A local columnist I read recently rightly worries about letting her teen son test for his driver’s learning permit. She tells the story of a driver under the influence of a narcotic who caused a three-vehicle crash not far from their home.
Drivers under the influence of a narcotic aren’t the ones that worry me.
Fright on the freeway
My wife and I late one Friday afternoon were traveling on eastbound I-90. Suddenly, a driver in a black sports car sprinted across three lanes of traffic to reach the I-271 interchange east of Cleveland. I slammed on my brakes and horn at the same time, or I’d have broadsided him – at 60 mph.
Behind me, the driver of a flat-bed semi honked at me for slowing down in the middle of a busy highway. Obviously not paying attention until the last split-second, he swerved to my right, flew past me and cut me off – with his flatbed trailer – then sped on ahead.
This all happened in just a few seconds. I had no time to panic or be afraid.
People die in that situation.
A couple of weeks later, my wife and I were traveling westbound on I-90 approaching the state Route 611 exit not far from our home. Driving in the right-hand lane, we approached a police car with its lights flashing that had stopped a vehicle on the shoulder.
Following state law, I slowed down, since I was unable to move to the left lane due to traffic. A driver in a small car behind me drove up to my bumper. After we passed the police car and traffic lightened a little, he sped around me and jerked in front of me, nearly hitting my vehicle, to get to the 611 exit immediately in front of us.
These are the drivers that scare me. They aren’t under the influence of anything except their own arrogance.
I see them nearly every day. Even though I see police cars all the time, I’ve never seen worse drivers than I have in Northeast Ohio.
I don’t get it.
I have more stories. I bet you could tell some, too.
Cut off in the city
Several times, drivers have swerved past me when I’m in my work van and cut me off just to get to a gas station or convenience store immediately ahead. That unsafe pass saved them three seconds – literally. Do they even know that?
Or, they speed past just to get to the red light a little faster than I do.
I have pity on such drivers. Why are they in such a hurry? Can’t they relax, even a little? Perhaps they need to set their alarm clock five minutes earlier – or actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off.
I drive for a living now. Before I got this job, I enjoyed taking a ride through the countryside just to relax. If I had some down time, I’d put the key in the ignition and go. No agenda, no destination, just a time to see someplace new.
Driving for fun
A few times, instead of the countryside, I toured the city. I visited Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple of times, where my grandparents and uncle are buried. I had a job interview in Sandusky three years ago, and I drove up there a couple of days before the interview just to get a feel for the city and find the building where the interview would take place.
When I graduated college more than 35 years ago, I accepted a job as a reporter/photographer/ad salesman/page designer/newspaper deliverer for a weekly newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I turned in mileage reimbursement sheets. It wasn’t unusual for me to submit 300 miles of work-related mileage in a week. It was nothing to drive 50 miles round-trip to cover a meeting.
I rarely saw a traffic light up there. Just get in my car and go. Most towns had one – count ’em, one – blinker light.
That was the toughest part about moving downstate to Saginaw, Mich. – traffic. Sharing the road. Stopping at red lights. Construction zone detours.
I learned, because I had to. I’ve never been in a crash, either. It can be done.
It’s called defensive driving. Expect other drivers to do stupid things, so I’m not surprised when they actually happen.
When our three sons learned to drive as teenagers, I impressed upon them the need to get where they were going. No matter how long it takes, get there. Reach your destination. If you’re stuck in a construction zone, for example, be patient. You’ll get through it.
So you think you can merge
Even today, I am amused when construction narrows three lanes to two, or two lanes to one, and drivers think they can beat the system by driving right up to the flashing arrow or orange barrels and hope someone will let them in. We let them in every time, don’t we?
But that slows everyone down. If we all just got in line, that line would flow smoothly – slowly, sure, but smoothly – through the construction zone. Try it sometime.
Chill out, people. Enjoy the ride. Not just for the sake of teens learning to drive, but for the rest of us too.
Whether on the highway or in the city, I don’t appreciate you taking my life in your hands, as well as your own.
(Side note: If you truly liked your car, SUV or truck, you wouldn’t risk damaging it with unsafe driving. Must be nice to have the money to replace your ride often. I don’t. Just so you know.)