We've all been guilty of tailgating at one time or another in our lives. There you are on an empty road, save for one car in front of you, one car going inexorably slow. Maybe you're late for work, or some other appointment. Maybe a restroom beckons. Maybe you're just a New Yorker. Whatever the reason, you find yourself driving as close as possible to the other vehicle without the molecules of your bumpers meshing. It doesn't help. It never helps. In fact, more often than not when the situation is reversed, that kind of behavior actually encourages me to go even slower for spite.

Impatience is a human condition. I think tailgating bothers me more when I'm not the reason for the traffic. If there's a line of cars in front of me or construction, the guy behind me riding that close is not going to push me any further, not if there isn't anywhere for me to go. There are a few warehouses on the road to my office, and occasionally a truck might be backing up to one and blocking the road. Such was the case the other day when I was returning from lunch.

In these situations, I'm empathetic to the cars in front of me. I saw the truck back up, then roll forward, then back up again. I left a good three feet between myself and the car in front of me, and sat back to observe in amusement and disbelief. It was the middle of the day; I was in no rush. Neither, it seemed, was the truck driver. Just when I thought he was making it, he had doubts and rolled forward again, at one point hopping the opposite curb. I was glad for once it was too hot, or else I might have been on that sidewalk instead of in my car.

Finally, he seemed to be making it. Meanwhile, an SUV driver a few vehicles behind me rolled to the left and began passing everybody by driving on the wrong side. “Where's this guy going?” I said to the air. I rolled forward, closing the gap between myself and the car in front of me. With the truck across the road, the SUV jerk wasn't getting anywhere. “Don't...don't let him do it...” I said, as though the driver in front of me could hear. Narrowly missing her bumper on one side and the cab of the still backing up truck on the other, the SUV driver squeezed through and floored it down the road, saving all of the one minute he could have waited in line for the truck to be off the road allowing our lane to proceed.

On Friday, I was waiting to cross the street near my favorite deli. A car was waiting to make a left turn, and I thankfully didn't step off the sidewalk when the light began to change. The lady behind the turning car threw up her arms, floored it, and revved around on to the shoulder, her tires actually scraping the curb where I was standing. Impatience may be the death of the patient, unfortunately, as one last example will illustrate.

My instinct when I see a car turn on its right directional is to slow down, because I know they're about to slow down and make a turn. When I'm about to turn down my block each evening, the reactions of the drivers behind me vary from increasing speed to veering partially into the left lane so they don't have to slow down for the few seconds it would take for me to complete my turn. My street is a narrow one, with cars often parked on both sides, and coming in too fast means risking hitting one of these cars or an oncoming vehicle squeezing between them.

The other night, making this turn, I saw in my rearview mirror an SUV bearing down on me as usual, I took my foot off the brake, veering so sharply that the Powerade bottle on my passenger seat flew into the air, spun, and somehow landed near my feet, just under the brake pedal. And of course™, there was a car coming toward me down the road, which veered on to the thankfully open shoulder to avoid hitting me. The bottle rolled back down the incline of the floor, and didn't impair my ability to brake. It would have been a fluke that no one could duplicate. Going forward, I'll be keeping any water bottles on the floor of the passenger side.

The roads are full of obstacles. Other cars. Construction. Buses. Children playing. Cats. Dogs. Racoons. Squirrels. Birds. On Friday I watched in horror as a line of geese crossed a notoriously busy road, certain that someone would come around the bend and utterly splatter them. Miraculously, people waited, and they made it to the safety of the park across the street. There are slow drivers out there, people who are older or lost or from out of state. There may be times when the driver in front of you has no legitimate reason for going slower than you'd like. Maybe there's a cop with a radar gun around the bend. Maybe there was an accident. We'd all do well to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes a delay that seems like an eternity is but a matter of minutes, and a few minutes is nothing compared to loss of life or some other disaster that would haunt us and everyone involved for a lifetime.


Blogger b13 said...

But driving fast is invigorating and fun... and if people didn't drive so slow, there wouldn't be so many collisions. ;)

"My way, or get off the highway!" :)

7/26/2008 12:49 AM  
Blogger MCF said...

Yeah, collisions are the fault of SLOW drivers. So the 2 times in my life I was rearended while stopped at a red light were my fault. O_o

7/27/2008 11:46 AM  
OpenID agoldenworld said...

There is some bit of truth to b13's humour. Each driver out there has truly but one concern... themselves. Their scarcity of time allows them the luxury and God-given right to think that traffic laws can be suspended for their (and only their) convenience.

I ended up sideswiping a compact Toyota earlier this week with my five-ton, all because the driver in the compact was in too much of a rush and decided to pass me on the right to make the same left turn I was making, jumping into my blind spot. When I got out to talk to him, he didn't even realize how badly he could have been hurt.

Reality has definitely taken a big exit for drivers.

7/27/2008 12:53 PM  

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