By on March 4, 2008

bad_car_wrecklarge.jpgI live in a hilly area of high-crowned, barely two-lane back roads. There are no center lines, lots of blind corners, hills and crests; and not much traffic. You could say it’s an enthusiast's paradise. But then… stupid drivers. It happened to me last week, for the third time in a year. A driver without the slightest situational awareness put me into a ditch, leaving me yelping moronically and bleating my horn while they sped off. This has got to stop.

In the last couple of years, the four o'clock rush has provided a perfect illustration of vehicular inattentiveness. That’s when the contractors and service guys in vans and pickups and the boys in the local U.S. Military Academy cadre jump in their big trucks and race home. Fortunately, I get to view the show from the opposite-direction traffic. It’s an inbound kamikaze squadron. Negotiating our only four-lane, I can almost hear Darrell Waltrip: “Lookit, lookit, they’re three wide into the corner and somebody’s gonna wreck!”

On the back road shortcuts, I meet guys in compact cars coming the other way. A simple, mutual flick of the steering wheel to move aside and we're by each other. But the pickup-and-SUV crowd hews to the crown of the road.  It’s move off the road or be killed.

Folks, I'm not talkin' Alzheimered grandmothers or soccer moms on cell phones. These are NASCAR dads with toolboxes in back who imagine that on a good day they could give Junior a run for his money. And yet they’re obviously unable to put their enormous right front fender any closer to the edge of the road because they haven't the faintest idea how much clearance is available.

To me, this lack of spatial awareness (SA) is the clearest sign of a national diminution of driving skills. And yet America’s driving instruction (and tests) still teaches new motorists that their safety depends on maintaining a “safe margin of distance”– rather than focusing on SA and car control. That’s two kinds of stupid.

Once upon a time, positioning skills– rather than simple speed– were the mark of an excellent driver. Ken Purdy’s classic book Kings of the Road contains a wonderful chapter about the Italian racecar driver Tazio Nuvolari. Though I’m working from 40-year-ago memory here, the author relates how Nuvolari accepted a dare to drive through an ancient stone arch. The passage provided his monoposto Alfa-Romeo with two inches of clearance on each side.  Nuvolari did it at a triple-digit speed. With ease.

In Germany, Autobahn-repair rubber cones sometimes funnel two lanes into a space earlier taken by one. Everybody slows, positions and keeps moving. In New York, Michigan or California, traffic comes to a standstill whenever they cut the flow down to a single-lane merge, since nobody could deal with such proximity. I always wonder what Europe must be like for the American rental-car drivers who can’t make it down their small-town streets without clipping side mirrors.

It’s hard to know which came first: American cars without enough road feel for proper positioning or American drivers’ lack of interest in cars with enough road feel for proper positioning (never mind cornering). In any case, the result is truly frightening. 

I’m an EMS volunteer. Our ambulances can’t even use our town’s quite ordinary Main Street when we’re in a hurry; we’re too likely to come up against somebody in an SUV who has to fearfully get out of our way and inch past, even with a foot of clearance on either side.

At the risk of offending someone with the truth, it’s  often a woman who has no more business driving a 6,000-pound truck with fingertip light power steering than she does piloting a Lear. But she likes the visibility and her husband insists. (My own doctor’s wife tells me that she loathes her towering Toyota Land Cruiser, but her better half feels better knowing his wife is encased in so much metal.)

If you don’t count my time aboard a Farmall tractor, I learned to drive in 1952, and the olden days were a time when you worked on your own skills and pretty much assumed everybody else on the road was reasonably competent.   These days, I spend far too much of my driving time looking out for the other guy– whether it’s the duallie Ram half in my lane, the Expedition bearing down unchecked in my rear-view mirror at the stoplight, the woman who looked left and right and then pulled out 20 feet in front of me awhile ago (in EMS, we call them “looked but didn’t see” crashes) or somebody inexplicably crossing from their lane into opposite-direction traffic.

Drunk? Distracted? Simply lost control? We’ve seen ‘em all, and they’re usually fatal for somebody. All too often the other guy,

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the only realistic hope for increasing public safety on our roads is the automated car. Personally, I can think of nothing worse than surrendering control of my vehicle to a microchip. But then, like you, I’m not the problem.

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67 Comments on “Bad Drivers: Auto Pilot is the Answer...”


  • avatar
    salokj

    Having lived over in Europe for the past 4 years after having learned to drive in the US, it’s very easy to say that the Europeans are better drivers than the Americans (in general, of course), but I don’t think that they are in any way exceptional drivers.

    I live in France, where lane discipline is very good, but beyond that, there are as many mindless idiots out there as anywhere I’ve driven in the US. And they are at least as big pricks as the worst Americans…but yes, highway driving is a completely different game here.

    I did some time on the Autobahn a couple of months ago, and I expected this driving utopia…meh…it was fine, they were better than in France, but they’re still human drivers with human stupidness.

    Maybe I just don’t see it…being that I’m used to driving in the US and used to driving in Europe, but (while admitting that overall it’s better over here) I don’t think that the fawning over EU drivers is completely warranted.

    RE: Americans in Rental cars…making them drive stick cuts down on some of the scrapes and removed mirrors. Mandatory CDW pays for it when it happens.

  • avatar
    SCMTB

    Ok, slam dunk, this is the best editorial I’ve ever read on TTAC. Nearly everything I’ve ever wanted to say about drivers in the US, which is source of angst for me at a level it should not be.

