Monday, June 18, 2007

Life in the fast lane

Note: I wrote this in September 2006 and found it today.

I don't drive. I never learned to, and I don't have a license—so am I allowed to comment on driving? After three recent trips with a friend to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, about an hour and a half from where I live in Chicago, I think I can.

First, there is the universal contempt for the speed limit. They are more like speed guidelines that are an eyesore and a waste of steel and paint since they serve no purpose. For example, the speed limit on I94 is 65 mph; I always assumed this was the upper limit. We were driving 70 mph, and many if not most cars were passing us. Some in the left-hand lane zoomed past so fast that I think it's safe to assume they were approaching 85 to 90 mph. I found myself wondering what destination could be worth the possibility of a flaming death or manslaughter charges to so many.

My friend worries that, when he drives at 70 mph to keep up with the flow, he will be singled out to get a ticket. He may be right. The license plates of the cars in the left-hand lane tend to be a blur.

Conditions are not always perfect, of course. The third time we went to the Faire, on Labor Day, there were several heavy downpours. Water streamed on the road, and trucks and larger vehicles threw up a constant spray that made the poor visibility even worse. Traffic slowed as a result of conditions—by 5–15 mph. Yes, some people reduced their speed to close to the speed limit set for ideal conditions. Places to go, people to see . . .

My favorites, though, are the lane crossers. Some are in the left-hand lane when they realize that they are rapidly approaching their exit, and blithely cut across multiple lanes of speeding traffic within feet—or less—of cars in the other lanes. Many, however, seem to be restless souls who cannot tolerate the sight of of a car in front of them in their lane. They start in the right-hand lane and cut sharply to the left; then, if they spot even the tiniest opening, they cut sharply again to the middle or right. They will do this repeatedly, apparently under the delusion that it saves time. These are the people whose practices help to define the concept of "defensive driving." We ran into (so to speak) several examples of this type; one or two tested the efficiency of my adrenal system. After a very near miss, my driving friend said, "I saw that coming out of the corner of my eye and let up a bit." I wonder how many others in that driver's path had to "let up a bit" out of self-preservation.

On the one hand, our society dedicates untold resources to delaying death—heart disease research, diabetes research, career research, research to find cures for a broad array of fatal ailments.

At the same time we drive like maniacs, ignoring the massive number of car accidents, fatalities, maimings, and injuries. Whenever I go anywhere with my friend, we seem to pass at least one accident.

The state of Illinois tells us that the reconfigured, rebuilt Dan Ryan Expressway, originally designed decades ago, will be safer for modern traffic volumes and flows.

In other words, if you felt held back in the flow at 70 mph, try 75 or 80 mph. It will be "safer," IDOT tells us. As for me, the only times I have felt safe on the Dan Ryan are in the wake of an accident or during construction, when people are forced to drive at the speed limit for ideal conditions—or even less.

Then there's the whole toll road question. It's in poor shape, despite the constant influx of tolls. I have an idea. Eliminate the tolls and start fining everyone who exceeds the speed limits—everyone. It would reduce the number of accidents and increase the funding for road repair, while getting rid of the traffic-slowing toll booths.

It would also incite the citizenry who insist on their "right" to speed to rebel.

Now you know why I will never be mayor of Chicago, governor of Illinois, or president of the United States.

It's all because I don't drive.


  1. I'd vote for you, based on this post alone!

    Since moving, I don't need to use the freeway every day. We've also sold K's car because she's minutes from work now. And if it were an option, I'd cheerfully bus to work. MA drivers were notorious when I was little - I assure you they haven't improved. Sad to know the Chicago drivers I recall from the 80's haven't either.

  2. A lane crosser on Lake Shore Drive cut off a motorcyclist the other morning, so that he hit the curb and was DOA. The lane crosser drove off—hit and run.