Posts Tagged ‘cars’

Previously known as “What’s the Matter With Atlanta Drivers? – Part 4

 

What’s the fascination with traffic lights here? I understand that when traffic lights change from green to red, we’re all supposed to stop, but why is it so important to slow, sometimes to a crawl, when encountering a green light? Is this phenomenon anything akin to that of rubbernecking, where drivers slow down, against almost to a crawl, so that they can get an eyeful of anything that’s already slowing down traffic, whether it’s an accident or a road construction gang? And often, they wait so long to start after the light changes from red to green, I’m certain they’re calling their parents – or their pastor – for guidance.

Here in Atlanta, drivers have some really nice cars. I rarely see a car more than ten years old, and I usually see cars that were made within the last five years or so. So perhaps the reason people drive so recklessly is that they know they’re driving safer cars . . . But it bothers me, it really does, that with all these nice cars, none of the drivers thought to get them equipped with turn signals! Especially when they so often need to cross four or five lanes of I-75 to make their exit!

I mean, come on now. When a driver’s actions are predictable, they contribute to a safer driving environment for everyone around! If the driver ahead of you on a two-lane country road starts signaling right, it’s a safe bet he’s going to start slowing down – and you’re going to be prepared for it if you’re driving along behind him. Compare that with driving behind some clown who decides, at the very last minute, to turn right, either slowing down without warning (or apparent reason), or slamming on the brakes at the last minute. Either is much more fraught with danger than signaling a right turn, gradually slowing, and making that turn.

And if you’re tooling along the Interstate and your exit’s coming up, be proactive and slide on over to the right lane beforehand. If you find you’re in the left lane and passing your exit, don’t slam on the brakes and try to veer across four or five lanes of traffic! Instead, bite the bullet and get off at the next exit!

Advertisements

 Or What’s the Matter with Atlanta Drivers? Part 3

The stupid driver behaviors described here certainly aren’t unique to Atlanta, and one – the “driving hat” – is more likely to be found in other places, especially where there are plenty of retired folks. I’m not going to waste your time with the stupid driver tricks we’re all too familiar with, though, like texting, eating cereal, or reading a newspaper while driving.

The Rolling Roadblock

Ever hear of the rolling roadblock? I hadn’t heard of it until a radio fellow named Jim Gearhart up in New Jersey started complaining about them. Here’s how it works: You’re on the road, driving merrily along in the right lane at a few miles over the limit (hey, this is Atlanta!). Like many roads, this one has two lanes going your way and two coming the other way – a four-lane road. You come over the top of a hill (and there are plenty of hills in Atlanta!) and slam on the brakes – you’ve encountered a rolling roadblock. In front of you, in the right lane, is a happy motorist who’s doing precisely the speed limit, and next to him, in the passing lane, is some yutz who’s matching his speed, preventing anyone from passing.

Why do these people do this? There’s no consensus. Some folks seem to think they’re smugly self-righteous drivers who think that it’s their mission to make sure that nobody breaks the speed limit. Others think they’re just idiots. Whichever, they’re dangerous because they impede the flow of traffic. The standard was, at least when I was learning to drive, that you drove in the right lane and used the left lane only for passing, after which you returned to the right lane. I’m assured by reliable sources that the standard still exists, even though it’s usually ignored. Well, d’uh!

The Space Cadet

Related to the rolling roadblock is the moron who drives slower than the flow of traffic in some lane other than the rightmost lane. Now, if someone doesn’t want to keep up with the flow of traffic, or exceed the speed limit, that’s fine, and if I’m stuck behind them on a 2-lane road (one lane in each direction), I don’t bear any grudge. Really! I wait for a passing opportunity and move along, but I’m not going to develop a bad feeling for someone who’s obeying the law, even if they’re slowing me down in the process.

We generally use the term space cadet to describe anyone who’s so distracted by surrounding events that they’re only peripherally involved in what they’re actually doing, and it’s easy to call the right-lane dawdler a space cadet as well. At least he (or she) is following the rules, though. The people I’m calling space cadets here are those whose lack of attention to what they’re doing is putting others’ health and lives at risk. On a moderately busy road, every instance of space cadets – slower cars not in the right lane – slows down the rest of the traffic, potentially leading to congestion and accidents, and definitely leading to irritated drivers.

Driving Hats

Mentioning Gearhart reminds me of a New Jersey driving phenomenon I haven’t seen (yet) in Atlanta – the “driving hat.” This is seen with alarming frequency in South Jersey. You’ll be driving along and come up on a car – usually a Cadillac or a big Buick – where the only clue that there’s a driver is the presence of a hat where a driver’s head should be. As you pass the car (because it’s usually going about half the speed limit) you stare in wonder, because all that you can see, from any direction, is that hat! The only time you can be certain that there’s an actual person there is if you see them park and get out of the car – at which point you find out it’s a little old man or woman, apparently well into the triple digits in age, and just as frequently no more than five feet tall, if that.

