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Monday, April 5, 2010

Whatever happened to road etiquette?

I have been around the block a few times in cool cars and even cooler motorcycles. In the late 80s I spent time running an exotic car body shop in Beverly Hills—got to cruise around in the coolest, baddest cars in the Hills (for free—training for my magazine career). In town, on the highway and on trips up the coast, I remember people—car and truck drivers—having road etiquette. Once I made it into the fourth estate and landed a motorcycle magazine job, I basically gave up on car driving, from the early 90s through the end of 2004 I barely put 2000 miles a year on a car. Left La -La land in 2005 for Wisconsin and a new career and had to start driving a car again—apparently there is this thing called winter that motorcycles suck in.

My driving was on back roads and country two laners in the winter, so I didn’t pay much attention to driving habits. But this past summer my wife Marcia and I were faced with a short notice need to be in Williamsburg, Virginia and back to La Crosse, Wisconsin in four days total. What better excuse to roll my motorcycle to the back of the garage and roll out my 2009 Challenger R/T for a road trip? We left with high hopes of adventure, speed, and the camaraderie of the road.

Not so much. First every damn road along the way seemed to have road construction going on. Then the gaps where there was no road construction brought out the worst manners in drivers I have ever seen. No turn signals, abrupt lane changes, tailgating and then slowing down once you move over to let the moron past and erratic truck drivers. Scary erratic truck drivers. More than once I literally avoided an accident because I had a 5.7 liter Hemi available to get me out of the way of a truck that just changed lanes to avoid some putz drifting in his lane as he adjusted his cd player or texted a message home about what he wants for dinner.

I can’t believe that as a country based on getting around by automobile we have lots all of our dignity and class when it comes to road manners. What happened? I remember being on long road trips and really being relaxed, confident that the group of cars I was running with all had the same goal—getting there as quickly as the road allows without almost killing anyone in the cars around us. I think it is time to do something about it—we need to take back the roads and make them a fun place to be for four days straight.

Maybe it starts with getting driver ed classes to teach some road etiquette. Maybe parents need to be a little less concerned with quieting the kids down with dvds and video games in the car and show them what it is like to share the road with others and respect them. Maybe as a magazine it needs to become a personal campaign to stop the morons by teaching them about turn signals, proper passing space and getting the hell out of the left lane when the traffic is going 75mph and you are going 62 for better fuel economy. We need to teach today’s driver how to give a semi enough space to make a move and not come close to my Challenger—and on the topic of trucks, maybe the drivers an opportunity to fill a few pages explaining what they are up against on the road so the mindless can understand what it is like to run 70mph in a 50-ton vehicle.

Sure this is a rant, but imagine my frustration—385 (or whatever the test that day says) horsepower, a satellite radio pumping out the perfect combination of road tunes and 1100 miles each way. I was jacked up for fun and came home dreading ever doing anything like that again. Funny—I blast all over the country on a bike still and never think about this stuff. Mostly because I can slip through any opening there is without feeling trapped or in danger. But rolling in my R/T I was enraged by the lack of driving etiquette. Shall we fix it?