Traffic and driving behaviors seem to be a nearly endless source of debate so rather than posting some kind of cliche tirade about how people are jerks on the road, I hope this blog comes across with compassion and understanding. We all have places we need to be, and life is starting to pick back up pace again, but reckless driving and impatience on the road can lead to road rage incidents, tickets, and even wrecks. I’m speaking from experience, not judgment. Judgment says “I would never do that!” wisdom says, “I have done that and it was wrong of me.”
One evening I was bringing my kids home from swim (pre-pandemic). I had just crossed 35 on 1431 headed from Cedar Park into Round Rock, and suddenly a car came out of the parking lot at Baylor Scott and White hospital, zoomed across three lanes and even though I hit my brakes and honked, they sideswiped me. Obviously it scared the life out of me since I was carrying all three of my kids, and I got hit on the driver’s side where my baby was strapped into his car seat. I was livid. I pulled up alongside the car who hit me and yelled “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” Staring back at me from the driver’s seat of the other car was a woman probably older than my mom. She was 70 if she was a day. She looked back at me, shocked. I felt immediate shame at my outburst. I drove on into the parking lot of a nearby gas station and got out to speak to her.
“I’m really sorry I yelled at you, are you hurt?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied, “I’m just old. I’m so sorry, I was coming from the hospital where I visited my mom, probably for the last time. Is the car okay?”
“Let me just make sure the door still works, but I’m sure it’s okay, I’m not worried about some scratched paint,” I replied, burning with shame.
At that time I was driving a 10 year old Honda Odyssey which I had purchased specifically because I wanted a minivan but didn’t want to have a car payment. The paint was scratched, the door was a little dented, but I was okay, and so was she, and so were all my kids. But I felt horrible about this incident for a very long time because of how I reacted in anger at a grieving older woman. However, it caused a paradigm shift in my thinking on the road, and that lesson was truly invaluable. You can’t assume everyone is on the same wavelength as you when you get in the car.
Before you rush up on someone’s tailgate
Before you rush up on someone’s tailgate, see if there’s a way you can get around them. If not, try to understand what they may be dealing with. Yesterday I was driving like a grandma because I had my dog in the car with me, taking him to the vet. He gets car sick if he spends more than about 20 minutes in the car, and sudden movements are basically like pushing a button on his body that distributes immediate barf.
No one could see why I was driving like a grandma, but here he is, my adorable puke-machine.
It might not be a dog. A driver could be dealing with a crying kid, or they could be transporting a cake. You just don’t know. Granted, my puking dog is not your problem, but also, you being late to work is not my problem. I don’t say that lightly, I have been the crazy late person driving like a bat out of hell way too many times to pass judgment about that. We all just have to understand that everyone on the road has problems. This life contains a myriad of situations, and every time we get out on the road we aren’t just taking our life in our own hands, we are also trusting everyone else on the road with our lives. In addition to that, we can legally be held responsible for taking someone else’s life if we are driving erratically, speeding, or not paying attention.
Of course, it is always possible that the person who is irritating you on the road is just a jerk. Jerks are plentiful. However, making the jerk assumption actually puts you at a greater risk of involving yourself in an accident if they’re actually an inexperienced driver, for example. If they don’t know what they’re doing, do you really want them driving at high speeds? Being stuck behind a slow driver sucks, but getting into a wreck is so much worse.
Another thing it’s important to recognize is the “fast lane” (in actuality it’s the “passing lane”) really only exists on the main road portion of divided, two-lane (or more) highways. If you’re traveling down a road that has two lanes in each direction but that road has traffic lights, there is no “fast lane” because people frequently need to turn left. It also doesn’t exist on the feeder road of a two-lane divided highway, because the feeder road leads up to traffic lights and turns.
Here are a few reasons the person in front of you might be driving slowly:
- Transporting something delicate (dog, baby, wedding cake)
- Lost or looking for an address
- New driver
- Elderly driver
- Nervous driver
Here’s a list of things the driver in front of you may be dealing with:
Another thing people rarely consider while driving is that the person in front of you can see some things you can’t.
- A car is driving erratically ahead of them (possible drunk driver)
- A motorcyclist is weaving in and out of lanes
- There’s a bicyclist on the road ahead and it’s not clear to pass yet
- There’s been a wreck ahead
- There are emergency vehicles ahead
- There are construction workers ahead
Another example is illustrated in the video below:
We’re not all having the same day
One thing I have noticed personally is that humans tend to project their own feelings onto others, especially while driving. If you’re driving along, minding your business, not really worrying about anything, it can seem very jarring and even offensive to be suddenly cut off by someone swinging through three lanes of traffic to catch an exit. None of us can control the rush of adrenaline that hits us when we experience a near miss, but we can control how we react to it.
Before you even get into the car, recognize that everyone else on the road is not necessarily having the same day as you. Whether you’re calm or rushing, happy, bored, dreading heading into work or in a hurry to get home, just understand that we are all dealing with different circumstances and complications. We are all coming and going to and from different places. People are coming from home and work, the grocery store, and clothes shopping, but they’re also coming from their dying mother’s bedside, or from a doctor appointment where a strange mass was discovered. They’re coming home from their divorce proceedings. They’re heading out of town for a funeral. Or maybe they are just going to work, but it took everything they had just to be able to get out of bed and get dressed, much less fight traffic with a bunch of lead-foots.
Have compassion. Be patient.