    Oh, and I learned to drive on a Deere, not a Farmall. No doubt SA is a requirement down on the farm.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Totally agree.
    1. driving is a privilege, not a right
    2. Although most people would screm bloody murder at that idea, I truly believe that computers would do a much better job than us in taking us from point A to point B. And although I love driving, I’d certainly enjoy reading my newspaper while being driven to work
    3. as long as we can disconnect the system when necessary, I don’t see a problem. For those of us who like to drive, deserted roads at nights or tracks are the best option. I mean, in NJ, those are the only times when you can actually have fun driving. The rest is spent fuming about the stupidity around you (see thread about “What do other drivers to annoy you” for proof of that).
    4. always wonder what Europe must be like for the American rental-car drivers who can’t make it down their small-town streets without clipping side mirrors. They hire drivers. I witnessed such a situation, when a couple who had rented a full-size car returned it because they couldn’t navigate city streets. On another note, I remember taking the bus in Spain. It crossed an 18-wheeler in a small village, and the road was so small that the 18-wheelers side mirror passed 2 inches from my window. I was very impressed by the skills of both drivers.

  • avatar

    Excellent editorial, Stephan.

    While I was in the camp that would hate to see driving become automated, your editorial makes a good case for what seems a logical progression; as the driving skills of the general public continues to decline, something’s gotta give.

    As long as there’s some “outlet” for us “drivers” who know what we’re doing, or course. Maybe specific roads, or times, where we could you know, drive our cars without the nanny.

    In New York, Michigan or California, traffic comes to a standstill whenever they cut the flow down to a single-lane merge, since nobody could deal with such proximity.

    Your focus on situational awareness / spatial awareness is spot on.

    When my wife and I were moving back to Connecticut from Virginia, we rented a U-Haul truck, the type with the van front. After two or three hundred miles on I-95 north, I had a pretty good feel for how the thing handled.

    When we got to a section of the highway that was lined on both sides with Jersey barriers, over some bridge work, I think it was, I maintained my speed. In my peripheral vision, I could see my father-in-law tensing up in the passenger seat as I pressed on through that tighter-than-normal section of roadway.

    After we emerged, my father-in-law relaxed and said: “That was pretty good,” meaning he was impressed.

    Well, that or he was simply happy to have survived what he thought was going to be a horrific pinball game with the moving truck serving as a pinball bouncing between the concrete barriers.

    Anyway, it was all about spatial awareness; a sense of knowing the truck could do 60-something mph between those barriers with room to spare.

    ‘Course I was younger then, but I’d like to believe my driving skills are still as good.

    :-)

    Edit: I’ll never forget what my father said while teaching me how to drive- right after I damned near left the impression of a fire hydrant in the left-front fender of his Buick:
    “Remember, you’re in control of the car.” (Not the other way around.)
    Thank you, dad.

  • avatar
    tdoyle

    I believe that some of the issue is that people are simply driving vehicles that are too BIG for them. Driving a Toyota Yaris is different than driving a Sequoia and certainly different than driving a 24′ straight-drive moving truck, but we Americans can do this all with just a simple Class “D” (in Tennessee) drivers license.

    Years ago, the idea of graduated licensing came to the surface for motorcycles. Right now, given the funds, a parent can buy their 16 year old kid a 600cc 0-60 in 3 seconds, 160+mph top speed crotch rocket on nothing more than passing a written exam for a learners’ permit.

    The same thing could be proposed for cars and light trucks. I see soooo many inexperienced drivers trying to park these huge trucks and SUV’s and I have to point out to my wife when observing this how silly they look. I drive a full-size F150, and I find it a breeze to drive, even on the skinniest East Tennessee backroads… But to many folks, it is, like you describe, very death-defying.

    Another thing to remember folks, the guy with the G35 or 911 or Corvette may not necessarily know how to drive and handle that piece of machinery in every situation just because he can go a buck fifty in a straight line.

    Be safe out there.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I think it’s far more practical to revamp our driver’s education programs than it is to develop some automated system and then spend even more trying to convince people that they’re not behind the wheel of the next HAL9000.

  • avatar
    grinchsmate

    i think youve got somthing there with the tractors. i learnt to drive on an old ford and i have never ever clipped mirros on anything. considerig this i think it should be a requirment when getting a drivers licence to plough then crop say 10 acres, this should stop those bastards cutting me off

  • avatar
    radimus

    And if the US had the same driver education program as Germany, and the same penalties for violations, you would probably see a lot of these problems go away.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    It makes no sense to advocate stricter licensing standards. Any politician who did it would be voted straight out of office and the changes rescinded. The necessary changes would be enormous, not just a little fine-tuning, and as soon as you started denying people licenses because they were illiterate, didn’t speak English, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see or were simply unable to coordinate hand-eye movements, the outrage would be enormous among a huge variety of groups, many of which would have absolutely nothing to do with the craft of driving.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    SUVs are sold on the supposed premise of superior capability on winter roads. Given the number of them involved in wrecks around my parts, it is obvious that people buy them under the influence of a maliciously naked fraud. Often, when traffic comes to a standstill on the freeway, I make a bet with my passenger that we will presently come upon an SUV lying on its top or its side. It's a no-brainer: because I am right more than 90 percent of the time. Again, simply a good set of quality snow tires on the average modest sedan will run circles around the usual SUV shod with the OEM studly-looking but absolutely worthless all-season radials. 

  • avatar
    jurisb

    Human factor. the Blessing and the Curse.

  • avatar

    I live in the downtown of a major Mid-West City of 2 million people in a highrise where one entire wall is full glass. It offers the BEST view to witness the daily grind of people “attempting” to parallel park and negotiate city traffic. I should film it.

