Sunday, September 28, 2014

Etiquette on the Road

Don't be an animal behind the wheel. ~ "You will see the timid man, or woman, grow bullying and bellicose behind the wheel. You will note the neighbor's fender scraped as your man pulls heedlessly out of the parking spot, the pedestrian narrowly missed and roundly cursed although he has the right of way." Amy Vanderbilt
"If you are really observant, you can learn more about a person's poise, considerateness (or lack of it), probity, and judgment by riding with him at the wheel of his car than you can by studying him long hours in his living room. You will see the timid man, or woman, grow bullying and bellicose behind the wheel. Your will note the neighbor's fender scraped as your man pulls heedlessly out of the parking spot, the pedestrian narrowly missed and roundly cursed although he has the right of way. You will experience the senseless weaving in and out of traffic with the many near accidents it causes.

The established rules of driving are for the protection of other drivers and the non-driving public, but they are also related to good manners. If you do scrape someone else's fender in leaving a parking space, you should, as a well-mannered person, leave your car and arrange to make good the damage, even if the law didn't held you responsible under the circumstances.

Most careful people carry liability and property damage even in states where it is not actually required, but most insurance doesn't cover such slight property damage as is occasioned by the scraping of a fender. The owner of the car must pay for that himself. You who inflicted the damage may find your own insurance will cover even such minor damage to someone else's car, but even if it doesn't, you should make yourself responsible.

If no one is in the other car, leave a card or note with your name and address so that matters may be arranged between you. In some states any damage over a certain amount to another car or to your own even, in the latter case, if you inflicted it yourself must be reported to police. Elsewhere, adjustments of this kind are a matter of good manners." — Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette
Once on the road it is your responsibility to be alert to every circumstance that may affect your driving so that you will not endanger, or even inconvenience others.

Keep to the Right

"Courtesy, Safety, Legality ~ These are the triplets of driving, so nearly identical, as to make them often indistinguishable. As it is rude to push violently through a crowd of people, so is it also in a car to weave in and out of traffic carelessly. It is also unsafe and illegal. As you do not (if you are courteous) hurry on the street in order to push in front of another approaching at right angles, a courteous and safe driver does not attempt to beat another car across the road or street intersection. If he is discourteous enough to do so he may be the cause of a serious accident, and whether he is or not he may receive a ticket for traffic law violation. So it is with many of the rules of the road. The rules of courtesy, the legal code, and the rules of safety are, more often than not, the same. The measure of a good driver is the extent to which he observes all three.

On Being Alert

Once on the road it is your responsibility to be alert to every circumstance that may affect your driving so that you will not endanger, or even inconvenience others. You must be constantly aware of everything ahead of you and even on each side of the road or street, as far as you can see, and ready to anticipate any movement that may affect your driving -- other cars, pedestrians, children, dogs and other animals -- and of the physical facts connected with the road or street itself -- sharp turns, dips, bumps, obstructions, or slippery spots on the pavement." Eleanor Roosevelt's Common Sense Book of Etiquette

From "Situations That May Spark Road Rage"

"The first step in avoiding road rage is, knowing which situations are most likely to provoke anger. Using logic and experience, I know that the following factors all increase road-rage substantially. 

Pardon any redundancies:
-Hot weather
-Slow or backed up traffic
-Any and all construction zones
-Waiting with no end in sight (a crowded post-event parking lot that doesn’t appear to be emptying) 

-Being forced to stop at a location that is usually clear (active construction zones)
-Being forced to drive slowly for no apparent reason (a construction zone where no workers are present). 

-Drivers talking on cell phones.

Any police officer will tell you that there exists a direct correlation between hot weather and bad stuff happening. Domestic abuse, gang activity, and assaults all spike in the heat. Besides, nobody likes roasting inside a hot car while the sun beats down.

If you are stuck in a traffic jam or bumper-to-bumper situation during record-breaking heat days, be extra alert for road-rage, and be extra cautious and extra reserved in your actions. Communicate with the drivers around you (we’ll talk about this in a moment) before every action. Be extra weary of people whose windows are down, as they most likely do not have working air-conditioners, and will therefore be most affected (and aggravated) by being forced to wait in the heat.

Also be weary of older, rougher-looking cars that may be prone to engine over-heating. While a healthy car can idle in 100-degree weather all day without overheating, cars with poorly maintained cooling systems depend strongly on airflow to cool their engines. If someone is driving a poorly maintained junker, it’s probably because he can’t afford a nicer car, and he probably depends strongly on the vehicle.

Even the most patient man’s patience can be tested during a construction-related delay. Be extra vigilant in these situations. A smart man in the pictured situation would ensure that he is in the far right-hand lane- which would allow for an escape.

And, it would be incredibly irritating (to say the least), if ‘a stupid construction worker holding a freaking stop sign’ “caused” his car to overheat and break down. Keep your windows up, your air conditioner pumping, and stay alert.

Traffic Backups

You don’t have to have a bad temper to understand how frustrating it is to be in a hurry for an appointment (or work, or whatever) only to run into heavy traffic. At that point, even sensible people get frustrated.

As with hot-weather, be extra reserved of even the most simple traffic maneuver- such as changing lanes. If someone is leaving space in front of their car, unless they are signaling for you to merge into it, you should assume that the space is sacred to them. And, even though they don’t ‘own’ the road, merging into their sacred, personal space can be considered a violation of their space- a big no-no. Therefore, communicate, communicate, and communicate. (We’ll talk about communication shortly).

Assume nothing, and especially if you are entering the roadway, do so as if you are a guest, and the drivers already there are the owners. Adopting this mindset will change your approach on so many levels, and you will be shocked at how much more pleasant of an experience you will have.

