Thursday, January 05, 2006

Driving in Utah

I’m not what you’d call a daredevil. I’ve never been one to engage in dangerous behavior or chase after that adrenalin “rush.” Not on purpose anyway. I confess, however, that there is one dangerous activity in which I voluntarily participate on a daily basis. Scary enough to entice any extreme-thrill seeker this pastime is something that plunges even experienced risk-takers into heart-stopping, breath-stealing insanity. That’s right! I drive in the great state of Utah.

I haven’t really driven anywhere besides my home state so I don’t know if it’s this exciting in other places. Still, I like to think that we Utah drivers bring something special to the driving experience.

First of all it is important to remember that we are a friendly and loving people. This is perhaps why we are reluctant to allow any space at all to come between our car and those of our fellow drivers. Anyone who is stand-offish enough to leave enough distance between themselves and the car in front of them will soon realize that even the smallest space will quickly be filled by more friendly drivers. If you drive in Utah, you can expect people to be friendly enough to stay very close. The driver ahead of you will be able, simply by glancing in the rear-view mirror, to lip read the lyrics to the song you’re singing. Perhaps they will even sing along. They will be able to share the aroma of the doughnut you are attempting to eat as you drive to work, and despite what appears to be a common belief that we are, ourselves, invisible behind the clear untinted windows of our vehicles, be aware that YOU are in clear view and we will not pretend we don't see you squirt jelly from said doughnut all over your shirt. But don't worry. We're so busy trying to manage our gallon-sized mugs of Sprite that we won't laugh. Well, not really hard, anyway. The point is, get used to being close to other cars, especially if there are traffic lights in the vicinity as this brings us to:

The “I’m with them” driving technique. I suppose that technically, when a traffic light turns red, only the car in the middle of the intersection should proceed. But after all when you’ve been bumper to bumper with a person for several blocks, it’s hard to say goodbye. Therefore, it’s acceptable, or at least common to see several cars pass under the red light, as if they all belong to a procession of sorts; one that cannot and should not be interrupted by something as capricious as a traffic light. “It’s okay,” they seem to tell us as they proceed beneath a crimson light, “I’m with them!”

Traffic lights, in fact, are generally regarded as a loose suggestion. A green light means “Go. Or not. Whatever suits you, it’s your call." Just because there may be traffic approaching behind you, it’s no reason to leave before you’re ready. By all means, stay as long as you’d like! Of course some people feel that a green light means you should actually go. They see green as a sort of starting pistol or something. But wait, you say. What if I haven’t finished checking my makeup, or reading my newspaper? The answer is simple. Feel free to linger if you need to, but keep in mind that the accomplished driver is able to perform several tasks while still in motion. Try it. It’s not uncommon to see people talking on the phone, shaving, programming a palm pilot, spending some quality time lecturing the children or even performing little mini-concerts complete with air guitar and drums while simply driving to work. A yellow light is sort of a friendly reminder that perhaps you could be traveling just a bit faster. Of course, if you are less than three feet from the intersection when the light changes by all means stop and enjoy the kaleidoscope of color about to appear before your very eyes. A yellow light is so fleeting, so very brief and the next thing you know it changes to red. Take the time to stop and enjoy it. Of course there are those drivers who prefer to slow down to appreciate the last seconds of the amber hue before accelerating and racing through the red light. It’s a nice surprise for those silly drivers traveling the opposite direction who are attempting to turn left. We must do our part, after all, to keep everyone on their toes! A red light is an indication that if you’d like to stop, for whatever reason, you may do so. However, you should be considerate of other drivers and be certain that you aren’t holding up a procession of “I’m with them” drivers. In fact, just to be on the safe side if you are any closer than three blocks away from a red light, you should probably just plan on continuing through anyway, just in case.

But traffic lights aren’t the only way to have fun while driving. Far from it! We have the added excitement of interpreting turn signals. While some people believe that a turn signal is a means of informing fellow drivers of an intent to turn, I have found that this is not always the case. There are a number of reasons for using a turn signal. For example, if a car in the next lane is lagging behind leaving enough space for you to actually enter their lane, a turn signal is the quickest way to get them to pick up the pace and fill that space! Turn signals of course can be used to indicate a desire to, say, turn or even change lanes. You take the chance, however, that this will be misunderstood so it’s better to simply turn without the signal.

