Towson Patch recently posted an item which cited a study by Allstate Insurance which named Washington, D.C. area drivers as the worst in the nation, with Baltimore drivers only one step behind.
The tag line on their Facebook post was “Anybody surprised by this?” So rather than write my own catchy tag line, I’ll borrow theirs: Anybody surprised by this?
My own answer: Actually, I am a bit surprised. I’m surprised Baltimore didn’t come in first.
The study ranked cities on, among other criteria, years between accidents. Baltimore drivers went about 5 years between accidents while drivers in Sioux Falls managed nearly 14. Some might argue that this is at least partly because there’s a lot less to run into in South Dakota, but I think it’s more than that.
In my years in the greater Baltimore area, I have seen some of the most egregious behavior by drivers of every age, sex, type of vehicle, and political affiliation (read the bumper stickers; you can really learn some interesting things about people). I saw a woman applying mascara on the ramp from 83 South to Falls Road, weaving from lane to lane with wild abandon and total oblivion, as other drivers honked their horns and executed evasive maneuvers that would have made a fighter pilot proud. (I’ve also seen a guy shaving with an electric razor, but he wasn’t looking in the rearview mirror as he did it; he was looking at the road, giving some indication that he was more concerned with safety than grooming.) In the same vicinity, I once got stuck behind a driver going far slower than the posted speed limit, every now and then jerking randomly to the right or left. Drivers from behind pulled out and whisked past, shooting glares to their right. When I finally got a chance to blow past the guy myself, I glanced right and realized he was READING THE NEWSPAPER. WHILE DRIVING A CAR. ON THE BELTWAY. It was a horrible shock. This is the kind of thing Jay Leno brings up in his “Dumb Criminals” segments, where the driving reader slams his car into a molasses factory and then tries to flee on foot, only to find himself glued to the grass by the outflowing syrupy mess. But this wasn’t on TV; this was happening right next to me on 695.
Another time, I was driving south on the JFX and found myself stuck behind (anyone else sensing a theme here?)the driver of a panel truck in the right lane, again going far below the posted speed, and when I finally managed to pass him, he was texting. And whatever he was reading must have been a total hoot, because boy howdy he was laughing his fool head off as he swerved dangerously close to the Jersey wall. I would have shot him the stink eye, but I didn’t want to be an unsafe driver myself, so I kept my eyes glued to the road and cursed him silently as I left him and his comedy texts in my slipstream.
All of these examples show a frightening lack of common sense and concern for others. But it’s not just sense that’s lacking; it’s manners, too. In the past few months alone, I’ve been sworn at, glared at, flipped off, and treated to a performance by a driver behind me who didn’t think I was in a big enough hurry to turn right on red that compared in emoting and theatricality to the death scene in “La Boheme”. It took me even longer to get around that corner than it would have otherwise because I was fascinated by the acting and didn’t want to miss seeing his choices when the consumption finally took him. Sadly, I could not hear the singing, which I’m sure would have added a lot to the spectacle. Before he succumbed, though, he finally made it around the corner, and sped off to either his anger management therapy session or his lesson in the art of mime, I’m not sure which.
Let me state that none of the above behaviors were due to my being a particularly horrible driver. I probably speed, or go too slow, or get in other people’s way as often as the next person, but I’m not outstandingly awful. I don’t groom, or read, or text behind the wheel. The worst things I ever get up to in the car are drinking coffee, fiddling with the satellite radio (THAT’S going to be what gets me in trouble), yelling at my kids, and talking on my cell phone (don’t do it; it’s illegal).The real problem is when I try to multi-task that I get in trouble. So, in the interest of lowering Baltimore drivers’ blood pressure and possibly their accident rate, something’s gotta go. Kids…how about if you train for a walkathon?