The great comedian George Carlin once observed, “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” The remark shows incredible insight, especially since Mr. Carlin and I never even met; how did he know I was the only one driving correctly? His keen perception makes me admire him all the more.
One of the most frustrating things about traveling by automobile is the annoying fact that others are doing it at the same time. If not for that, driving would be a pleasure. Imagine tooling along happily, not a care in the world, and not another car in sight. That’s your Curmudgeon’s idea of an ideal road trip.
It isn’t just that the other drivers often impede my progress (which they certainly do). The far greater issue is the waythey drive, which is often dangerously stupid and stupidly illogical.
Just yesterday, for example, a fellow motorist with whom I was sharing a large major thoroughfare suddenly changed his mind about making a left turn, and decided to make a right instead. On a small street, this would have been a negligible inconvenience. In this case, it involved screeching across three lanes of traffic without warning before joining a perpendicular traffic stream that wasn’t expecting him. Those who honked at him were given the finger.
Tailgating—driving too close to the car in front—is one of the most popular practices among stupid drivers. In their limited capacity for thinking well, these unqualified vehicle operators have calculated that driving within inches of another car will get them to their destinations more efficiently. I’ll grant that this may be true if one’s destination is a morgue. Otherwise, there’s a logic problem that results from the watertight scientific fact that one impenetrable object cannot bypass another impenetrable object that precedes it. It can go around, but it cannot go through. Cars have been tested again and again for penetrability, and they have failed.
The great Johnny Mercer put it another way when he wrote:
When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet just as sure as you live
Something's gotta give, something's gotta give, something's gotta give
Yes, he was writing about a powerful attraction between two people, but his laudable grasp of physics applies to automobiles as well.
The problem with tailgating goes well beyond impracticality. It involves a perilous faith in consistency: Without changes in speed or position, all would be fine. But tailgaters are completely unprepared for surprises, thereby endangering their fellow drivers with their gross misunderstanding of the way traffic works. By definition, accidents are always surprises.
There’s one bright spot here. Unlike other annoying people, tailgaters are easy to handle. Whenever I find one threatening to encroach upon the back seat of my car, I simply tap my brakes repeatedly. If that doesn’t work, I do it again. And if that doesn’t work, I just slow down gradually to whatever speed achieves my goal. Eventually, drivers who are in enough of a hurry to tailgate will grow frustrated and go around me. Mind you, they usually do so without signaling and while honking and giving me the finger. And yes, that hurts . . .but not nearly so much as a crash would.
So if you ever find yourself driving behind me, be forewarned: I brake for tailgaters.