Motorists – as they are referred to in newspapers but nowhere else – can be divided into three classes: competitors, cooperators and the clueless. In this third group are drivers who plan their whole day around a left turn.
Most drivers I encounter fall into the competitor category. They are compulsive lane-switchers and tailgaters. They rush up to stop signs like they’re going to kamikaze the side of your car. (We aren’t discussing sub-categories of competitors, such as chemically-impaired wackos.)
Competitors never let you in. They won’t leave a lane that’s closing until they run out of pavement. They don’t wait their turn at four-way stops. They’re the ones still turning left long after the light has gone red.
Insurance industry statistics indicate that the most aggressive drivers are females in their 20s. (And they all drive tiny red cars.) Veteran drivers, like me, didn’t need the insurance companies to tell us that. But, to be fair, competitors can be any age or gender.
Cooperators, by contrast, drive with an attitude of “Hey, we’re all in this together, so let’s get there safely.” Cooperators don’t block side streets. They leave an interval. They occasionally come to a complete stop. They relax behind the wheel. Gridlock doesn’t upset them. They’re just trying to avoid a ride in the back of an ambulance.
I have to admit I once had a job that bred competitive driving. I was a cab driver. But I soon learned that driving fast didn’t get me there any quicker. The cars I beat out at the last stoplight were with me at the next one. And the drivers that blew me away on the starting line were idling beside me three blocks later.
Once I converted to cooperation, my teeth stopped grinding. My jaw unclenched. My vocabulary became cleaner. I no longer terrified or annoyed my fellow motorists. I waved them in and received grateful gestures in return.
Cooperating has had a calming effect on me, but I feel increasingly challenged by local traffic. Forest Park has some tricky spots: Desplaines Avenue at Jackson, Desplaines at Harrison Street and that sharp curve on Desplaines, to name a few. The Chicago area has many more, including the ramps connecting the Eisenhower to the Dan Ryan. I have weekly close calls at spots like I-290 & 25th Avenue, which I think has the world’s worst mergers.
The outlook isn’t good for cooperative drivers. With the downsizing of the automobile, small quick cars have become the norm. We used to make fun of those crazy Europeans in their small cars. Now we drive like crazy Europeans.
Still, I can only hope that more of my fellow motorists will join the cooperative movement – and that the women in the red subcompacts will slow down when they reach their 30s.