Over my time reading and writing for CC, I have found that almost without exception the readership here is civil, considerate, and well-tempered. Part of this is likely due to the fact that Paul runs a pretty tight ship, but I also suspect that this tone is the more or less natural result of a certain chronological maturity within the community and the resulting overall lack of drama that comes with being of age. I don’t get the sense that the typical CC reader is prone to acts of hot headed impulsiveness, or if so, has found a way to channel those behaviors in safe and/or other than public ways.
Reflecting upon this brings me to the subject of driving, and thoughts of how my personal behavior behind the wheel has changed over time. Now, before anyone gets started thinking that I ever was a truly flagrantly unsafe driver, I should say that I’ve never wrecked a car due to my own bad driving behavior. But, well, maybe I’ve come closer to that bad outcome than I might should have. My own particular vice was speed.
I wasn’t a speeder as a newly-licensed driver, but at some point after moving to college, starting to drive my own cars, and generally transiting the “young adult” years, I picked up a strong interest in “going fast”.
A little tiny bit of this behavior was “taken to the track”, but for the most part it was taken to the Interstate. Subsequently, my driver’s license and auto insurance rates paid the price of my growing familiarity with highway patrol officers throughout the Northeast.
I had several occasions to explore the enlightening curriculum of the National Safety Council’s drivers’ re-education course. This is something that my state requires of anyone who racks up more than three speeding tickets in a two-year span and who wants to remain a legally registered driver…a qualification that unfortunately does not include a double-digit percentage of actual drivers on the road. All I can say is that the state-mandated experience for me was summed up best by that line in Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo says that the sergeant “talked for 45 minutes and nobody understood a word that he said, but we had fun filling out the forms and playing with the pencils on the bench”. While a few of my classmates seemed to be dedicated criminals, most were just an unlucky bunch of men and (many fewer) women who seemed chronically unlucky and (surprisingly frequently) late for work.
In addition to speeding, I’ve also been known in the past to be less than tolerant of a variety of other behaviors commonplace among my fellow drivers. This includes using the left lane for anything other than passing, tailgating, and all who feel the need to cut me off at intersections…which being as how I live in Massachusetts, that pretty much includes 90% of all drivers (including law enforcement officers, school bus drivers, and bicyclists). My lack of tolerance would usually be expressed through headlight flashing and sometimes triumphant gesturing with various fingers.
Over the course of 45 years behind the wheel, I’ve observed that my behavior was not at all out of the norm.
But here’s the thing. It’s been 10 years since I’ve received a speeding ticket or for that matter been stopped for anything at all. This is not to say that I don’t still “go fast” on the highway, but I don’t travel faster than the flow of traffic (which as I’ve written here before, is quite fast in my state). When I’m doing 80 and someone inevitably comes up on my bumper at 90 or faster, I signal right and let them by as soon as I can (and hope that there’s a trooper around the bend who will bag them…although that’s seldom ever the case). If someone jumps the green and cuts me off by turning left in front of me, oh well. My hands stay inside the car and on the wheel and I get on with the business of driving. Not quite what would have typically happened a dozen years ago.
True, the emergence of road rage as a thing over the past decades is reason enough to give any thinking person reason to reconsider actions that might result in ticking off your fellow driver. That shirtless fellow who just cut you off and to whom you decided to give a piece of your mind apparently won’t think long or hard about stopping to hurl a pickaxe through your windshield. This by the way seems to be something that has recently happened more than once, and not only in the U.S.
Physical threats from fellow drivers aside, the fact is that as time has gone by, I just don’t have it in me to get worked up about being competitive behind the wheel. I have changed.
For me, some of this might have come from raising a kid to the point where he learned to drive. There is literally no more powerful a motivator for behavioral change than knowing that your behavior is being observed – and likely judged – by your offspring. I’m not saying that works for all people and for all behaviors, but it certainly had an impact on me. Also I tend to feel, although I have little data to support this belief, that the roads in general are less safe from the perspective of drivers’ skills and behaviors. There are more people going faster, being less attentive, and generally showing less judgement, such that I finally woke to the idea that my personal best course of action was to take my driving behavior down a few notches in order to stay safe. I now compete with the crazies by being less crazy…as crazy as that might sound. I think I’m better off for that regardless of whether or not it has any impact on those around me. I am for some reason no longer in personal need of teaching my fellow drivers “a lesson”.
Just the other day, some youngish (ok, he may have been in his 30s) dude came up fast behind me in an S6, jockeying half way across the center line to show his displeasure with encountering random old me going 40 in a 40mph zone. A dozen years ago, I would have either sped up or slowed down to take on the (obvious) dirtbag. At very least I’d have flipped him the bird. But now? I maintained 40 and let him pass me without incident on the double yellow (this was a local, town, road). He blasted off down the road to his vehicular and hopefully karmic fate. No big deal to me.
So CC reader, have you made and achieved conscious change in your driving behavior with age? Do you still see the red mist or has that darkened or faded over time? How has driving maturity come knock-knock-knocking at your door?