Americans are a passive people – much as they like to imagine themselves vigorous, decisive and independent. They like to watch football. And they certainly don’t do much more than that behind the wheel.
Driving is an active verb.
But observe the typical American driver. He is soporific passivity personified. He coasts along, lost in thought (or lost in chat). Eyes half-closed, mind half lit, he rarely pays much attention to things outside his immediate orbit – unless it’s something edible. Forget about what’s happening in the rearview. He target fixates on the bumper of the car head. He plods along in line with bovine serenity.
If there are two left turn lanes at an intersection and the car head of him ambles to the rightmost one, in line with the cars ahead, so will he – even if the leftmost lane is completely empty. It will not occur to him to use that lane. Such thoughts do not penetrate his stupor.
He stops – and waits – before merging . . . even when there’s no oncoming traffic. Then he swings wide – and creeps forward at just over walking speed. He is not concerned whether you will have to swing wide to avoid hitting him – or whether you have enough time to brake to avoid rear-ending him.
He’s busy Bluetoothing it up, arguing with the wife, nattering to his kids.
He never, ever anticipates the green light (nor the red) but only reacts – eventually – to such stimuli.
If he needs to change course or speed, he does so at the last possible moment – abruptly, and oblivious to the others in his vicinity.
The American driver (so-called) does not see the road ahead as a kind of three-dimensional chess set, anticipating possible moves, preparing to make them and then making them. He has been trained – conditioned – to never commit the fundamental sin: To think for himself and then act on it.
This is said to be aggressive driving.
Instead, passive-aggressive driving is encouraged. Rewarded.
The left lane hog is immune from tickets. The few non-fluoridated drivers left out there who try to pass him – they’re in the gunsights of every cop.
The glaucomic senile citizen who can seeshapes is not “impaired.” But they’ll crucify the adroit wheelman who’s car handling can’t be faulted but who was found to have a trace amount of alcohol in his system.
Or who “speeds.”
Two lanes, a car in either lane. The light goes green – and a slow-motion race to the next light commences. No one else can get around the rolling roadblock without beingaggressive. A snappy – and safe – passing maneuver momentarily over the double yellow is an outrage of Auschwitzian proportions. Eyes bug out, horns honk and high beams flash.
The penalty for not being sufficiently passive.