Friday, February 15, 2013

It Drives Me Crazy

     I just got home from Florida, driving some 2300 miles up and down the East coast of America. And I can tell you, without equivocation, that the worst traffic on the entire Eastern seaboard is around Washington, DC. The roads contain all the ingredients for a horrific driving experience:  Too much traffic. Lots of trucks. Miles of road construction. And plenty of aggressive, impatient drivers who speed, tailgate and basically flout the traffic laws.

     A distant second for worst traffic is the Orlando area -- while, surprisingly, the rest of Florida isn't that bad. The biggest surprise, at least to me, is that the driving in New Jersey is not the awful experience I expected it to be.

     I'll admit my own bias. I like to travel about 5 mph above the speed limit. I think that is a reasonably safe speed, and figure it's basically still within the speed limit.

     However, if you go 5 mph above the speed limit, you are one of the slowest drivers on the road. The flow of traffic on I75 and I4, up I95 to the Garden State Parkway and the Taconic Parkway, ranges somewhere between 10 and 15 mph above the speed limit. And a significant minority of drivers punch it up to 20 mph over the speed limit.That's right, when the limit is 55, they go 75. When the limit is 65, they go 85. At least until they get pulled over by a cop, which I noted takes place occasionally but not too frequently.

     So a lot of people passed me on my trip -- too many passing on the right, not the left. There were a number of instances when I was cruising along in the second lane of a four-lane highway. Two lanes open on the left. One on the right. A driver would pull up behind me, tailgate for a minute or two, then break to the right -- even though the left lanes were wide open. I figure these people are just ignorant. They don't know that they're supposed to pass on the left.

     Some people pulled up behind me, then went to the right even though there was a truck or slow driver just ahead of me in the right-hand lane. The driver would pull even on the right, inch ahead of me, then realize there wasn't enough room to pass without getting stuck behind the slow driver in the right-hand lane. So they slowed down, fell back, and angled into the left lane to pass the way they're supposed to. I figure these people are stupid. They couldn't figure out that the right-hand lane would block them when they tried to pass.

      There were a few people who watched and waited for a free lane. If they saw the right-hand lane was clear, they'd take over the lane and speed past a line of cars in the middle lane, until they closed in on a slow car -- then they'd veer into the middle lane and continue into the left lane, where they'd join the line of faster cars until the right lane got clear again, and then they'd jump back to the right lane to get ahead of another half-dozen cars. I figure these people are sociopaths. They don't care about other drivers, don't appreciate that they're putting anyone in danger. They think solely of their own convenience and need to get ahead.

     Of course, it's easy to criticize and make fun of drivers who don't drive like we do. I think I'm a good driver ... but most people think they're "better than average" drivers.

     But when you're out on the road for days at a time, you realize that it's dangerous on America's highways. But where's the outrage when over 30,000 people are killed on the road every year (even though it used to be even worse before airbags came on the scene)? People understandably spilled gallons of tears for the 27 people killed in Newtown, Ct. But that very same day, more than three times as many people were killed on America's highways. People protested wars in Iraq (4,486 American soldiers killed in 11 years) and Afghanistan (2,083 killed in 12 years). But those losses are infinitesimal compared to the casualties on our roads at home.

     Every once in a while, you see a cross on the side of the road marking the loss of someone's life in an auto accident. Probably involving someone who was speeding, tailgating or passing on the right. Those crosses should remind us -- school's open, drive carefully.



schmidleysscribblins, said...

Oh Gee thanks, remind me of my commute. The last 16 years I worked I drove from Arlington VA to Suitland MD both of which are inside the beltway. I got up early, got to work by 6:30-7:00 most mornings, left work by 3:00-3:30 and drove against traffic.

I missed most of the traffic you encountered....although I live 5 minutes from I-95. I never saw this traffic until I worked on my grad degree in history out at GMU. On the drive to campus, I drove over the beltway...all back routes which I know well.

I can report that traffic 11:00 PM at night it is still moving on the beltway, but all else is relatively calm.

Although the traffic planners are widening the beltway for through traffic, buidling more highways and roads is NOT the answer. I have lived here since 1961, and all the new roads and bridges built over the past 50+ years have done nothing to alleviate traffic. We need mass transport, but the funds as drying up owing to the debt crises. Thank goodness LaHood supported the new Metro rail to the Dulles airport. Dianne

PS five of the top 10 wealthiest counties in the US are located in the DC metro area. This means about 14% of the 1% lives here. There was no recession here, unlike the rest of the US. And housing never lost value.

Arkansas Patti said...

Scary isn't it? I remember I-95 anywhere south of West Palm Beach made you hope you were in good stead with the Lord. Going the speed limit could easily cause an accident.
Sure do love 2 lane traffic in the Ozarks. Best road manners I have ever witnessed.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Many drivers should be sked to take refresher courses and do a written test before renewals. I think they forget the rules and develop bad habits. The system is just as stupid as some drivers because it accepts the lazy ones on the roads.

Anonymous said...

As a resident of the DC area, I can tell you that the two most important things about driving here are 1. hypervigilance and 2. good scheduling -- doing errands during the week instead of on weekends when everyone else is out. Don't even get me started on Beltway driving. It's like the Indy 500 out there.

Stephen Hayes said...

An interesting post and one that made me jumpy. I really don't enjoy driving and avoid doing so whenever I can.

Alex in Virginia said...

I drive exactly like you do. And I agree with all your perceptions regarding the idiots we have to encounter whenever we drive.

One thing I do whenever possible is to map out a trip to stay on secondary roads as much as makes sense. A lot of times it's just like having a private road: no one in front of you or behind you for miles and miles of blessed stress-free driving.

I just did a 140-mile trip from Front Royal to Richmond. First half on backroads and a pleasure; second half a stressathon on I-95 being passed constantly by monster 18-wheelers and idiot amateur Mario Andrettis.


Alex in Virginia

Rose ~ from Oz said...

This post had me shakin' in my boots - we drive in the left hand lane here, now I'm really confused ;)

Kathleen McCoy said...

Living in Los Angeles (until 3 years ago), I thought my husband and I were immune to traffic horror. But during a trip to L.A. in December, we found that we're now used to the country roads here in rural Arizona and in shock over the traffic we encountered in Los Angeles. It hasn't become worse in the past few years. It's just that we are no match for it anymore. I used to commute from Santa Clarita (north of Los Angeles) to UCLA the last five years of my working life. It was 28 miles door to door. And the drive took 1.5 hours on a good day and 2 - 2.5 hours on a bad day. The drive home before a holiday weekend -- forget it! Three hours door to door.

Rita said...

I don't like heavy traffic with all the speeding trucks here in the Seattle area especially when it's raining and especially when it's raining heavily.

I like your photo. I've taken lots of photos out the window.


Douglas said...

You missed the traffic Arkansas Patti wrote of. Having lived in southeast Florida, I can tell you she is not exaggerating. I can also sympathize with Kathleen and remember well the 55 to 60 MPH bumper to bumper traffic of Los Angeles (not to mention the oblivious to all others lane changers who frequented the area). Also I lived in Manassas for 18 months and know the aggravation of the Beltway and took two lane rural roads on my commute up to Herndon. I am fortunate, our traffic here in Paradise (no freeways!) only gets bad in the wintertime when we are inundated with clueless drivers from "up nawth" who seem lost all the time.

Tom Sightings said...

Douglas, I left last week, so you have one less clueless driver to worry about. Hmmm, maybe next winter I'll go to the Ozarks instead!

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