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Monday, September 03, 2007

Plenty of Road Rage for All

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

'Now, I'd never say that," I said to a friend who had just spoken the unspeakable:

"Women drivers use their cell phones more often than men," implying, of course, that you're more likely to get whacked by a distracted woman driver than a man. "You," I said, "will go straight to the dark, infernal pit reserved for misogynists such as yourself."

Still, I had to wonder if he was right. Especially as a woman talking on a cell phone had nearly clipped my car as she made a left turn while I was waiting at a stoplight. Jerk. So, I commenced my own informal survey, observing over the last few months the sex of drivers who were yakking on their cells. My survey concluded that women cell-phone users outnumbered men 2-1, and, during some weeks, 3-1.

Of course, this is only "anecdotal" evidence, proving nothing. It led me to an Internet search of the "literature," as scholars are wont to say, of the demographics of phone users. It failed to turn up anything definitive. (Rare, in my view, is the study that's definitive, especially ones done by sociologists. Pointless, perhaps, but definitive, no.)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a December 2004 report that men had a slight edge over women in daytime cell-phone use in cars. The report concluded that "there is no significant effect of hands-free or hand-held cell-phone use on accidents." The American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies agreed, adding that the accident risks by some previous studies may be overstated by 36 percent. They also find no evidence that cell-phone bans reduce traffic accidents.

Blah, blah. I don't buy it. How else do you explain that after the few times I've used a cell phone while driving, I can't remember driving through some intersections?

But if you want to ban a worse, more dangerous device, I'd suggest ...

Cruise controls.

That's right, outlaw that seemingly innocent device that automatically controls the speed of your car, freeing you of the laborious task of pressing your foot against the gas pedal.

This may make me the only driver in the world who thinks that cruise controls are a menace in the wrong hands. Cruise controls are supposed to be used only on straight highways in light traffic. But the cruise-control putz, like the cell-phone user, is oblivious to other drivers as he dials in a set-in-stone speed while plying crowded interstates, winding mountain roads and even city streets, his foot off the accelerator.

On an interstate, he'll pick, say, 68 m.p.h., and position himself in the left (fast) lane. Never mind that the guy he's passing in the right lane is going 67. He doesn't speed up or slow down because, by God, 68 is what he's decided to go, and no one or nothing will change his mind. Not even the growing line of cars stuck behind.

Thus, the cruise-control putz has created the dreaded and deadly traffic node. The node is best seen, as are clouds, from a distance, a mile or two back. From afar, the node appears as a tightly moving long, narrow and dark monster, making its way at a relentless pace, up and down hills and around turns. Up close, the cars are bunched dangerously close to each other, as their drivers jockey for position, some swerving into the right lane to try to cut in line farther up, and raising already frayed tempers to near violent levels.

Honk and flash their lights as other drivers might, no one is getting past cruise-control putz. One misstep by anyone, and look out for the chain-reaction accident.

Even after cruise-control putz passes the car on his right, he may still choose to stay as the fast-lane captain, despite the roadside signs instructing him: "Slower traffic keep right."

The smart, patient and safe driver (me) assiduously avoids nodes; he adjusts his speed so that he never catches up, allowing a mile of vacant highway between him and the node, until, hours later, the node somehow, miraculously, unravels.

The temptation when you pass one of these morons is to give the driver the evil eye and the bird. But don't bother; the driver probably wouldn't notice because she's on her cell.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dennis:
Thank you! I have long maintained that cruise control is nothing but trouble. Unfortunately, I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness and, in the weakest of moments, even begun to doubt this fundamental truth of driving. Now I know there are at least two of us ready to fight this good fight.

Anonymous said...

Finally, after what seems like twenty years of newspaper articles about road rage full of sophomoric nonsense that misses the point, Dennis Byrne hits the nail squarely on the head. Ninety percent of road rage is caused by left-lane loungers. Left lane loungers are generally 1) clueless morons, 2) self-involved egoists, or 3)bitter and defiant jerks or 4) some combination of the above. If, police would crack down on people who selfishly and illegally obstruct traffic in the left lane, road rage would almost completely vanish.

Anonymous said...

If I'm going to get run over, 9 times out of 10 it's a woman driving an SUV or mini-van yapping on her cell phone. She's either sitting back in her vehicle like she's stretched out on the couch at home watching Oprah, chatting it up with her girlfriend or she's completely oblivious to the fact there are other cars around her and cuts people off, drives through lights or my favorite - slow in the left lane smiling and laughing it up with her buddy on the cell phone.

Never a headset in sight. Never.

Anonymous said...

Dennis each of us should ask whether they are doing more good than bad to society. If you are not helping, then it is time to move onto something new. You should look for a new career as your scale is falling to the negative side. What bothers me the most about your writing is that it is printed in a major newspaper. The Tribune most certainly keeps your column because people read it – and that is the problem. You present fiction as fact, do not report both sides of an issue, and use shoddy methods to “win” your arguments. Worst of all, you never concede errors – of which there are many. Let’s look at this inane column on cruise control.

You state “ Blah, blah. I don't buy it. How else do you explain that after the few times I've used a cell phone while driving, I can't remember driving through some intersections?” Funny, but your experience means nothing. This is a shoddy method of stating a case.

You state “But the cruise-control putz, like the cell-phone user, is oblivious to other drivers as he dials in a set-in-stone speed while plying crowded interstates, winding mountain roads and even city streets, his foot off the accelerator.” Are these facts?

You state “On an interstate, he'll pick, say, 68 m.p.h., and position himself in the left (fast) lane.” How about 73 mph? In my experience, those that commit this offense are doing the speed limit and are on their own moral high ground – a mountain that you frequent.

You state “..ban a worse, more dangerous device, I'd suggest ...Cruise controls.” Come on, you would ban a device that when used correctly is perfectly fine but you are in favor of dumping sludge and ammonia into Lake Michigan? And what is your stand on gun control?

Cruise control allows one to depress the gas pedal to increase speed for passing or using the brake to slow down and later resuming the set speed. Many devices allow, with a press of a button, to increase or decrease the set speed.

This column is just another example of your journalistic style. It is time to hang up your pen Dennis – you are not helping.

Anonymous said...

Dennis said: "...led me to an Internet search of the "literature," as scholars are wont to say,.."

So you hate scholars do you. A little defensive, too?

Chuck from Indiana said...

I didn't know a putz could be female.

Chuck from Indiana said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Oh, Dennis is from the old school. He is darned if he is going to use unisex pronouns in his writing. After all, he thinks all of that women’s lib stuff is just another plot to reduce the family structure. If were not careful, we are all going to become gay or lesbian. Isn't that right Dennis?

Dennis Byrne said...

Right. And if you don't behave, I'll have ya'll rounded up and shipped off to Gitmo.

Anonymous said...

So now you are making fun of southern folk? Are they less educated or just stupid?

David M said...

Hey Dennis:

I'm waiting for your follow up column on BP and its decision to stay to the current dumping levels into Lake Michigan. So, maybe you will tell BP to stick to their guns and increase their dumping - after all it's the principle not the money. Or, maybe they should just pick up all of their marbles and go to a different state. Or, wait, even better, simply BP should say one thing and do another. Nobody will ever know - and BP has the law on their side so what's the problem? Just keep saying, it's not the money, it's the principle.