The Star Tribune printed an article Thursday declaring Minnesota drivers among the worst in the nation.
“Minnesota drivers have some habits that are so bad, many people consider us the worst drivers in the country,” writes Laurie Blake, a staff writer at the paper. “We are notorious for camping in the left lane and refusing to let faster-moving traffic pass.
“We are masters of the ‘make-way-for-me’ merge onto the freeway. And once on the freeway, Minnesotans are often not nice about letting other cars in.”
While all this might ring true, Minnesotans have a lot of catching up to do before they join the ranks of the country’s worst drivers.
Take for example the traffic problem in Boulder, Colo., where drivers routinely try to beat speeding firetrucks. At the very least these drivers simply fail to pull over. In fact, the problem isn’t just with vehicles, but with bicyclists and pedestrians.
The problem increased to the point where the Boulder Fire Department launched a special program to teach people how they should respond to emergency vehicles.
The city also compiled educational fliers which were posted city-wide and began airing an informational commercial on television. And you thought we had problems.
That’s just Boulder. Each time I’ve been to Denver, I’ve witnessed some of the most atrocious driving habits ever known. People there get in a lane, pick a speed and never change it. Never. If you’re unfortunate enough to wind up behind slow-moving traffic, expect to stay there for a long, long time. No one speeds up to create the space needed to pass around slower cars. The only bonus is that the scenery is nice.
And don’t even think about passing slower traffic in New Mexico without a wild road race. When I lived in Santa Fe, I routinely visited friends in nearby Albuquerque via the highway. I remember at least five instances when I found myself screaming down the road, desperately trying to outrun a too-proud-to-be-passed-by-the-likes-of-you driver.
The game starts out rather innocently. I’m in the fast lane behind a slower driver, so I pull into the other lane on this two-lane highway to pass. Just as I start to pull ahead of the slower car, he (or she) starts to gain more speed. Rather than outrun the now-speedy driver, I jump back in the fast lane behind them just as they slow down again.
Frustrated, I get back in the slow lane to get around them again. But, no surprise, they speed up. I’m no fool by now. I know they’ll just slow down again if I get back behind them, so I speed up even more. So do they. Then I go faster, and they go faster. Before you know it, I’m racing down the highway at 100 mph against a car that clocked only 50 mph to begin with.
People like this are the reason I won’t ever buy a gun or learn to shoot it, because I would use it. Yes, I would.
California traffic is so bad that citizens organized a Web site where disgruntled drivers can post pictures and descriptions of reckless and stupid people on the road. The Highway 17 Page of Shame offers a glimpse of the “Jerque du Jour” who has done something stupid enough to earn themselves a spot online. The stretch of road between Santa Cruz and San Jose provides the scene for many a foul deed. Just be glad Minnesotans haven’t had need of this yet. Check it out at www.got.net and click on Emil Gallant, and be glad you’re not living there. Along these same lines is the Citizen’s Arrest Organization’s Web page, at www.citizensarrest.com, where you can enter information about “bad and reckless drivers,” and send it to a massive data bank where other information on cruddy drivers is stored.
Unfortunately, all the information posted is confidential and unavailable for hapless perusing. Otherwise I’d love to find out which state boasts the most complaints.
Another Web site dedicated to exposing inconsiderate drivers is www.900totrack.com. Here you can report the misdeeds and license plates of bad drivers for the small price of $1. Better still, this information is passed on to law enforcement agencies for publication.
No matter. The worst driver award doesn’t even belong in the United States, but in Canada, where Reader’s Digest journalist Robert Kiener took a look at the driving habits in Canada’s “five most dangerous cities,” with input from long-haul truckers, safety officials and police. What he found is appalling: a Vancouver man who drives to work at 50 kilometers an hour while eating a bowl of cereal; a “Montreal woman who primps with a hair dryer in one hand, a styling brush in the other, while steering with elbow and knees; or the Quebec City driver who rockets along at 140 kilometers an hour, screaming into a cell phone.”
Drivers on Montreal’s Autoroute Metropolitaine routinely speed between 20 and 40 kilometers an hour over the speed limit, Kiener found. He also counted seven red-light runners in the space of a few minutes at a busy Quebec City intersection. “We’re running more red lights than ever before, in a deadly game of chicken that claims hundreds of lives each year,” he wrote.
Since the advent of road rage and dozens of other disastrous habits, several agencies, from AAA to a host of research institutions for the study of traffic psychology — yes, there is such a field — have compiled a list of helpful tips for avoiding the “danger zone.” Here’s a list of tips from Sam Houston State University’s Office of Institutional Research:
“Lane hogging: Stay out of the left lane, which is reserved for faster traffic and yield to the right for any cars that are trying to pass you. Don’t try to prevent other cars from passing you.
“Tailgating: Allow a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. Tailgating has been the cause for dozens of fatal traffic disputes.
“Brake-tapping: Tapping your brakes to warn other drivers to quit tailgating is another action that motorists find hostile, because you have intentionally jeopardized the safety of the person behind you.
“Signal use: Always signal before changing lanes and remember to turn off your signal once you have changed lanes.
“Failure to turn: Since right-hand turns are usually allowed at a traffic light, try to stay out of the right-hand lane if you are not turning right.
“Merging: When traffic allows, move out of the right-hand acceleration lane of a freeway to allow cars to enter from the on-ramps.
“Blocking traffic: Pull over to the shoulder of the road and allow cars to pass if you are pulling a trailer or driving a cumbersome vehicle that backs up traffic. Also, do not block traffic by talking to a pedestrian or someone in another vehicle. This has provoked dozens of shootings from highly irritated drivers.
“Gestures: Never raise a middle finger to another driver. This is a directly confrontational insult and makes the exchange personal. Obscene gestures have led to shootings, beatings and stabbings in every state.
“Keep headlights on low beam, except where unlighted conditions call for high beams. When oncoming traffic approaches dim your lights; don’t get even with oncoming traffic by using your high beams.
“Car phones: Don’t be distracted from your driving by the car phone — pay attention to the road and don’t look away while talking on the phone.”
These tips are so simple, yet no one I have ever met follows faithfully the course of common courtesy when it comes to getting where they need to go.
Take me, for instance. I am a faithful turn signal user. No one will ever see me turn or change lanes without the friendly click, click, click of my blinker, but I’m not the most considerate merger.
When a lane is closed ahead, I’ve been known to ride in the soon-to-be-closed lane just until the flashing lights and cones prohibit my course, then squeeze in with the more prudent folks who switched lanes ahead of time. But I always wave! Then there’s the little tip about gestures. I’m sure there’s more than one Twin Citian whose been witness to my finger. You know who you are, and you deserved it, I’m sure. Oh, except that one guy who I flipped off by accident — I thought he was somebody else.
But I know I’m not the worst driver. I’m actually pretty safe. Yes, I roll through the occasional stop sign on the dark, deserted roads. Yes, I speed when my better judgment prevails over stupid speed limits. But I always use that better judgment of mine. We all should.
And we all should wave whenever we’ve knowingly inconvenienced another driver for our own sake. How nice.
Emily Dalnodar’s column runs on alternate Fridays. She welcomes comments to [email protected]