’s beautiful. Be especially careful if it has LOTS of damage on different parts of the car, this means they cause lots of accidents.
- Virginia Tech (and other college/sport) Paraphernalia: Have you ever known someone from VT who was competent? ;-) But on a serious note, anybody who has intense school spirit and labels their car with school names, colors, flags, etc., is likely an avid sports fan (not to mention people with pro-team stuff). I don’t want to offend anybody, but I’m going to, because most avid sports fans are not the brightest Fruit Loops in the box. In fact, most avid sports fans are plain Cheerios without sugar. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy respect for sports, and there’s nothing wrong with watching them and liking a team, BUT typically the good drivers will choose to support their team with subtlety—if at all—on their car, which is most likely one of their most expensive possessions (as with most people).
- Rimmed, Fancy Custom Paint Job, 2-inches-off-the-ground Cheap 2-door Hatchbacks with fake flames, rumbling bass music, and a loud engine with a funny muffler: This one speaks for itself, they paid more for customizations than for the car, their cars look stupid, but that doesn’t mean much because the drivers look lots more stupid. They can come in almost any combination of the above listed things, but they all look pretty dumb. They’re almost exclusively trying to show off by zooming out of traffic lights, tailgating, stopping in the middles of freeways to pick up their old baseball cap that blew off because they wear it sideways, or making out with their girlfriend who occasionally pops up from his lap to see where the hell she is.
So be careful out there, because I’ve only scratched the surface on bad drivers. Unfortunately they come in all kinds and all cars and all states. Whatever you do though, know the rules and follow them. Constantly watch what other drivers are doing and never trust that they’ll follow those rules—even ones as fundamental as “stop on red”. Be aware of your surroundings, never let anything distract you from your primary duty—to guide your hunk of metal without incident from point-a to point-b. Do these things, and you’ll be safer—for yourself, and for the others around you. Have a nice day :-) Drive safely.