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Bad Drivers

By Weeden Nichols
Opinion | February 19, 2010

HAYS, Kan. - I'll paraphrase the opening lines of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Good drivers everywhere are pretty much all alike; every place has its own kind of bad driver.

In Hays, Kansas, a very high percentage of drivers use no turn signals at all. (Perhaps this is to increase the resale value of the vehicle. "See, the spare tire has never been used, and neither has the turn signal!") Other drivers activate the turn signal when the turn has begun. A few drivers signal their intentions by activating the appropriate turn signal well before the intended turn, then actually turn. Still other drivers signal a turn, and then do not. (It is hard to erase a signal already given. There is no button for that, even in the fanciest new cars. Maybe that explains the drivers who give no signal at all. They want to preserve their options.)

When there are two side-by-side lanes in the same direction, left turns are generally made from the right lane, to the very real surprise of the occupants of the left lane. When in a "Turn Only" lane, Hays drivers are quite likely to continue straight ahead. A Hays driver, either stopping before entering traffic or neglecting to stop before entering traffic, is likely to pull in so close ahead of you, that you have to slam on your brakes, even if there is no other vehicle for half a mile behind you. A Hays driver almost invariably cuts across lanes when making a left turn and, when he or she discovers you in your own lane, waiting for the light to change, invariably gives you an angry stare, as though you had no right to be there. Hays drivers quite often run red lights. The only criterion seems to be that they have to have been able to see the traffic signal while it was still yellow, even if they were two blocks from the intersection at the time. Many Hays drivers straddle lanes (possibly, once again, to preserve their options). I will say that Hays drivers seldom weave in and out of lanes in order to gain a few car lengths. On the other hand, there is seldom so much traffic on Vine or Hall or 27th, or even I-70, that many would be tempted. Perhaps a few might be tempted during our "rush minute." (Larger, busier cities have a rush hour; we have a rush minute.) On the streets that have a turn lane in the center, many Hays drivers pull out, suddenly and alarmingly, to drive in the center turn lane until space in the desired driving lane opens. (Turn lanes exist so that drivers may turn from them, not turn into them and drive therein.) Hays drivers, when parallel-parking, seldom occupy only one parking space. It goes almost without saying that most Hays drivers drive either ten miles per hour over the speed limit, or ten miles per hour under the speed limit. Dangerous inattention, due to cell-phone use by drivers, is common. I hesitate to speculate on an explanation for the general constellation of behaviors I attribute to Hays drivers, but I will venture, tentatively, that they simply don't like to be told what to do. I don't think that "showing-off" or any other form of flamboyant behavior is the explanation. Neither do I think that drunken driving is to blame very often (though I have seen it).

Here in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where my spouse and I have spent the last month and a half, bad driving behaviors are a bit different. Drivers cut corners on left turns here too; however, their expressions are likely to be friendly when they discover you in your own lane, across which they are attempting to cut. Las Cruces is a somewhat larger, busier city than Hays, though it is always easy to get around. Even though it is easy to get around in Las Cruces, weaving in and out of lanes (without signaling, of course) seems to be an expression of individuality. Perhaps, also, it is a substitute for a more organized competitive sport. As in Hays, there is the problem of drivers pulling, suddenly and alarmingly, into the turn lane and driving therein until space opens for them in the desired driving lane. Drivers here usually signal turns, at least somewhat in advance. Those who are merely changing lanes (not weaving in and out) are likely to use the turn signal, but also likely to leave the turn signal on for several miles down the road. Las Cruces drivers are no more likely than Hays drivers to honor the posted speed limit, but most err on the plus side. Here, as in Hays, many drivers do run red lights and stop signs. As to parallel-parking, Las Crucans often park pointed against traffic. (Maybe that's legal here. It is in some foreign countries we have visited.) As in Hays, dangerous inattention, due to cell-phone use by drivers, is common. I would say that few of the violations of traffic laws here in Las Cruces are reactions against being told what to do, but are, instead, a side-effect of a generally informal and carefree approach to life (not bad in general, but a problem on the road).

Disclaimer: These are merely observations, perhaps not 100% accurate in every case, and not intended to offend the good people of Hays, a community of exceptionally good people. Second disclaimer: Same for Las Cruces, a community of equally good people (most of whom would merely shrug and take no offense at all). Third disclaimer: None of this is meant to imply that I am a perfect driver. Simply as a function of age, I am probably past my prime as a driver.

It is possible that I could describe other localities and other constellations of local driving-behaviors. If I were to do so, I think I could still maintain my position that every place has its own kind of bad drivers.


1 Comment

It's funny how every town is different in this way. Thanks for sharing.


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