Virginia drivers

I’ve discussed this before: There’s no shortage of bad drivers anywhere there are drivers. But after years of research, I believe there are clear regional tendencies in bad driving styles.

I have no idea why this might be. Maybe it has something to do with intricacies in state-by-state traffic laws, the ways in which various local police departments enforce those laws and the long-term effects. Or perhaps certain bad habits just become socially acceptable in some places due to years of lousy role models and impotent driver’s-ed instructors.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive yesterday and for some odd reason, traffic along the northeast corridor mostly obliged. But I was coasting along about 12 miles per hour above the speed limit in the middle lane of a three-lane highway with very few cars on the road when a silver compact car pulled up right behind me and started driving maybe 10-15 yards from my tailpipe. I maintained a consistent speed and he could have easily passed me (on either side, no less), but he stayed there for minutes, making me nervous: What’s he up to? Why’s he chasing me? Is this some sort of unmarked cop car about to pull me over? Does he even see me or is asleep at the wheel and just plowing forward?

Finally, he lost patience and whizzed past me on the left, only to speed forward to the next small crop of traffic down the road and do the exact same thing to some other car in the middle lane. As he passed me, I took a look: Kid in his early 20s with a baseball hat slightly askew, a decal for his college occupying the bottom half of his rear window, a factory spoiler and New Jersey license plates. Classic Jersey driver.

Later on the drive, the Mazda Tribute in front of me in the left lane slowed from about 78 to 60 despite no traffic ahead of it and no obvious obstructions in the road. The car’s break lights never lit; it looked like the driver simply, suddenly took his foot off the accelerator in the left lane on I-95. As I craned to see what could be going on, the car veered toward the shoulder then jerked back into the lane. The driver, a salt-and-pepper haired man with glasses, turned his attention back to whatever it was he had splayed out across his steering wheel.

I looked at his plates: Virginia, of course.

No state I know of breeds more oblivious drivers. I’m staying with some friends in Fairfax County and I walked to a 7-11 on Lee Highway this morning. At an intersection, I tried to judge how many of the passing motorists were occupied by something other than the massive two-ton, fuel-filled steel machines hurtling around them in every direction and the ones they were themselves charged with piloting responsibly.

I would guess — and this is no exaggeration — that 75 percent of the people on the road were paying attention to something besides the road. Mostly their smartphones, but also their clipboards and knitting projects and novels and rosary beads. It was kind of beautiful to see, actually: People of all ages, shapes, races, and creeds unified by a cavalier disregard for all the dangers beyond their dashboards.

It rained today, and maybe 50 percent of the cars did not have their headlights on. People still don’t know about that! Does it not often rain here? Don’t many new cars do this by default now?

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