Aggressive Driving? How About Clueless Driving?

Posted on September 12, 2013


“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

― George Carlin

As Lila drives around the Washington, DC area – which is routinely listed as one of the nation’s worst, as far as traffic goes – she keeps her radio tuned to the news and traffic station.  Lately, we have been hearing about the “Smooth Operator” program to crack down on aggressive drivers.  This is a good thing, but I would also like to see them crack down on clueless drivers.

Some drivers seem to be clueless because they are distracted, busy fiddling with something other than their driving:  their phone, a computer, their lunch, their makeup, their dogs on their laps, their kids, changing their pants (yes, I have seen this).  Others are just completely helpless for no apparent reason, and you have to wonder how they ever got a license in the first place (or if they actually did get one!).  They look intensely uncomfortable.  They don’t stay in their own lane, sometimes not even on the road.  They don’t maintain their speed.  They pull out in front of oncoming cars.  They wander aimlessly, indecisively, without turn signals, all over the road.  If you glance over, you see the driver clutching the steering wheel in a death grip, eyes open wide (sometimes their mouths too).   In short, they have trouble with road markings, they have trouble controlling the car, they are oblivious to what other drivers are doing, and their presence on the road is a navigation hazard to others.

If I had to choose, give me an aggressive driver any day, as long as he is fairly competent.  I got used to aggressive drivers in Germany, but there is one key difference there:  everyone else knows how to drive, and the rules are, well, the rules.   The Germans do not hand out licenses lightly.  On the Autobahn, if you find yourself crawling up someone else’s exhaust pipe, move to the left.  If you look in your rear view mirror and see someone else in your exhaust pipe, move to the right.  When passing, do it, and get back to the right.  It works beautifully.

Alas, not so in the US.  It is a well-entrenched phenomenon to see a car enter the highway from a ramp (no signals, of course), immediately move over into the far left lane, then plod along at 5 MPH under the speed limit, refusing to pass lumbering trucks, trapping everyone behind them for mile after mile after mile.  And we wonder why we have road rage.

It is my belief that these clueless drivers are at least as responsible for congestion and accidents as the aggressive drivers are.  So why don’t they get some police scrutiny?  Shouldn’t a program called “Smooth Operator” target these bozos, too?

Sometimes, gratifyingly, they do.  On a recent road trip, Lila was rolling along in light Interstate traffic, pacing a police cruiser up ahead in the distance, mile after mile.  Trucks were in the right lane; the police cruiser moved left; Lila moved left.  And then… a little white car came wandering off a ramp, no turn signals, no attempt to merge, forcing the trucks to brake to avoid a collision.  The little white car didn’t even pause in the right lane, meandering right on over in front of the police cruiser.  Since the car was only going about 45 MPH in a 65 zone, Lila quickly caught up to the cruiser; the little white car not only showed no intent to move back to the right, it actually slowed down even more.  And more.  And more.  Now the trucks were roaring by on our right.  Every time I looked to the right to try to pass, I was in danger of ramming the cruiser, as the whole left lane of traffic seemed to be grinding to a stop.  Was Clueless Driver panicking?  Was the car breaking down?  Finally, rightly, the officer turned on his lights and with some delay, managed to get the little white car to meander off the highway for a well-earned traffic stop.

So yes, it does happen sometimes, but not nearly enough in my view.  Whether there was technically a minimum speed limit there was irrelevant, in my view – the driver was a hazard to others, every bit as much as an aggressive driver.  That one managed to display their total lack of driving skill to a police officer, but there are way too many others who drive this cluelessly  every… single… day.

So, yeah, I agree that it’s a good thing to be on the lookout for aggressive drivers, but I would also like to see equal time given to clueless drivers.