photo courtesy of Paul Swansen @ creative commons
It's a known fact that everyone reading this is an above-average driver — and that each of us always displays deep and abiding civility toward our fellow travelers. So we're sure you won't recognize yourself in any of the items listed below.
But what about all those other jerks on the road?
What things do other drivers do that annoy you most? Here's our list.
1. Talking on a cell phone
When you're talking on your cell phone, you're as likely to cause an accident as when you're legally drunk. Now, what's your excuse? What's more annoying than a driver who's willing to risk your life so he can pick up his General Tso's chicken without waiting? Even when distracted drivers don't cause a wreck, they weave from lane to lane, create confusion in intersections and generally drive slower than other drivers around them while they're trying to do two things at once, leaving a gang of irate drivers in their wake.
Don't Be a Jerk: Put the phone down while you drive. You know about voice mail, right?
2. Driving too fast for road conditions
Just because a speed limit is 65 mph doesn't mean that's always the right speed. Snow, ice or rain can dramatically reduce your car's braking and handling abilities, as well as limit visibility. The right top speed for those conditions is that at which you feel safe and in control and able to react in time to anything that happens up ahead. That could be 40 mph. Or zero mph.
Drivers who fly past you at 50 mph when conditions call for 15 mph are not just risking their own lives — they might take you with them. If they lose control, they could easily spin into you, knocking you off the road and down an embankment. Or, at the very least, they could cover your windshield with a thick film of slush or rain, leaving you temporarily blinded. Annoying? We'd say so.
Don't Be a Jerk: There's always someone driving like a jerk in bad weather. And if you notice you're passing everybody, you're the jerk.
3. Not cleaning snow off their cars
How would you feel if someone heaved a 3-foot-diameter, 40-pound dinner plate at your windshield? Not too swell, we're guessing. Well, that's exactly what happens when a rooftop of snow and ice on the car in front of you goes airborne. In addition to soiling your trousers, such unwelcome crash-landings have been known to shatter windshields. In some states, it's even against the law. In all states, it's a sign of thoughtlessness.
Don't Be a Jerk: Take five minutes to clean the snow off your car before you drive away. You'll see better, and you won't inadvertently launch an attack on the cars behind you.
4. Not signaling when turning or changing lanes, or leaving a signal on
Signaling your intentions is one of the most basic acts of courtesy one can engage in. If we can't predict what other drivers are going to do, we can't make informed decisions about what we should do, and the result is mayhem. And insurance claims.
But besides being dangerous, not signaling is also downright obnoxious. It says, "Your safety doesn't matter to me, and I'm more important than you are." It's rather telling that signaling one's intentions is pretty much universal in the animal kingdom. And if hyenas can manage it, can't you?
By the way, leaving a turn signal on, while an act of omission, can be just as dangerous.
Don't Be a Jerk: Use your turn signals, Bub.
5. Leaving high beams on
Driving at night introduces a variety of risks, all related to the fact that our vision becomes limited. The less well you can see, the less well you drive. So when someone oncoming cruises past you and shines the equivalent of a 100,000-candlepower lighthouse directly into your retinas, he's definitely being more than a little annoying — he's compromising your ability to drive safely.
If that's not reason enough for you to remember to switch off your high beams when there's traffic headed your way, here are two more reasons: 1) If you blind an oncoming driver with your high beams, he might not be able to judge where your car is and might crash into you. Wouldn't that suck? 2) The driver coming toward you might have been interrogated by the CIA under bright lights, and you might trigger a flashback. Do you want that responsibility? Didn't think so.
By the way, poorly aimed headlights can also be dangerous. If oncoming drivers are flashing their lights at you and you don't know why, first make sure your headlights are on, and then check that the high beams are off. If those two items check out OK, have your mechanic check the alignment of your headlights. It takes five minutes, and it's a thoughtful gesture to future oncoming drivers.
Don't Be a Jerk: Understand that your high beams are a dangerous weapon when aimed at oncoming traffic. Remember when you've turned them on, and always be prepared to turn them right off.
6. Faulty equipment
Saving money by putting off repairs is a noble act of cheapskate-dom, but when deferring maintenance means that you're starting to compromise your own safety, or others around you, that's when we get annoyed.