    Case in point yesterday:

    -Lexus GS430 took 10 minutes to parallel park in a space designed for Ford F-250′s. And the driver still was a foot from the curb

    -A Ford Excursion and a Mitsubishi-Fuso Cargo truck got into a honking match over who had right of way down a TWO-LANE street, because neither thought they could fit, until a little MINI Cooper zipped inbetween both of them.

    -A Cadillac Brougham sedan clipped a little Jetta as it tried to U-Turn in the middle of the street

    -A Porsche GT3 coming from a law office High-Centered on a speed bump for a loading ramp designed for delivery trucks

    -A Toyota Corolla and a new Smart Car squeezed into a space formerly occupied by a Chevy Suburban, who gets the parking ticket, I don’t know (probably to Toyota, the meter was closest to the Smart)

    -an urban bohemian ran over a grate in his new Vespa (they just opened the dealership), got his front wheel stuck, and flipped over the handle bars. He was smart wearing a helment, not so much in looking at his reflection in the skyscraper glass and not looking where he was going.

  • avatar
    danms6

    And if the US had the same driver education program as Germany, and the same penalties for violations, you would probably see a lot of these problems go away.

    Correct, unfortunately our politicians would rather see licenses be easier to obtain for illegals.

  • avatar
    rev0lver

    I don’t know if anyone here has seen Canada’s Worst Driver (on the Canadian discovery channel) but this show provides some very concrete examples of how bad people’s spatial awareness can be.

    A large proportion of the challenges on this show involve SA (backing through a tight course, maintaining your speed through a narrow lane etc.) One of the lines that is repeated again and again is that when you are backing up, the front end of your car still exists.

    When watching I am equally amazed and horrified at the incompetence of those I share the road with. A good watch, I’m sure you Americans can download episodes somewhere.

  • avatar
    Emro

    excellent write-up, agree 100%!!

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    Or, perhaps the answer is to start rationally assigning energy costs..

    http://www.icta.org/doc/Real%20Price%20of%20Gasoline.pdf

    Then people wouldn’t drive 6 kilopound 11-mpg behemoths (or far fewer would).

    Also, far fewer people would be living long distances from their places of employment, thereby overtaxing rural roads never intended for the level of traffic they (and the drivers on them) have to endure.

    One nice side effect of our upcoming Great Depression: The Sequel — less traffic…:-P…

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    I am one of those Americans who rented a car in Europe. Volkswagen Golf.
    Drving through the Swiss Alps on back roads was something, when as you are going up a large truck coming down and there is nowhere to pull off.
    Or in Italy where lane markings are guidelines, or as you climb into the mountains rather than reducing to 2 lanes from 3, the lanes just get narrower.
    In all of those cases SA is an absolutely imperative. I learned very quickly to trust that the other guy did not want to be involved in an accident any more than you did and was not going to run you aff the road.
    Here in the US, who knows.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    SUV’s are not sold based on better winter handling. Houston has got to have the highest truck to car ratio for a big city in the world. I am sure we don’t buy them for handling in snow.

    AWD is sold for that reason. SUV’s are also sometimes purchased for their ability to drive over more snow.

    The reality is that too many people think that AWD and traction control will keep them safe, and drive past the limits of the vehicle.

    That is part of what SW’s piece is about. It doesn’t matter so much your skills in driving if you have bad judgement. You have to keep within the limits of your skills and your vehicle’s handling.

    If you choose an SUV for your trip, you should make a conscious choice that you have given up the right to be in a hurry. I do. Everyday.

    If you know how to aim high, teach it to others around you. It is the best technique for staying in your lane. I taught my mother and she constantly amazes her friends by keeping her calm on the freeway when trucks and barriers squeeze her space.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Great editorial, I agree with 99% of it. I don’t agree with the part about automated cars. We don’t need to make people even more dependent on nannies. If they did that it would be universal and take the right to drive away from us who enjoy and know how to drive.

    I agree with quasimondo a better education program that didn’t put people behind the wheel until they really knew how to drive. A graduated program that taught emergency skills and wasn’t practically free(at least if they were forced to retake it because of bad driving). I find it deplorable how we have restrictions on all kinds of things but having a 2 ton weapon is in everyones God given rights. That’s funny it’s not in the Constitution like our 2nd amendment that actually comes with a mountain of restrictions.

    Stephan Wilkinson you are correct about the political nightmare involved in trying to revamp the system but it’s a two way street. If they wont require people to really learn they can’t require those who really need automated cars to use them. Since they “think they are great drivers already” why should they give up their right to drive, they don’t think they are part of the problem, why should they be responsible for their actions.

    Like I said only taking everyones right to drive away and giving it to the computers would pass, right after the gas tax.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Actually, I think you’ll find that a lot of typical drivers–not hardcore, obviously–would love to have automated cars. When I talk to typical drivers about the future of automation, they invariably say, “Wow, that’d be great! You mean I could just sit there and talk on the phone? Awesome! I _hate_ driving, even though I’m a great driver…”

    You’d be surprised…

  • avatar
    readingthetape

    I too have suffered at the hands of these idiots. Here’s what I did: I bought and mounted the loudest horn I could find (138d). When it looks like you’re about to be in a serious jam, HIT THE HORN. It’s so loud the other driver reacts involuntarily, saving your hide. Instinctively they steer away from the danger, i.e. me. Their coffee goes flying, and once I even had the idiot’s cellphone go out his window. I’m limited by the car I drive (Maxima) to the physical size of the horn I can mount. But if you have the space, you can mount a locomotive horn. I’d pay good money to see that in action.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    I agree with some of the comments earlier; this is the best editorial on TTAC – EVER! This is a huge issue (no pun intended) and is the root of many driving problems.

