You don’t run, so stop driving like there’s a trophy at your destination
There are no trophies waiting for you when you arrive at your destination. No cash prizes, no leaderboards with your name on it. Did you beat the beige Camry to the next freeway exit? Congratulations, I guess. Whether you go to work, the grocery store, Home Depot, or Walmart, whether or not you arrive at 4:00 or 4:05 p.m. probably won’t matter. At all.
And yet, while we’re all on the highways and back roads of this United States, drivers – at least those in the cities I’ve lived and worked in, like Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle, and now Columbus – seem to treat the American roads as if they were a huge racing circuit.
People are tailgating like they’re drafting the last lap of a big NASCAR race. They go in and out of their lanes and into the tightest gaps as if they were Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen swapping places on an F1 circuit with the title on the line. And too often, they crash.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over the past 20 years speed was a contributing factor in about a third of all motor vehicle accidents. The type of driving mentioned at the beginning of this article – tailgating, erratic lane changing, illegal overtaking – is a factor in 56% of car accidents involving fatality. Sometimes that fatality is the abuser, sometimes it’s the driver who angered the abuser, and sadly, other times it’s an innocent bystander.
A study of AAA Foundation found that 9 in 10 respondents agreed that aggressive drivers posed a ‘somewhat’ or ‘very serious’ threat to their personal safety. And yet, many of those same drivers admitted to driving aggressively in the same survey.
I’m not going to type this while standing on a platform of my own. I freely admit that I have sometimes fallen into the group of drivers that these AAA or NHTSA studies would describe as “aggressive”. Did I exceed the speed limit by more than 15 miles per hour? Surely. Did I accelerate to pass a yellow light? Yeah, it happened. Did I even speed up when I saw someone behind me rushing ahead at what I would call a dangerous speed before swerving into the right lane behind me to pass slower traffic in the left ? Guilty as charged.
While I will admit a certain level of hypocrisy, I will also add that in my fourth decade of life here on this spinning rock that I call home, know that I am actively settling. I’ve never been a particularly aggressive driver, but these days I’ve gotten quite comfortable driving around the speed limit and letting other drivers go their merry way. I prefer to wait for my turn to pass; when I see a yellow light, I gracefully prepare to slow to a stop. When I see someone chasing me, I try to find another way to get around.
Do not mistake yourself. I love fast cars, whether combustion or electron. I grew up on a steady diet of high octane fuel and muscle cars. My family had a herd of vintage gas-powered beasts in our stable, from Pontiac GTOs and Trans Ams to jacked-up Jeeps. We also had slow cars, although I tell you it’s quite fun to drive a slow car, like the vintage Volkswagen Beetle convertible I learned to drive in, at its relatively low limit.
I also ride motorcycles. For a long time, in fact. My first off-roader was a KTM 125 that was tuned within an inch of its tiny piston life. I had to perfect this cylinder and replace the piston and rings at least three times a summer – I didn’t realize there was any speed other than full throttle.
The thing is, I’m a fanatic, and I’ve been basically since I was born. I like to drive. I especially like riding fast, in a straight line, on an undulating stretch of asphalt, even on a rutted and bumpy patch of dirt. If I can find a good stretch of road that’s worth driving in a fun car, I’ll drive for hours to get there. There are some brilliant stretches of road in America seemingly designed for people who love to drive. Go out and enjoy. Please do it safely. And for God’s sake, don’t drive like a fool on the highways that lead you to your destination.
I didn’t have access to high-end sport sedans and luxury coupes until I made my way through the automotive industry via words on a screen, but now that I have, I’ve realized that the only real way to properly and safely push any car to its limit is on a race track.
And that’s the solution I’m going to offer to help deter aggressive driving on public roads. Take it to the track. Learn the limits of your car, whatever it is. I recognized that this suggestion is not a silver bullet that will end the automobile carnage that is a real scourge on our roads. It is unlikely to have a serious bearing on the high blood pressure that millions of Americans experience daily while driving. But it might help even a few of us express some aggression in the appropriate setting.
There’s probably a good running track pretty close to you. I would recommend starting small. Consider a regional driving school. To try an autocross. Go out and use your car, regardless of the type of car. You may find that you have a natural talent. At the very least, I hope you’ve found an awesome new hobby to enjoy.
If you’re lucky, maybe one day a trophy will be waiting for you when you cross the finish line.