Other annoying things drivers do

Well, again, where do I start? The driver who never learned about turn signals (my wife calls them indicators) or who thinks they’re unnecessary optional equipment in the car (unnecessary because he knows where he’s going). The idiot who, at twilight, turns on his parking lights only when all other drivers have turned on their headlights. Or his cousin, who doesn’t bother turning on his headlights until it’s pitch black outside, because he can see where he’s going. (Hey, stupid – it helps other people see you, you moron!) Related to these fools is the clown who leaves his lights off in the most drenching downpour, and likely for the same reason – he can see the road just fine.

I could probably go on and on, but I actually have to get back to some writing that will help pay the bills . . .

This is the second of five parts of an article I wrote in 2007 about the foibles and follies of Atlanta drivers. Despite the passage of enough time for each of them to have had the article read to them personally by me, they continue to baffle and bewilder casual observer and frightened fellow-drivers alike.

More about cellphones. We all see drivers cruising along, cellphone pressed to their ear, and we’re certain they’re pretty much oblivious to what’s going on around them. So why is it that we can carry on a conversation with someone next to us in the car, but it becomes a bad thing when we talk to someone who’s not there? That’s the reason – they’re not there. When you’re talking to someone in the same car, you’re both watching the road, and if things get interesting, the conversation dies away until the road situation’s been dealt with.

When you’re driving and talking on the phone with someone, though, they don’t see the road. Hell, they may not even know you’re in a car! I remember once talking to my boss about salaries, a pretty detailed conversation, and all of a sudden I realized, from something he said, that he was driving – in an airport parking lot! (I told him to call me back when he got to his destination and hung up.)

So what happens – often – is that the conversation takes priority and the driver is only marginally involved in the act of driving, much more so than when talking to someone in the car with you. The miracle here – again – is that there aren’t a lot more fatalities.

Atlanta drivers engage in all sorts of other strange behavior behind the wheel as well. We’ve all seen someone eating a burger so large there’s no way he can keep his eyes on the road (“It takes two hands . . .”), but how many have seen someone reading a newspaper or book? Or the contortionist who’s watching the television installed for the rear-seat set? Or people with laptop computers in their laps, websurfing while they drive? And women are famous for putting on their makeup while driving to work, using the rearview mirror for guidance.

NOTE: Since I published this article, another annoying behavior surfaced, one which is highly dangerous: texting while driving. I’ve seen this extremely foolish behavior on Atlanta’s roads and highways, and it’s scary as hell. In fact, I’m tempted to blow my horn at such drivers, but I’m worried I’ll startle them and cause an accident.

I arrived in Georgia in 2003, and so let the record show that I waited a good long while, learning the habits and practices of the natives, before speaking up and writing this article in May of 2007. The problem is, it was more than 2,000 words when I first published it – I didn’t know then how important brevity is in online work! So I’m presenting it here in a few different parts, to make it an easier read.

Part 1

Woodstock, GA May 9, 2007: Look, I know the technical term for someone like me is “damn Yankee.” I’m a transplant from New Jersey, been here for just over three years. But like most Georgians, I have a vested interest in staying alive. But it seems as if every time I turn my key in the ignition, I’m taking my life in my hands!

So what IS the matter with Atlanta drivers? And are these problems unique to the Atlanta metropolitan area, or are they universal? I’ll tell you what – if they drove like this where I came from, there’d be a lot more fatalities. See, I come from the New York City metropolitan area, where there are three times as many people, probably something like two to three times as many cars, and perhaps half the roadway (measured in “lane miles”). There are always accidents up north, but they usually involve injuries. Here in the Atlanta area there seems to be at least one fatality per week.

Where should I start? How about at the beginning?

Okay, getting into the car. Seems as good a place as any to start, huh? Now, I don’t hang out in people’s driveways or garages, and so I can’t testify as to how they get into their cars there, but I do see their behavior in parking lots. And I see how they get into their cars. And let me tell you, it’s scary.

If you know me, you know that of the places on earth you’re likely to find human activity, I think parking lots are among the most dangerous, and airport and mall parking lots are the most dangerous of these. Imagine – acres and acres of pavement, with vehicles of all sorts driving all over the place, looking either for a place to park or a way out of the lot. Add to this confusing mix a constant stream of pedestrians trying to remember where they parked their cars. Sounds like a place where you’d want everyone on their toes, right? So why is it that the pedestrians, upon stepping into the parking lot, immediately start looking not for their car, but for their cellphones? And those who haven’t actually dialed and gotten engaged in a conversation by the time they find their car will stop at the point of actually getting into their car, whip out their cellphone and start dialing before opening the door to get in.

Now they magically transform from pedestrians to drivers. We all know that in a mall parking lot, the road markings and signs (the ones that say things like “Left turn only” and “STOP”) are there for guidance at best. Most drivers think they’re there as landmarks (“How do I get out of the parking lot?” “Okay, run down this lane until you get to that funny-lookin’ red sign there and turn left . . .”).

Given this deadly mix, I honestly don’t know why there aren’t more fatalities in parking lots, especially mall lots.