Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A study in motorist psychology

If you want to understand a culture, live in it for a while.

I had not lived as a motorist since high school. I began my transition to predominantly cycling as I started college. Its advantages compounded over the years so that I came out of college car-free. Although motor vehicles made their way back into my life, I have considered myself a bicyclist who drives sometimes rather than the opposite.

This long, cold, snowy winter combined with other circumstances to make me a driver. I'm not proud of the tendencies that too easily turn me into a dickhead behind the wheel, but I'll use my own descent into hell to illuminate the psychology of the habitual driver.

Let's start by saying bluntly that there's no excuse for rude and dangerous piloting no matter what you're steering. I know myself well enough to head off the behavior even if I lack the spiritual advancement to avoid the desire to act impatiently or aggressively in the first place. But immersion in circumstances that inspire the feelings gives the analytical mind plenty to consider.

The average driver steeps  in a broth of impatience.  The situation that made me a driver this winter also made me concerned with scheduling.  Transit time suddenly mattered more than it had for years. On the bike my travel time is very consistent. But in the car it can vary ten to 25 percent due to circumstances beyond my control. That's a significant range. So leave earlier. That's the simple answer.  But what if the normal chaos of life delayed departure? We can still save this if everything goes right! Let's go!

Peel out of the driveway and the blockers move in. They take many forms. School busses are obvious.  Stoners, texters and the inexplicable weavers, wobblers and wanderers mysteriously sprout from the very heaved and potholed pavement itself. Maybe an opportunity to pass comes up. Probably it does not. All the while I wish I was on my bike.

I don't live in a six lane highway kind of place. It's two lane blacktop, baby. Not that it makes a huge difference.  We all know that more lanes just breed more traffic. The impatience that afflicts drivers acclimated to Gridlock Land probably springs more from the hideous realization that they're pissing away years of their lives sitting in traffic. That's right,  buddy.  You're growing old and dying in the driver's seat, delicately holding ridiculous horsepower to a crawl.

Cars represent independence to people. How ironic is that?

So the big revelation is that motorized transportation is a perfect  breeding ground for judgmental resentment.  Drivers judge each other.  They act aggressively. And there we are, one more thing. And we're small, slow and without armor. Time to vent!

This is obvious. Obvious, obvious, obvious. But put yourself in that frame of mind. Really absorb the character of the undiluted habitual driver. After only about three months I could feel the beginning of a sense of entitlement trying to take hold. Think how pernicious the infection must be in people who act on impulse without questioning their motivation.

Generations have grown up with the automobile as an undebated necessity of life. Look both ways before crossing the street,  kids. You don't want to get in the way of a driver! Let's get going!  We want to get a good parking place. Road trip! Hippies started bike touring. Questionable people.

Argue all you want about the true demographics of cycling. Drivers don't see statistics through their windshield.  They see things that might slow them down. You don't have to be the worst offender to draw their ire. You're an easy target. That's all that matters.

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