The Driver’s Code: Anything Goes

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, June 18, 2008

I don’t know how it is in other countries, but we Americans freely use our automobiles as little microcosms of imagined privacy. In some ways we are quite alone as we drive. In other ways, we decidedly are not. Often, motorists seem unable to distinguish between suitable driving behaviors and those that are at the very least annoying.

Things we would never do standing in line at the bank or grocery store, or any other public venue, we do in the perceived isolation of our cars. Well, here’s breaking news: People can see us.

Now, let’s be honest. It’s not out of the ordinary for most of us to sing along with the music every now and then. This is not generally distracting to other people on the road, although it’s amusing to watch someone vocalizing with gusto.

I freely admit that I talk to myself while driving. More accurately, I engage in imagined conversations with other people. I realize this admission brings what little sanity I claim into serious question.

However, these days this activity is not as incriminating as it used to be. I trust onlookers to assume I’m talking on a hands-free cell phone. They don’t have to know the truth.

Probably the most common thing drivers do when they think no one will see, is pick their noses. It’s not that I am against the nose pick in general. I’ve known some very fine people who exercise this option on a regular basis. However, as a fellow driver, if you must pick on the go, I beg you, please save this activity for when you’re driving a car with tinted windows.

One thing that keeps me from engaging in this particular practice while driving is the thought of being involved in an accident and having to give a police report which would read something like, “Female subject lost control of vehicle and veered into oncoming traffic while employing a finger on her right hand to extract dried phlegm from nasal cavity.”

As embarrassing admissions go, the Highway Patrol would’ve loved this next one, had they been on the scene.

One time while driving south between New York and Washington DC, I was focused on the slowing traffic and an upcoming toll plaza. But my passenger witnessed a couple in a neighboring car engaging in what could best be described as sexual congress—not in the relative seclusion of a back alley or even at a drive-in movie, but approaching a tollbooth on the New Jersey turnpike.

Clearly, this distracting behavior could also be considered humorous, or in some circles, entertaining.

This is how we see our cars—as extensions of our homes. We feel like we should be able to do whatever we want in them and sometimes, without much forethought, we do.

There’s a commercial on TV showing a guy driving his new Cadillac through city streets and you hear his voice-over talking about what an amazing vehicle it is. He mentions all the amenities—powerful engine, seats seven, chrome everywhere. Then he says something like, “Forget driving it. If it had a bathroom, I’d live in it.”

With the cost of food and gas going up and a payment on his new Cadillac, he may have to. For his sake and ours, I hope it has tinted windows.

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