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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Roadway misbehavior. ‘Be careful out there.’

    A few years back, I feared I might become a victim of road rage. While the severity of that encounter was an outlier for me, the lack of civility in driving remains all too common.

    My wife and I were coming back from a camping trip up north. Our 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan minivan was towing a small teardrop camper-trailer we had recently purchased. After years of transporting our three boys, now grown and launched, the minivan was tired, its red paint faded. An ugly gash on the left side was a reminder of a mishap by one of our young drivers.

    The Dodge would retire to the scrapyard a couple of years later when a mechanic found dangerous rusting of the rear axle. You would think fellow drivers would have some sympathy for us.

    The guy driving the large, pristine, black pickup truck did not.

    Highway traffic, crawling along, was merging into the left lane because construction work had closed the two right lanes. I noticed a sizable gap in front of the black truck and, engaging my turn signal, started easing the minivan with camper in tow into the left lane. I concluded, incorrectly, that the black truck would slow or stop to allow us into the gap.

    Instead, inexplicably, it kept rolling forward. Then we heard it, the slightest “clunk.” Tiny camper had met big black truck. With the rear of the minivan piled with stuff, and pulling the trailer, I could not view directly into the cab of the pickup to see the reaction. But as we pushed past the construction area and I moved out of the passing lane, it pulled alongside.

    Platinum blond in the passenger seat was looking at us with a snarl and signaling that we had to pull over. So too was the driver, who was leaning forward into the steering wheel to see past his passenger’s teased hair and pointing manically toward the breakdown lane.

    I pulled over.

    I had clearly picked the wrong vehicle to ease in front of. One tip off was the pointed, spiked lug nuts on its shiny chrome rims, looking like something from Roman chariot races, at least as depicted in Ben-Hur. Another clue was Mr. black truck practically leaping out of the cab, muscled and aggressive, the veins pulsating on his forehead, suggesting perhaps he had a few too many steroids with his cornflakes that morning.

    Keeping to the PG version, let’s just say he was angry. I had “cut him off.” That “thing” — my little camper — had hit his truck.

    What I wanted to say was, “You saw me trying to move over. If you weren’t such a jerk, you would have stopped and let me slide in and nothing would have happened.”

    Instead, I opted to deescalate. I said I was sorry, that it was my first trip towing the camper, and I misjudged in thinking I had room to move over.

    And, really, nothing had happened. A smudge on the truck bumper easily rubbed off. The camper looked unscathed. After more comments on my terrible driving and how lucky we were it was not worse, they hoisted themselves up into their truck cab. We climbed into our minivan. I was angry, but relieved that I would not headline the local nightly news as the latest road-rage victim.

    The opposite of the won’t-let-anyone-slide-in driver is the guy — they are more often guys — who refuses to merge until he absolutely must. While everyone else is merging into a single lane, these dudes speed past, concluding they have some special privilege the rest of us don’t. This leads to more nasty confrontations when said drivers try to force their way back into the travel lane at the last second, only to find their upset fellow drivers blocking the way. It is a microcosm of modern angry America.

    While bad merger etiquette is annoying, the tailgaters are dangerous. On the highway, you begin to pass a slow-moving vehicle in front of you only to have a car come speeding up from behind to about two inches from your bumper. Speeding along at 70 mph or so, you know any small error will translate into catastrophe. More disconcerting, this is sometimes a state police car, and not with lights flashing.

    And when did they change the rule about yellow traffic signals? When I got my license, back when cars used leaded gas and had carburetor filters the size of large pizza pies, the yellow light required you to slow down and stop, if possible, before the red light. Somewhere along the line, apparently, the rule changed to require the driver to rapidly accelerate to beat the red light.

    I’ve learned to look both ways, even after the light turns green, to avoid getting t-boned by one of these new-age drivers who could not outrace the red.

    And don’t forget the texters. Their cars weave left or right, jerking back into the lane at the last second. Driving behind, you are figuring out how to avoid the accident if they don’t pull back into the lane in time.

    The again, perhaps nothing has changed. Maybe I am just a grumpy old man making the false claim that drivers were more courteous back in my day. But I don’t think so.

    My advice is to be careful out there. And avoid the guys with spikes protruding from their tire rims.

    Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at p.choiniere@yahoo.com.

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