On the other hand, the thoughtful driver who really does wish to alert other drivers of an intent to turn can do so by simply switching on the signal indicator several miles before the anticipated turn. This gives everyone ample time to close any gaps, plus it allows for an exciting game of “Is he really going to turn or is he just teasing?” Also be sure to note the light-hearted game of "Made You Think I Wasn't Turning!" played by many. This game is always good for a laugh when you are attempting to turn onto a busy street but having difficulty finding an opening. Remember, no spaces between cars! You too will laugh heartily as a person careens toward you at full speed and then, without any indication whatsoever of intent, the driver suddenly turns! This brings you the realization that if they had signaled a turn you would have been able to pull onto the street, but they got you! Now you have to wait longer! HA HA HA!

I recently learned that turn signal etiquette is not limited to the state of Utah. A friend of mine is a police officer in Idaho. A thoughtful citizen has informed him that turn signals should be employed anytime a car turns, even if the turn is merely a result of a curve in the road. Furthermore, this driver feels strongly that law enforcement officers need to enforce this practice, to protect everyone from the potential hazards of a person traveling down a road with no intersections or lane changes. Why should anyone assume that because the road curves, the driver will also? Signaling in this case is really the only thoughtful thing to do. My friend, being the staunch defender of justice and protector of safety that he is, was nevertheless relieved to be able to evade this responsibility by pointing out that the road in question is not in his jurisdiction.

With that insight from Idaho, I have to conclude that maybe Utah isn't alone in the peculiarity of certain drivers. Perhaps driving in other states is taking one's life in one's hands as well. On the other hand, I've seen the bewildered and sometimes furious expressions on the faces of those driving cars with out-of-state license plates. These drivers will, for example, signal a lane change and then actually attempt to change lanes. While this may be acceptable in other places, in Utah it's just plain crazy. Driving in Utah is not something I recommend to the faint of heart. For them it would perhaps be better to try something more sedate and predictable. Like driving in New York.


Barbara said...

Hi Stacey! Great entry!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious, Stacey!

You need to come to MI and drive here. It's uh, challenging, to say the least.


Ronni said...

Driving in Utah sounds a lot like driving in TX. Maybe I'll do an entry on that.

Do cars actually come with turn signals any more? I'm beginning to wonder!

Stacey said...

LOL, Lisa. Not enough Xanax in the world.

Barbara said...

Nothing could be worse than California. The traffic jams, congestion, crazy drivers who cut you off and insane traffic patterns were unreal! And that was just trying to get out of the airport!!

OccamsEdge said...

Having driven or ridden a motorcycle in most states and several counties two of the places I find ‘interesting’ places stateside are Boston and Boca Raton – in bean town the streets are a challenge in a sports car but a Hummer is a better choice. when it comes to intersections remember that traffic lights and signs are merely advisories, and before big dig that left turn in to the tunnel to the airport specially on a wet day (8 lanes turning left into a two lane tunnel) was a great place to practice power slide techniques

Down in rats mouth, you see these driverless monster Cadillacs and Benzes diving 20mph in the forty zone, abruptly turn left with out signaling – upon closer inspection you see a fuzz of old ladies blue hair at about the same level as the top of the steering wheel.

Barbara said...

You're right. Boston is the worst. I swear I think that drivers get extra points for hitting pedestrians in crosswalks because when you are in one, they speed up! Forget about someone actually letting you out in an intersection. And the circles are an excercise in insanity. If you want to visit Boston, fly in and let the taxis drive you around. It's not worth the medication and insurance required to actually drive there!

juli said...

hi stacey! great entry, i've enjoyed your blog. thanks for commenting in mine. see you on the boards!

Uday said...

Hey! Good to c u back! Hope u r fine now. :)

You outdo urself each time!!! :D

Its all this and much worse in the city I work in now: Hyderabad, India. People seem to believe that the road is their private property and they ALWAYS have the first right. :|

I got to office some 2 hrs back after driving 15 miles to work and m still cursing the traffic and the drivers.

Uday aka Hobbes :)

Stacey said...

Hey Uday akay Hobbes! My brother was in Bangalore last year and he mentioned that driving was, ah, interesting. He tried to film it, in fact, but he couldn't bring himself to keep his eyes open long enough. There were a lot of things he really liked though. He met some pretty wonderful people there.

son said...

When I learn to drive (if my mom lets me) I will most likly fail the exam because I will think that a green light means: go if you want to just finish your Phone call that's a ok and then if you want to go you can IF you want to.