It's not uncommon for us to see customers' cars at our garage with bald tires, bad shocks, a turn signal or headlight that's burned out, or poor wiper blades. Blowing off those repairs isn't just dangerous — it might also cost you more money in the end. Look at it this way: Which bill would you rather pay? Four new tires or having to replace 50 of the botanical garden's prized Asian thorn bushes and doubled insurance premiums for the next five years? We rest our case.
While it's less immediately dangerous, driving a car that's burning oil to beat the band is also obnoxious. Ask my brother how many otherwise sweet old ladies give him the finger when he pulls up next to them at a light and surrounds them in a thick cloud of smelly, blue smoke.
Don't Be a Jerk: Maintenance is not just for you. You'll improve your own safety and that of your fellow drivers by keeping up on necessary repairs.
7. Taking two spaces in a parking lot
Is there anything more obnoxious than announcing to the world, "My BMW paint job is more important than your ability to park?" Of course, if the car is a '66 Plymouth Valiant and the driver is currently wearing adult diapers, the issue may be driving ability rather than obnoxiousness. So consider the circumstances.
Don't Be a Jerk: When my brother comes across an expensive car that's taking up two premium spaces, he likes to squeeze his 20-year-old heap right in next to the car. Not only does he get a space, but also he knows the owner of the offending trophy car is going to stroke out when he sees it. Of course, my brother has also had his nose broken a few times. So consider parking elsewhere, and think about leaving a note on the offending vehicle instead, suggesting that the driver kindly not hog two spots in a busy lot the next time they run errands.
Also, if you have a car that's so precious that it can't be parked close to anyone else's, park it at the far end of the parking lot. That way, you inconvenience yourself rather than everybody else.
8. Staying in the far left lane
We all need to work together if we're going to get home in time to watch "Jeopardy!" That includes pulling back over to the right after you've passed a slower-moving vehicle. Staying in the left lane forces everyone to go at exactly your speed, or pass you unsafely on the right. It also raises the blood pressure of those who want to go even a little bit faster. You're going the speed limit? Fine. Let the police enforce the law. And remember, some drivers might have very good reasons for driving faster than you on any given day. They might be trying to make sure their mother-in-law catches her plane home.
Don't Be a Jerk: Use the passing lane for passing. And when you're in it, always keep an eye on your rearview mirror and be aware if someone is coming up faster behind you so you can get out of the way in time.
9. Not acknowledging making a mistake or overreacting to an honest mistake
Driver A makes a stupid mistake, causing Driver B to swerve. Driver B, having just planted his beak directly into his Starbucks Frappuccino, delivers Driver A the one-finger salute. Driver B is offended, and responds in kind.
We all make mistakes. Remember that when someone pulls out without seeing you. Sure, honk if you need to for safety. But do you really have to follow it up with an Al Swearengen-like diatribe? If the person is decent enough to hold up a palm and indicate "Sorry!" can't you say, "That's OK"?
And similarly, when you make a boneheaded move, don't slink off as if you didn't notice that you almost caused a five-car pileup. Acknowledge that you screwed up. Mouth "Sorry." Look a little sheepish. Hold up a palm asking for forgiveness.
If more people apologized for their lunkheadedness and more people accepted their apologies, the roads would be a lot more humane.
Don't Be a Jerk: Remember the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you when you pull out of your parking space without looking.
10. Dangerous loads improperly secured
The laws of physics are immutable. So, unfortunately, are the laws of stupidity. If you're driving at 75 mph, twine, a bungee cord and your left hand will not keep a Sealy Posturepedic from setting sail above the interstate. Trust us on this.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who — through impatience, laziness or lack of schooling — don't understand the basics of force, leverage and wind loading. As a result, those of us who follow them have to drive with our hearts in our throats until we can get around them and hope the load doesn't let out at that moment. And what about the guy behind you?
Oblivious as they may be, these drivers can leave a trail of chaos behind them. And if their load comes unhinged, they're going to have a bad case of survivor's guilt.
Don't Be a Jerk: If you're carrying something that doesn't fit inside your car, get professional help or advice in securing it before driving. And have all mattresses and 4x8 sheets of plywood delivered.
11. Picking your nose
Let's be perfectly clear about this: We've got nothing against picking one's nose. According to fossil records, it's a habit that dates back to the Stone Age. But, being forced to watch someone up to the second knuckle in a mining operation is enough to cause anyone to lose his breakfast burrito.
Don't Be a Jerk: Don't assume nobody is watching — especially at stoplights where people tend to survey their surroundings.