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.

Single yellow and black merge sign

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.

But yikes.

Of all the things to be doing while merging…

*   *   *

I have driven with some pretty unsafe drivers in the past.  Everyone has.  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.

It's not for hanging clothes.  It's for hanging on for your life.
It’s not for hanging clothes. It’s for hanging on for your life.

“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.

Or conversely:

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?

Continued:

Driving: Part II (The “Good Driver” Hierarchy)

Driving: Part III (The Car as a Sword and Shield)

0 thoughts on “Driving: Part I (The Driver-Passenger Conflict)

  1. Jerky drivers are some of the worst! I don't get car sick for anything but that will do it. And I'll have you know Jersey has some of the *best* drivers this country has ever seen..

  2. You hit it right on…

    In my car the said grabbed handle is the “Ocean” handle simply because someone made the mistake of calling it out while my son was in the car and he was at the wonderful age of repeating everything. So when he asked “Daddy, what's an Ocean handle?” I didn't correct him and it stuck.

    I try to avoid driving with the mean people. I'm always snarky so the occasional “Most people begin driving on green” and “you should pick a lane” or my favorite “I could read the guardrail just fine from the middle” But then again, I have been known to call out an idiot driver about to pull out on their green light.

    WG
    http://itsmynd.com

  3. I hate the Garden State Pkwy. I almost die every time I drive anywhere in Jersey. LOL If you see a yellow VW on the road, drive away, quickly!

    I'm used to the annoying passenger seat drivers. I have gotten into several accidents and I suppose that makes people nervous. LOL

    You told your mom that she drives jerky?! How dare you!! 😛

  4. This is pretty much brilliance on toast. I love how you presented both sides of the green light scenario. Thanks for the laughter therapy, Mr Brown. =)

  5. O I'm guilty. I always tell my husband, “turn here….” “there's a light there….” I think I learned it from my mom. On the flip side, my husband is always telling me to go at stop signs and stuff. Excuse me for not taking any risks with our kids in the back of the car. But he's probably right. Sometimes I wait when I probably had more than enough time.

  6. My kids make fun of how I use the brake when I'm a passenger and how I “talk” to all of the other drivers on the road. When they aren't in the car, Momma has severe road rage and it ain't just talkin' that I'm doin' to the other drivers fo sho'!!!!

  7. I don't like to drive, but I am extremely skilled at it. Ironically, people won't ride with me more than once and children hold their hands in the air and say, “Wheee” like it is a rollercoaster.

    I don't get it…but I totally agree about yellow lights. Yellow means, “go faster!”

  8. I didn't realize you were an East Coast girl (until digging a little deeper on your blog). Very cool!

    I will definitely have to find out about said accidents.

    And yes, I told her that she was a jerky driver but felt super-bad about it afterward. I apologized vehemently, but I hope she has found it in her heart to forgive me by this point.

  9. True story. Driving to CO with parents late at night. Mom driving. Me laying down in the back seat. Suddenly the car is shaking and I'm hearing the unmistakably sound of the bllllrb bllllrp bllllllrp things they etch into the road to remind you you are about to drive into the median. Mom I yell, Mom wakes up (yes she was the one driving) and dad is in a coma like state fro ma low blood sugar. (he's diabetic.) Well….I'M STILL ALIVE!!! yea parents

  10. I have never driven on my own due to a phobia about cars and accidents and having my body turn to bloody goo and I will say that this post has not made me feel any closer to overcoming my fears. Still, I laughed. And I did not realize that being a front seat passenger came with such grave responsibility!

  11. Something tells me that your mother wouldn't fare well with the drivers down here in Miami.

    “Watch out! That guy is swerving in different lanes without using the turn signal!” *clutches coat hanger life saving device*

    -Barb the French Bean

  12. I hate driving. What I hated the most when I lived in the city was when I was waiting to turn left, and the light would turn yellow, and then the guy behind would honk at me…even though there were still cars coming the other way. Argh.

  13. I am the rare exception to the rule, I guess. It doesn't bug me at all when people turn white adn make the sign of the cross when I get behind the wheel because I am the first one to admit that I am perhaps the world's shittiest driver. I actually can't wait for my short people to turn 16 because statistically speaking they have GOT to wind up being a better driver than me. Now, if only I can keep them alive that long…

  14. Doesn't it make you scared that you don't consider yourself a good driver. Like, for yourself and others?

    Perhaps if this is not one of your Red Dress fears, we should make it one 🙂

  15. It probably should, but I am lacking in all foresight and sense of public awareness. Maybe my red dress and I should get our collective asses to driving school.

  16. Driving with my parents was always a nightmare! My step father is a notorious know-it-all and my mother is total control freak! You can just imagine the fights that would ensue! It was like a scene between Frank and Estelle Costanza from Seinfeld! Yikes! 🙂

  17. See, I'm Asian and as the stereotypes states: I'm a bad driver. Whenever anyone gets in the passenger seat of my car, I immediately apologize to them for the ride they're about to get. Something must be wrong with my hubby and friends because they keep letting me drive them around. Damn daredevils.

  18. I hear you Mike. I remember going on a road trip with a friend who didn't use the cruise control and apparently didn't know how to maintain a constant speed. Like clockwork, for the 2 hour trip, he would tap the gas for a few seconds then release. Tap the gas pedal… and then release. Tap the gas pedal.. then release. So for 2 hours my head rocked back and forth like a bobble-head doll. That was pure torture.

  19. Hehehe, well observed man, we're all hypocrites occasionally, and I guess this is one of the common occasions.

    I personally never have these kinds of issues. Maybe that's because I don't have a driver's license or a car…and I'm not in the habit of having passengers on my bike. Ah well.

  20. Fun post. I must admit that I'm a poor driver. I've never been in a serioss accident but I distract easily and often make poor judgements. I'm usually content to let someone else drive.

  21. Once in a while, I'll drive a school bus on a field trip or something. It's a pretty good gig and I quite enjoy it. It does have a couple perks in that people are always telling me they could never drive with all that distraction, plus, when you flip on the ticker of a school bus, traffic generally opens up for a bus load of kids. People tend to cut you some slack in a bus.

    I've often considered buying a used one just to drive around in.

  22. I've only done karting – but whenever I kart I have the wonderful knack of braking in the middle of the turn. I go in full speed and then realize I'm going too fast to make the corner – so brake suddenly – and allow all the other karts behind me to pile up on top. It's grand and drives my brother crazy… which is sort of the point, isn't it?

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