Ask the Best and Brightest: Psychology of the Highway Buddy?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask the best and brightest psychology of the highway buddy

4:45am and I’m rolling down a chilly Ohio freeway, cruise control set to seventy-four, Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion saturating the interior with quasi-mechanical music. Up ahead is a GMC Envoy, doing perhaps sixty-eight. I pass him and return to the right lane. He speeds up. I’ve seen this movie before. Yup… settled right into my blind spot and matching my speed exactly.

I poke at the Town Car’s steering wheel and drop to seventy-one. He stays right in my blind spot. I poke at the wheel again and accelerate to seventy-seven. After perhaps a two-second delay, he’s right there with me again, invisible but for the glare in my mirror.

“F*** it,” I said, and started swerving wildly.

Long ago, when I was a novice motorcyclist and still very much in that phase of two-wheeled-ecstasy when young men tend to kill themselves in single-bike interactions with trees and bridge abutments, a older friend told me something that is worth repeating.

“Stay away from trucks,” he said, “if you want to live.” Tractor-trailers are the motorcyclist’s greatest enemy, because they throw retreads off at random intervals. Those flying tire segments can and do kill riders. Over the hundreds of thousands of miles that followed, I expanded that rule to

“Stay away from other cars if you want to live.” Nothing good can happen from rolling down the highway next to another automobile. If you are alone on the road, you are only subject to your own mistakes and the failures of your own vehicle. If, on the other hand, you have company next to you on the freeway, a two-ton vehicle doing seventy miles per hour, you are at that person’s mercy.

It doesn’t matter how well I maintain my vehicle if the moron next to me has bald tires. I may be sober as a church mouse, but my highway buddy may be drunk as a skunk. Other drivers are just plain bad news and it doesn’t take a minute’s worth of contemplation to understand why.

And yet… I notice that I am frequently “shadowed” by drivers on the empty midnight freeways and morning runs that make up my travel schedule. With nobody else around, these other drivers will come as close to me as humanly possible and just stay there. Don’t they understand that they are putting us both at risk? Why not carve your own safe space and stay there? Why slow down, speed up, and wander around, just to be close to the person who may prove to be deadly to you and/or your family?

My friend in the Envoy stayed right with me for the first few gentle oscillations. I imitated a drunk driver, drifting first onto the rumble strips and then cutting back across the dotted-white into his lane. Three times I did that, and each time he dropped back enough to avoid my rear bumper before coming right back into his blind-spot station. I wasn’t surprised; I’ve seen that movie, too.

Time for the major countermeasure. I swung left, then right, screeching the Goodyear Ultra Grips and rocking the Town Car violently on its soft suspension. The Envoy braked hard and dropped back perhaps fifty feet. I accelerated to seventy-eight, putting a full quarter-mile between me and the hapless GMC driver. Mission accomplished…

…until ten miles later, when the familiar glare in my mirror told me that my highway buddy was back. This guy was so lonely that he’d rather shadow a violent, dangerous “drunk driver” than roll the road alone. Faithful companion, highway buddy.


Join the conversation
2 of 103 comments
  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Dec 03, 2010

    I'm a little late to the discussion, but it's the car you're driving. I've seen all the examples while driving various cars, but there was one car I drove that never saw any such problem. I owned a 1963 Chrysler Newport with about 400 dents, including a deep dent in the front bumper that could only have been caused by knocking a freight car off its track. NOBODY got anywhere near me wherever I drove, day or night. It was a good thing, too. That push-button torqueflite and 361 4-bbl made that 5,000 lb. car fly like a bat out of hell, and the puny 10" drum brakes (no power assist) were totally overmatched. After having people get too close to my previous car, a '63 Rambler, it was a joy to watch other cars move over two lanes to stay away from me. I think it was the dents and the sheer size of that behemoth. A panther should be big enough, but if you don't want to dent it, I imagine a bunch of fake bullet holes will achieve the same effect.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Nov 10, 2013

    Simplest tactic that ALWAYS works! Leave that cruise control locked at your preferred speed. The typical tailgater is driving by 'foot' and rarely is able to maintain a fixed speed for long periods. Slowly that other driver will begin to speed up or slow down, drifting away from that 'highway buddy' position. Invariably, they get tired and either resume their old speed or accelerate to pass and move on. I've never had a 'highway buddy' for more than about 10 miles.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