Driving Language

865134-road-rageI know that this guy is running late. I know that woman over there is angry. This dude in front of me is texting. I can’t see any of these people, and I certainly don’t know them. I just see how they’re driving. I call it “driving language” and I’m sure every driver has noticed it, even if they didn’t realize it.

While I’m driving, I notice very little off the road (Car/Owner Lookalikes). That’s because a significant portion of my attention is directed at all the drivers around me. I notice cars way up ahead of me, I notice them hundreds of yards back, on the other side of the road, and on other approaching roads and parking lots.

We are operating multi-ton killing machines at lethal speeds. Think about it. Have you ever gone REALLY fast on your bike; 20, 30, 40 miles per hour? It is SCARY at that higher-end. But once we’re protected behind thousands of pounds worth of metal, suddenly those speeds become no big deal. So, we should all try to pay attention to all these other drivers as much as possible, because most of them aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to you.

So why does driving language matter? Well, I’ll give a few examples. When I’m driving down the freeway and I’m approaching another car, I start watching their behavior. I see how they interact with other passing cars. I watch what they do when changing lanes. Did he signal? Did he check his blind spot? If not, as I’m passing, I’ll gently rest my thumb on my horn button, place an index finger on my headlight flasher, and hover my foot over the break pedal. If he starts encroaching on my space, I won’t have some knee-jerk reaction of panic. Depending on how it’s going, I have several things I could do.

Another situation is the “I’ll just borrow whatever speed you’re going” guy. This is the dude that will either speed up when you try to pass, or slow down when he starts to pass you. In either case, he perfectly matches your speed (usually parking in your blind spot) and creates a frustrating and potentially dangerous situation.

In that example, I have come up with what I call the “Slingshot Technique.” In the case where I’m passing and he speeds up, I will very gradually slow down to about five to ten under the speed I was going. He will inevitably slow with me. Once the new slower target speed has been reached, I will suddenly speed back up to my original speed, thus “slingshotting” myself past him. The same works the other way, except you slowly speed up followed by abruptly slowing to your original speed, slingshotting him by you.

That last example is a bit passive. Aggressive drivers are completely different. I should mention that I don’t believe all aggressive drivers are aggressive in a bad or dangerous way, although most are. Some aggressive drivers are just running late, but never really create any danger besides speeding a little (or a lot… or none). In those cases, they tend to gently weave through traffic, never cutting anyone off, never tailgating too badly, just moving through quickly. When I read their driving language, I usually imagine a polite English-accented voice saying things like “hello, I hope I don’t mind if I hop in front of you” and “excuse me, please!” If I see someone like this coming in my mirror, I’ll usually accommodate them. I’m not typically in a hurry, and I like to reward the non-angry aggressive.

On the other hand angry aggressive drivers are about the most dangerous. They clearly have the attitude that they can do no wrong and everyone is in their way. My advice in dealing with them is to keep your distance and try to not put yourself in their path. In my unfortunate road-rage days, I found joy in semi-passively messing with them by casually and slowly blocking them in. I then pretended that I wasn’t paying attention to my speed, masking the fact that I was doing it intentionally. This drove them nuts and made me very happy. But don’t do that. Seriously, someone’s gonna kill you eventually, either intentionally or not. Plus, it wasn’t THAT fun.

The lesson here is to keep an eye on all of your fellow drivers. Learn to read their driving language and find your own way of safely reacting to it. It’ll make you a better driver and it’ll give you a little something to do on your daily commute.

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