    When I was in school at Texas A&M, I drove a bus for the university (it’s so big, we have our own transit system). On several occasions, usually around move-out day at the end of the semester, I would happen upon two cars parked on either side of the road with a narrow passage between them.

    Invariably, there would be a woman in a large (and sometimes small) vehicle too scared to drive through the gap. I would honk until they moved, and proceed to drive my 9.5 foot wide (I think that’s right) transit bus straight through with no trouble.

    Often, I would get some anxious noises from the passengers (seats being sucked up into their cracks). Sometimes, I would get applause (that’s how impressive people thought it was).

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    We have a big air horn on one of our three ambulances–the kind you work by pulling a chain on the overhead–and readingthetape is right, it’s a real attention-getter.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Stephan Wilkinson:
    When I talk to typical drivers about the future of automation, they invariably say, “Wow, that’d be great! You mean I could just sit there and talk on the phone? Awesome! I _hate_ driving, even though I’m a great driver…”

    You’re right. Most drivers would gladly choose to be controlled. But don’t hold your breath…

    The technology may be available in 10 years, but getting the laws changed and lawsuit industry to sign off may take another 20. Anyway, it’d be nice if they had an opt-out test for those with skills superior to the chip.

    The best driving instruction I had was a German girlfriend back in the daze before the wall fell. Also notable: when the occasional US family member(s) from the states visited the rural base where I was stationed. The first topic of conversation: The cab ride and how crazy close and fast all the German cabbies took turns and how high they revved their engines.

  • avatar

    Amen, amen, amen. Also I wish to remind you that the woman in the 6000 lb truck is invariably driving it WITH ONE HAND BECAUSE SHE’S ON THE PHONE. She could kill a whole family, or two, with just a minute slip of the hand. It frightens and angers me.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    A friend of mine, Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the LA Times, once witnessed a fatal accident, right in front of him, on the road to Mt. Wilson Observatory. A woman driving a Lexus sedan turned to do something behind her, maybe slap a kid or whatever, and the turning motion led her to steer slightly left, into the oncoming lane. She killed the woman she hit.

  • avatar
    beagles

    Great editorial. Situational awareness, or the total lack of, is what drives me crazy everyday. So many U.S. drivers can see no further than the bumper in front of them. Or the first car in a line when trying to pull into traffic.

    Driving has become a passive task. Too few take it as a task that needs to be taken actively and needs to be constantly worked on. How many people do you know who actually work on becoming better drivers? Or even respond remotely well to constructive criticism?

    Although the idea of requiring more or ongoing education is great, I don’t think that is going to happen for the reasons listed by other posters. However, I would like to see local news, or newspapers, or some media do some on going series on driving tips and techniques.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    I spent a good 30 years in Europe before I moved to the US. And I can tell you, driving in the US is easy, where all the lanes are 1.5 the width of a normal car, 100 mph is considered fast and where I scored 100% right on the written part of the license test (to the amazement of the DMV employee)

    I certainly devote a lot more attention to keeping an eye on the other drivers here. SUV drivers are conspicuous, but that’s only because we like to vilify them. I witness distractions, lack of SA, no hand driving, even reading in all kind of vehicles, from compact car to delivery truck.

    I favor education as a solution to better awareness, yet, I am not very hopeful. If we need auto pilots, I will use my commute time for something productive, like reading TTAC or sleeping. And that would be a treat.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    beagles:
    However, I would like to see local news, or newspapers, or some media do some on going series on driving tips and techniques.

    notgonnahappendotcom.

    Local ‘news’, ‘news’papers, and media thrive on generic tragedy stories while minimizing personal responsibility.

    Showing such techniques will offend viewers and readers who know they are ‘excellent drivers’.

  • avatar

    i’d been wondering about the suburban weave i constantly witness driving the not-too narrow roads of the californian suburb in which i reside. soccer moms & dads in their oversized trucks swing from side-to-side, apparently to avoid vehicles parked at the kerb. typically, these twonks leave an extra car-width or more as they wobble around these “obstructions”. having driven in japan – where the streets are really narrow – & ontario – where the streets are clogged with the wake of snowplows – i was amazed at this manoeuvre. bloody dangerous plus it slows down everybody; one must slow down or stop waiting for the weaving barge to squeeze by …

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    In the last couple of years, the four o’clock rush has provided a perfect illustration of vehicular inattentiveness. That’s when the contractors and service guys in vans and pickups and the boys in the local U.S. Military Academy cadre jump in their big trucks and race home. Fortunately, I get to view the show from the opposite-direction traffic. It’s an inbound kamikaze squadron.

    The four to six o’clock time frame is also when NY traffic enforcement activity drops to zero. It’s just so much easier (and lucrative) to cull the occasional 10 over speeder at 11pm on a deserted road.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I remember an experience from a few years ago on Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road. At 10,000+ feet above sea level and a quarter-mile drop off the right shoulder, a westbound carload of Georgia collegians with “California or Bust” written on the window of their car, crawled along the center line at 5 mph. White-knuckles time. Obviously, the driver had no mental grasp on the basics of a traffic lane being the same size as on any suburban street in Atlanta. SA failed again. While I applaud the driver’s caution under unfamiliar and trying circumstances, rather than emulating some celebrated examples of irrational exuberance seen here in Colorado in the last few months (e.g., WRX meets street light standard at 105 mph), I would appreciate it if folks would learn the rules of driving in the real mountains before coming here. Panicked? Pull over and take a deep breath. It’s just another piece of asphalt. It won’t bite if you pay attention.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Out here in California we have something called “Botts Dots” embedded in the road to serve as lane dividers. The dots make a great addition to the customary white and yellow lines because if you drive over them you can feel and hear that you are doing so. They are also sometimes easier to see at night (especially the ones with built-in reflectors –those are called something else, though).

    For sharp blind curves I would like to see “Botts Tire Piercing Spikes” down the center of the line to keep trucks on the proper side of the road.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Interesting piece. I agree with the solution, not necessarily so much with the problem.

    I’d say that the issue is largely cultural, more than anything else. Americans are genuinely more self-fixated, which leads to less cooperative driving, which causes incidents like these.

    It’s not spacial awareness. The technical skills of American drivers are generally adequate, at least in non-emergency situations. They know how to steer the car in the direction that they’d like to go, and more often than not choose a velocity that’s suited to the road (if not always the conditions.)

    The fundamental problem is that they don’t care. If someone cuts you off, he is expecting you to deal with it. The left lane swine contentedly plows slowly down his path, unconcerned about the imposition that he may be creating for literally dozens of other people who are impacted by it. The jerk who runs the red light is prioritizing his schedule, rather than the community’s safety. It’s really a me-first attitude, which manifests itself in the mall or at the office as it does on the highways.

    The notion of treating the road as a cooperative space to be shared by all of its users is a concept that is alien to the self-centered, self-enamored, and self-fixated uber-individualist. The only reason that you see more of it on the highways than elsewhere is because it’s easier to get away with it in an anonymous environment in which the offender is surrounded by two tons of steel and glass. If someone blocks your path in a doorway, the end result could be a shouting match or fisticuffs; on the road, he can flip you off and ride his brakes, with no consequences. If you want better driving, you had better first deal with the social decay that has made it cool to be rude and acceptable to put oneself above everyone else, at all costs.

  • avatar

    Ken Purdy’s classic book Kings of the Road contains a wonderful chapter about the Italian racecar driver Tazio Nuvolari. Though I’m working from 40-year-ago memory here, the author relates how Nuvolari accepted a dare to drive through an ancient stone arch. The passage provided his monoposto Alfa-Romeo with two inches of clearance on each side. Nuvolari did it at a triple-digit speed. With ease.

    I also have a 40-something year old memory of something like this, except I coiuld swear it was an inch of clearance. I–then maybe 10, and already piloting the 57 Chevy and Plymouth in parking lots–was awestruck.

    I can’t help wondering though whether the problem of light truck drivers who won’t get out of the way is at least as much arrogance as incompetence.

    I feel as Mr. Wilkinson does about autopilot, but I can’t help thinking it would be a godsend for those elderly and otherwise disabled individuals who can no longer drive.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    red60r
    Driving trail ridge road always makes me weep for humanity. On one hand, you’ve got people like my old youth group leader, who insist on driving down the middle of the road when there is no oncoming traffic, because it makes him feel safer. On the other hand, you’ve got the total hooligans who think that they’re being timed, and don’t get that staying in your lane shows *real* driving skill. Any idiot can barrel down a mountain at top speed, it takes a skilled idiot to stay in his own damn lane.

    In driver’s ed we were always taught to leave a safety cushion on each side of your car, should you need to change lanes quickly… that means crowding the center line, when you have very little (or no) shoulder. So on one hand, the ‘safety margin’ behavior is ingrained to some degree. On the other hand, you also have people driving vehicles that they exert very little control over. I think it’s worse for women because we aren’t as spatially inclined as men… some are more than others, myself included, but I still don’t ‘feel’ my car’s boundaries as well as my husband does. Driving through a narrow parking garage is still nearly enough to send me into a panic attack. Parallel parking? I’d just as soon walk. What’s the solution? Well, not letting people drive cars bigger than they can reasonably handle would be a start, men and women.

  • avatar

    Re driving in Europe: my first time, I was 18. I’d just driven across the US. We were driving south from Paris. After 3 hrs my back was soaked in sweat. I hadn’t sweat at all between SF and Boston.

  • avatar
    mlbrown

    Great suggestions and observations, Mr. Wilkinson.

    For some of the folks you described, one would think an automated car would be a godsend. I’ve seen ladies in my rearview on I-290 in Worcester, Mass. putting on the full complement of makeup during the morning onslaught. Not just lipstick or blush…full-on, rearview twisted, foundation, blush eye makeup. EYE MAKEUP. WHILE DRIVING. I’d think those folks would love an automated car. They obviously hate driving.

    Captain Awesome in his SUV, though? I don’t think he’d be a willing participant in your program. That is, unless the automated car was some sort of punishment for causing an accident.

    -Matt

  • avatar
    SCMTB

    red60r,
    I just happened to move from God’s Country (CO) and I’m shocked you didn’t mention EVERY Texas tagged vehicle in the mountains doing what those Georgia co-eds were doing in RMN. With that said, I moved to South Carolina and the problems are greater by leaps and bounds. I can’t imagine these people driving in Denver city traffic let alone up in the “real” mountains.

    Pch101,
    I firmly agree with you that the single biggest problem is self-centered, myopic lack of awareness of what your minute actions have on the roadway and how it affects nearly everybody. As I always tell people, it only takes one person (idiot) to screw up traffic for nearly an entire day. A little consideration for your fellow traveler would do wonders. And speaking of South Carolina and red lights, I am shocked with how they are run here by EVERYBODY, including the authorities who are supposed to enforce traffic laws. It is trully shocking! Oh, and while I dislike the person who leaves two 18-wheeler lengths between their car and the one in front of them while they travel at 20 MPH, here the problem is that as well as that tailgating is seemingly a sport.