Construction Zones

The rules of hot weather and especially traffic backups obviously apply to construction zones, but an important fact to recognize is that a construction zone is a much more frustrating kind of backup than say, a traffic accident.

The frustration of having to wait so that ‘your tax money can be dumped into a stupid road’ is compounded by the unsympathetic faces of the construction workers. Even though the ‘rage’ may be created by the construction zones and personnel, the slightest infringement may have all this anger directed at you- so proceed with caution and be on high alert for rage in construction zones.

Waiting, Without Apparent Reason

Logically, delays are infinitely more tolerable if the person waiting can see a justifiable reason before him as to why he is being forced to wait. For example, nobody honks their horn when they are 30 yards from a three-car pileup that is covering both lanes of freeway traffic, as police and medical personnel rush to treat victims. In fact, I’d dare say most people would forget about whatever it was that they were in a hurry for, and rush to the aid of the responders.

The other side of this coin is that people are infinitely less tolerable of delays if they see no apparent reason for the delay. For example, the guy at the front of the line mentioned above would wait all day with patience, while a guy stuck between two semi-trucks a mile back will have a much lower threshold of agitation.

Still, even a sensible person knows that IF traffic is not moving, THEN there is a reason- and probably a GOOD reason at that. For some people though, and especially those who “suffer from” (read: 'choose to have') road-rage, unless they can see why they are waiting, there is NO good reason, and their anger grows and grows.

Exhibit A....

A friend of mine has very little patience. I was unlucky enough to be riding with him when we came upon a construction zone, where one lane had been closed, and traffic was being directed through the single open lane. In a simple two- lane road, we would only have had to wait while the oncoming traffic cleared before it would have been our turn to go. 
But in this case, the road being worked on went through the middle of a large town, which made the way traffic was being directed appear illogical, and we had to wait for maybe 15 minutes. A group of cars would pass, and then there would be a full minute of nothing, all while the flagger in front of us looked bored holding a walkie-talkie in one hand, and a “STOP” sign in the other. 
This in-action caused great frustration on the part of the guy I was riding with, but it was a great learning experience for my level-headed self. After the first couple minutes of waiting, where no cars appeared to be coming, the driver merely grumbled to himself and threw his car into park and killed the engine. Then came the first wave of cars, where he said “finally!”, started the car, put it back into gear, and waited. The cars cleared, but still the flagger held fast. 
After 30 seconds of this, the driver yelled out his open window, “What’s the hold up!?”. The construction worker (the poor guy) obviously became instantly worried, and I could tell he didn’t deal with too many irate people. The driver (who was second in line), acted like he was going to just start driving anyway, and pulled halfway around the car in front of him. 
Just as I was about to intervene with a “Dude, chill out!”, he thought better of running the stop- sign and stopped pulling forward, leaving us awkwardly sideways (there were a couple dozen people behind us). He then tapped on his horn a few times, and out of pure embarrassment, I began trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t set this guy off.  
Luckily for me, he turned to me with an agitated look and said “doesn’t this s--- just piss you off??”. “Honestly? No, it doesn’t.” I said. “What?! Why not?” It was as if he had just thought I didn’t understand the tragedy of the situation- of having to wait for 15 minutes during an overall hour drive home. “Well, for one thing, we’re not in that big of a hurry,” (we had just returned from fishing), “but everyone else is waiting too, and besides- if they are telling us to stop, there must be a good reason.” 
Obviously, my argument was dead on, and even though the realization that I was looking down at him made the driver calm down a lot, he was still very angry by the time we were able to go, and insisted on making direct eye contact with every construction worker that we passed. I happen to know this person well enough to know that had any of them met his stare in a “what??” fashion, he would have stopped the car and tried to pick a fight. Needless to say, that was the last time I rode with him.

Being Forced to Drive Slowly

To the person prone to ‘road rage’, having to drive slowly is only slightly less angering than having to wait at a stand-still. In fact, in the case of the “slow driver”, it may be worse- because at least with the traffic backup, there is usually no specific person to take ones anger out on.

Having to follow a slow driver isn’t an issue unless the opportunity to pass is not present. If there is a bottle-neck, and the person behind you appears to be agitated at the speed that you are travelling, you might want to consider just speeding up. While you have the right to drive any speed you want (within the law), you also have the duty to not do things that may provoke an attack. Again- YOU are right, and HE is wrong. HE is being a big jerk. But... you are the more reasonable person here, and it’s your duty to take command of the situation.

In this situation, do what you can to simply blend in with the flow of the traffic. If given the opportunity, let them go by you! It may even mean as much as pulling over. It’s definitely not a dignified thing to do, but it sure beats getting into a fist-fight, or much worse.

Being on Your Cell Phone

I can honestly say that I am almost exactly as competent (in good weather) while ON my cell phone as I am while off. I’m not bragging, because I truly think most people are- most armed citizens, anyway, which includes you. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of practice, and I have good judgment. If talking on my cell phone made me inattentive, or if the conversation is too demanding, I simply hang up.
Still, if you commit a ‘driving sin’ (respective to the angry person) while on your phone, you will cause much more anger in him than had you done the same thing while off your cell phone. This is largely due to the fact that there’s a stigma that drivers who talk on their cell phones are bad drivers, who don’t pay attention. It’s obviously better to be able to focus 100% of your attention to driving, but if you must talk on your cell phone, be extra attentive to the drivers around you.

Being forced to drive slowly- behind a slow-moving vehicle, for example- can bring the worst out of people who 'suffer from' (read: 'choose to have') road rage."

From "Stayin' Alive Behind the Wheel," by Patrick Kilchermann

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia