Can the Art of Driving be Recovered?
by Robert Winter
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I suppose there have been crazy drivers and people with questionable road manners for as long as we’ve been driving cars.

There have even been major regional genres of bad driving.

Personally, I learned to drive in New York, where the best way to approach driving is as a kind of competitive sport. (If you try to make it a matter of simple transportation, you might go insane.)

Years later,  I had to drive a rental car around Boston.  I knew things had ratcheted up a notch when I was passed on the right in a non-lane that was actually empty parking spaces, while my blinker cheerily signaled my own impending right turn.

After a few incidents like this, I came to suspect that perhaps the only way to deal with this region’s advanced state of vehicular mayhem was simply to enact a new law, Conspiracy to Commit Driving.  Just lock up anybody there who even looks like they might want to get behind the wheel of a car.

When I moved to California, I encountered a polar-opposite form of ineptitude that sometimes made me wistful for the drivers I had escaped in the Northeast.

As kamikaze-like as the denizens of those frozen climes were, they were still acutely aware of where everybody else was on the road.  They also had a keen awareness of the dimensions of their cars--often down to fractions of an inch.  As a result, maneuvering in traffic was largely a matter of “fender duels.”  If you won that competition, you got the lane.

In California, I found drivers in such an advanced state of inattention (blissed out on God only knows what) that even after you had gotten the lane, they were still likely to plow on into you, simply unaware of your presence.

Regional styles of questionable driving have also had a tendency to propagate themselves in new soil.  For example, the venerable San Francisco Bluff-Stop--roaring up to a four-way stop as if you didn’t see your own stop sign, on the chance that other drivers may be panicked enough to let you though--has blossomed in other locales as well.

But today, we’re seeing whole new dimensions of maladroit motoring.  It’s one thing to flout the rules and conventions;  it’s another altogether to be completely unaware of them.

A shudder-inducing ratio of the people I encounter on the road today seem to fall into the latter category.  Many also seem innocent of any knowledge of the basic principles of physics.