  • avatar
    incitatus

    Megan Benoit : I think it’s worse for women because we aren’t as spatially inclined as men… some are more than others, myself included, but I still don’t ‘feel’ my car’s boundaries as well as my husband does.

    I love you Megan Benoit!
    I keep telling this to my wife, that she does not have any spatial feeling of her car. She would never recognize that, mostly because it’s comming from me, and also because that would imply she needs a smaller car. I would show her your writting. Maybe after that we’ll get somewhere…

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    When my wife and I were moving back to Connecticut from Virginia, we rented a U-Haul truck, the type with the van front. After two or three hundred miles on I-95 north, I had a pretty good feel for how the thing handled.

    When we got to a section of the highway that was lined on both sides with Jersey barriers, over some bridge work, I think it was, I maintained my speed. In my peripheral vision, I could see my father-in-law tensing up in the passenger seat as I pressed on through that tighter-than-normal section of roadway.

    I had a similar experience when my wife and I moved to Santa Rosa, CA. I was driving a 26′ moving truck. I can’t remember the name of the freeway, but coming from Vallejo to 101, they were doing an earthquake retrofit and had concrete barriers on either side of the lane. The thing about is there was probably just as much room in each lane(maybe a few inches less) as there was without the barriers; yet, the psychological effect of those concrete barriers versus a white or yellow line had an obvious effect on the drivers in the other cars (they slowed way down) and on my wife as well. Personally, I thought it was cool.

  • avatar
    celica_ryder

    OMG this happened to me TODAY…. TWICE… these hicks are idiots – how with their supposed superior view and power in their trucks they don’t manage to see me coming in the opposite direction is beyond me. losers…

  • avatar
    speedbrakes

    Yes, auto pilot is the answer. Navy aviation already has it figured out. A fully controlled autopilot carrier landing almost always results in a perfect “three wire” arrestment while increasing pilot SA and safety. Although a hand flown approach is extremely rewarding, nothing reduces the anxiety like coupling up the autopilot and letting automation take over….awesome editorial.

  • avatar
    keepaustinweird

    Born, raised, learned to drive in New York (suburbs and city), then moved to Texas seven years ago.

    Driving in Texas is like a visit to Darwin’s waiting room.

    I can’t imagine what the road test here is, but this is my best guess:

    1 – identify car key

    2 – insert car key in ignition

    3 – start motor

    If you can do those three, they give you a TX license.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Driving in Texas is like a visit to Darwin’s waiting room.

    I can’t imagine what the road test here is, but this is my best guess:

    1 – identify car key

    2 – insert car key in ignition

    3 – start motor

    If you can do those three, they give you a TX license.

    Apparently, in my experience, this is true of all the states, not just Texas.

    By the way, we do have to parallel park (between two flimsy rods) and drive around with a DPS officer directing the testing driver.

    Driver training and testing should be much more rigorous and a license should cost more than $20. Of course, you would then have people raising hell about how that is unfair to minorities and the poor.

  • avatar
    steronz

    Whenever this subject comes up, I’m reminded that something like 90% of Americans classify themselves as an “above average” driver. I wonder how many of the commenters here complaining about all the other jerks on the road are actually jerks that I complain about.

    Of course, I’m an above average driver :)

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    Judging from the number of people commonly veering onto shoulders and into oncoming lanes around here, nobody is really paying attention any longer. Combine that with the 5-10 MPH people drive UNDER the speed limit around here, and it’s a recipe for a brain aneurysm.

    My wife would GLADLY take an automated car, and for the times I need to suffer through the congestion around here to get into the big city, I would, too.

    (Am I the only person left in Washington state who passes when safe on two lane roads rather than suffer the piousness of these slow-pokes? I ALWAYS get a headlight flash when I do so, like passing is now illegal.)

    (P.S., cops don’t mind when you do the speed limit. No need to slow down to 10 MPH UNDER the limit when you see a police car.)

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    ihatetrees sez “The four to six o’clock time frame is also when NY traffic enforcement activity drops to zero. It’s just so much easier (and lucrative) to cull the occasional 10 over speeder at 11pm on a deserted road.”

    No, it’s when smart cops stay as far as possible from the road. The single most dangerous thing I do in EMS is go play in traffic. When we get a Thruway call during rush hour, we know we’re going to be at serious risk. We’ve only had one person killed in our small-town ambulance corps, and that was a 20-year-old woman, brand-new EMT, hit by an out-of-control car during rush hour.

    At seven in the morning and four in the afternoon, all the smart cops say, “Have at it, you jerks, the road is yours. I’m not going to widow my wife just to ticket a speeder…”

  • avatar

    # keepaustinweird :
    March 4th, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Born, raised, learned to drive in New York (suburbs and city), then moved to Texas seven years ago.

    Driving in Texas is like a visit to Darwin’s waiting room.

    I can’t imagine what the road test here is, but this is my best guess:

    1 – identify car key

    2 – insert car key in ignition

    3 – start motor

    If you can do those three, they give you a TX license.

    Pretty much dead on. As a fellow Austinite, I simply can’t understand the sinkhole that is Mopac. I have been on 35 between Parmer and 71 roughly 3 times in the last 6 years.

    The roads were clearly designed to handle 1970s traffic levels, but they were also clearly designed by someone who gave drivers far, far too much credit.

    And the Texas license test IS a joke, and the people who take it treat it like one. Drivers are shitty everywhere, but my 5 mile commute can be a death-defying journey, especially in my Miata. I’d rather drive 5 miles in NYC, and I don’t think it would take much longer, either.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    At seven in the morning and four in the afternoon, all the smart cops say, “Have at it, you jerks, the road is yours. I’m not going to widow my wife just to ticket a speeder…”

    Point conceded, Mr Wilkinson. Pulling anyone over in rush traffic is rough.

