The other day, while merging onto the Garden State Parkway, and at the same time pulling pieces of lint off of my shirt, I realized that maybe I am not always a safe driver.
I have never been in an accident. I have never been close. I consider myself a very safe driver, and would be offended if accused otherwise.
Of all the things to be doing while merging…
* * *
I have driven with some pretty unsafe drivers in the past, ones who’ve ended up on a california driving course in fact, to be reminded of the rules of the road. You know, the kind of driver that makes your hamstrings hurt from pressing down on the imaginary brake on the passenger’s side. The kind of driver that you only ride with when it is absolutely necessary.
These kinds of drivers might be frightening to travel with, but an even scarier notion is bringing up this truth to them.
Vocally suggesting a fallacy in one’s driving tendencies seems to produce the same reaction as would mentioning the flaws in one’s facial features.
Whether its “Babe, the yellow light means you have some time to get through the light – you don’t have to slam on your brakes,” or “Bro! That yellow means green is coming for the other side of traffic. I don’t want to die,” any mention of another driver’s imperfections inevitably leads to you being a backseat driver and/or asshole. Typically, it also results in an uncomfortable remainder of the commute.
The longest grudge my mother ever held against me was when I was thirteen and made the mistake of complaining that I couldn’t fall asleep on a long road trip because she was too much of a “jerky” driver. I didn’t mean to offend – I was simply tired and couldn’t fall asleep due to said jerkiness.
It’s a cycle, however. While home for Christmas, I was in the backseat of my parents’ car. Coming out of an intersection, my mom yelled to my dad: “Bob! Watch that guy!” as she grabbed the Oh Shit Handle.
“You think I didn’t see him?!? Just let me drive!”
The next day, I was driving with my dad in the passenger seat. As we pulled up to an intersection, just a block from their house, he said, “You turn left here, but you know that, right?” Then, “All clear on my side.”
Now, I could see if it was a busy intersection with limited visibility. An extra set of eyes would be helpful in such a scenario. But I was about to turn onto a well-lit, completely desolate road that could easily be seen for at least a quarter-mile in each direction.
And while it sometimes might be nice to forgo looking to the right, I can’t think of what I would say in court after I plow over a man on a bike that my dad just didn’t happen to see.
“Did you look both ways before entering the intersection?”
“No, your honor. Only left. My copilot told me we were all clear on the right. And I trust him explicitly. So much, in fact, that I don’t even bother turning my head.”
In all of these scenarios, my mom, dad, and I take turns being the innocent, helpful passenger as well as being the hypocritically uptight driver. But when it comes to driver-passenger relationships, the rules of amicability do not apply:
We are at a red light. My friend is driving, and I am in the passenger seat. The light changes to green. Two seconds go by. “Green light,” I say in a cheery tone. He turns his head to glare at me for a moment. “Thanks,” he says and then starts driving. Damn, dude. Relax. Just trying to help.
We are at a red light. I am driving, and my friend is in the passenger seat. I am reading a “lost dog” sign on a telephone pole and daydreaming about finding the puppy and bringing it to the address and the owner of the puppy is an extraordinarily hot woman with extraordinarily large breasts who hugs me and thanks me for finding her puppy and … at the exact moment that I realize that the light has changed to green, my friend says “Green light.”
“Thanks,” I snarl. Jesus. Give me half a second to move my foot from the brake to the accelerator. You in a rush or something?