    A new enforcement plan would be nice for rush traffic. Perhaps mobile video enforcement and tailing the (alleged) offender to a safer location/road… I understand cops’ disgust with the situation. But complete disarmament is not the answer.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    The thing about is there was probably just as much room in each lane(maybe a few inches less) as there was without the barriers; yet, the psychological effect of those concrete barriers versus a white or yellow line had an obvious effect on the drivers in the other cars (they slowed way down) and on my wife as well. Personally, I thought it was cool.

    A friend of mine is getting his masters in civil engineering/city planning, and he says that stuff like this is done *intentionally* to get drivers to slow down. So any time you drive through an area that suddenly gets narrower (or appears narrower) than it’s supposed to be in the city, odds are someone did it intentionally to get drivers to slow down. Amazing how that works.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “Actually, I think you’ll find that a lot of typical drivers–not hardcore, obviously–would love to have automated cars. When I talk to typical drivers about the future of automation, they invariably say, “Wow, that’d be great! You mean I could just sit there and talk on the phone? Awesome! I _hate_ driving, even though I’m a great driver…”

    “You’d be surprised…”

    Sign me up for the automated car. This is the daily driving reality for me – A 12 mile round trip commute, through suburban areas with speeds ranging from 25 to 45 mph. No twisties, not even the slightest of curves, lots of stop lights. I leave at 5 am and return at 2pm, so no rush hour to deal with. Why the hell should I even want to be awake for this commute? It doesn’t matter how much one loves driving, it’s absolutely impossible to have any driving fun on my daily commute. I’d much prefer to snooze, or read.

    I believe the main reason people don’t pay attention to their drivnig is because 98% of the time it’s such a damn bore. Go straight, stop. Go again. Turn 90 degrees. Go a little way, stop………

    Maybe we could have our current (joke) driving tests coupled with the requirement to use auto pilot at all times, and then a real driving test for those who want a special license to drive “off the wire”.

    I also have to comment on “Drving is a priviledge”, because it just sticks in my craw. Apparently this is the only thing most people remember from Driver’s Education. It doesn’t really matter how many times this is reapeated, it just aint true – Driving is NOT a priviledge. If it were, it could be withheld or denied for any reason at all, or even for no reason at all.

    Driving is a right, and just like all other rights (even the ones specifically spelled out in the Constitution) it is limited. The limits are 3, and they all have to do with public safety (in a nominal sort of way). 1. You have to pass the eye exam. 2. you have to pass the written exam. 3. You have to pass the road test. Do all 3 and there is no basis on which you can be denied a driver’s license.

    Of the 3 exams, the eye exam is both the most mentally challenging, and requires the greatest physical coordination.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Heh heh, I just got a new E 150 for a work truck. It is a beast compared to the Astro I had been driving for the last yr. I’m still learning its size.
    I read Kings of the Road until the glue holding it together let go. Great book.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    In defense of Texas.

    First, I have lived in Colorado. I saw just as many freaked out slow drivers from Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. While those states are closer than Texas, I would bet more Texans are visitors.

    Second, as for Austin, there are a couple of things involved here. The fact that someone is driving in Texas, or even has a TDL, is not evidence of how Texans drive. The majority of drivers in Austin (and the larger Texas towns) are NOT TEXANS. They moved here, got a license without a test, and started screwing up the place (not that we test folks like we used to, it used to be a real challenge).

    I can remember before Native Houstonians were so outnumbered. Thirty years ago we drove bumper to bumper at 70 mph. They even had an editorial on it in one of the Buff Books. People let others in when they put on a blinker. It was a real team activity to get EVERYONE where they were going as fast as possible. Those who did not play along were sometimes shot.

    Ah, the good old days.

    But really, the mix of everyone in the country’s bad habits is what has likely happened to most large cities. So many of us move so much, and then too many of us pick up others’ bad habits.

    Lastly, Dynamic is correct about the driving is a privelege thing. I hate that old myth too.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Great editorial Stephan, I share a lot of your sentiment.

    Sadly it is completely voluntary to improve one’s driving abilities beyond the bare minimum for licensing. I happen to spending my free time lapping road courses, spatial awareness and situational awareness at speed are critical elements in a moderately dangerous activity/hobby. If maintaining well honed driving skills is anything like maintaining the human body then regular exercise is required. My opinion is that tracking once in a while challenges my skills, exposes weaknesses or areas in need of improvement along with practicing vehicle control at elevated speeds.

    I believe that if used correctly the skills gained and or refined during HPDE (high performance drivers education) can yield a driver with a much higher level of vehicle control. Unfortunately it takes time, money and a willingness to learn to develop real skill. This of course means most people would decline such training as it is expensive and requires some actual effort. Then there is that whole risk of personal injury and property damage… its not for everybody… but isn’t that the point? Driving is a privilege not a right.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Pch101, I firmly agree with you that the single biggest problem is self-centered, myopic lack of awareness

    Thanks for the kind words, but that isn’t actually what I’m saying.

    On the contrary, I see that most drivers are fairly aware, or at least aware enough. The problem isn’t with their awareness, but with their rudeness.

    People who cut you off generally know that they’re doing it. They cut you off not because they don’t know you’re because, but because they don’t care. They want to go RIGHT NOW, and silly rules about rights of way and common courtesy aren’t going to prevent them from going when they damn well feel like it.

    The left lane hogs know that they are slogging. If they aren’t intimidated by the notion of driving faster, then they are enjoying their roles as self-appointed traffic cop, actually taking pleasure in slowing everyone else down. It’s deliberate, purposeful behavior.

    The drivers who drive straight from the right turn lanes know exactly what they’re doing — after all, they did it in order to cut in front of the line of cars behind which they would have otherwise had to wait.

    Drivers who don’t signal know exactly what they’re doing. But it’s tough to make those spur-of-the-moment questionable lane changes if you incorporate turn signals into your impetuous driving style, so you’re better off not using them at all.

    Myopia is not the issue here. Awareness of the road is not the problem — these people are absolutely, utterly aware of what they are doing. The behavior is a reflection of dysfunctional, deliberately rude and purposely aggressive personalities who put themselves above everyone else. They are so fixated on their own sense of importance that it’s just another manifestation of their character. They are just that much bolder in the car because they’ll never have to face the repercussions.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I think I said this a couple of weeks ago in another item. In order to meet future traffic condition we need to have cars go faster and be spaced more closely. Most American drivers are not up to it. With automation we could have traffic moving along at 200 kph (124 mph) with fairly small gaps, maybe small enough to create aerodynamic benefit.

    The technology is getting better. DoD now has robot vehicles running open courses. I think self- driving automobiles are just a few years away, and they will be mandatory, at least in high speed situations, shortly after that. I think it is a good thing

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    Someone mentioned the Caterham Seven, i just saw one in the city driving in the snow. Or what’s left of the snow after all the salt they flood the streets with..

  • avatar

    I can hardly wait for the driverless car to BSOD and cause a huge pile up.

  • avatar
    red60r

    BSOD — Ford already has it under the “Sync” name. I’m sorry, Dave …

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    SunnyvaleCA :

    Out here in California we have something called “Botts Dots” embedded in the road to serve as lane dividers.

    We have those on the interstates and toll roads in Florida too. We call it “Driving by Braille.”

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    This won’t change. We’re all basically prima-donnas on the road. Self-righteous, blind to the bigger picture.

    We refuse to change our laws. We won’t modify our behavior.

    Our government education stresses sports prowess and “feelings” and “self dignity” and other politically-correct happy horseshit over the real education that we will desperately need in the coming decades, just for our survival.

    Not until driving becomes too expensive for the average person, that is. Could it happen? Odds favor “yes,” I think. Peak Oil, or the polar opposite, the bankrupting of the economy by the global warming religion, the upcoming freshwater wars, a military conflict with China, Russia, or the Middle East, etc.

    I think SOMETHING will happen in the next 20 years or less. Something so big, so huge, and so all-encompassing, that it will dictate a major change in how we view and use petroleum-based transportation.

    The adaptable ones will be using more and more mass-transit, and riding bicycles for the rest of it.

    I hope it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, because whatever it is, I think we will all be poorer in so many ways. But we’re heading blindly into this, so completely unprepared…

  • avatar
    akirachan

    I totally agree with the article and I really appreciate all the responses, although I have only read three pages out of seven!

    All I want to say is that with freedom comes responsibility, and liberty does not mean free-for-all: when you look at people’s driving situations, for instance, Japan, where streets are narrow beyond belief, and acquiring a driver’s license is difficult unless you take the driver’s ed course, you will probably find that there are enough people on the road in the U.S. that take the driving privilege they have for granted.

    We are all sharing the road. We should look out for each other so we don’t kill each other. Didn’t they teach about sharing in Kindergarten? Amen.

  • avatar
    Winklovic

    # readingthetape :
    But if you have the space, you can mount a locomotive horn. I’d pay good money to see that in action.

    You can watch (and hear) locomotive horns in action at . HornBlasters

  • avatar
    Adonis

    Public transportation is looked down on so much that many consider automated cars a better option. Why, I ask? Poor people use public transportation. Honestly, for a commute that’s at the same time every day, I would gladly use the bus if there were enough of a bus system in Phoenix.

    I don’t think automated cars are the way to go. Instead, I think it should be much more difficult to get a license. In Minnesota, drivers under 18 have to take a cursory two-week driver’s education course before they take the test, at least. I was shocked that in Arizona it was so easy to get a license.

    In Phoenix, which has an extensive, and huge, highway system, I have few complaints. I can only say that there’s too many cars on the road not going fast enough. In fact, let me amend my previous statement: If a few weeks were added to driver’s training, including a week on proper use of the left lane, and there was more extensive driving course tests, I would be happy.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Okay, here is another benefit of automated drivers. If you offer bot only highways, then you can create a class of cars with much lower accident protection and lighter weight. 50hp, 100mph, 100 mpg is not that unrealistic then is it?

  • avatar
    grinchsmate

    can people stop lusting over the germans, this last year i got to drive my uncles passat from flensburg through to berlin and the best thing i can report is that their trucks only have one trailer so they are not likely to whip around as much of course there werent many stupid pickups but we dont have them here so its no different. aside from that cobble stones are the anti christ.

    another problem that no one here has mentioned is that people just dont realise that big trucks dont drive like cars, they speed up going down hills and slow down on the way up and they have huge stopping distances, i have driven with so many people who rush up to overtake as the road train climbs a hill, which they dont even realise is there, only to swear about dangerous truckies as the whole 40tonnes comes rushing down the hill after tthem. spatial awarness might be crucial in town or on small roads what is really needed is an ability to predict the movement of not only large trucks but all cars. for example if you are driving along and a someone is a X5 or Q7 come up behind you you can be almost certain they are going to pass you at the most dangerous opertunity. people should recognise this


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