I’m going to start by saying I’m not from Texas. I grew up in West Virginia and moved to College Station in 2010 to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.
One of the most difficult adjustments I’ve had to make over the past three and a half years (aside from getting used the weather) is realizing how terrible everyone in Texas seems to be at driving.
Just the other day when I was driving on the interstate to work, someone cut in front of me across three lanes of traffic at once without their blinker. They ended up crossing over the diagonal white lines in front of the exit lane, barely getting off in time and cutting in front of yet another car on their way to the frontage road.
At first I thought maybe my perception was skewed because I didn’t drive much before I moved to Texas. I wondered if people were bad drivers everywhere and I simply hadn’t noticed before.
But a recent trip to Pittsburgh to visit my sister over Christmas made me realize that people do drive much differently – and more kindly – up North.
In 2011, Austin was ranked 150th out of 200 cities in the Allstate America’s Best Driver’s Report, with several other Texas cities ranking even worse – including Houston and Dallas.
Whenever I complain about Texas drivers, friends and acquaintances try to defend the behavior. They say it’s easier to learn to drive in Texas because the roads are straighter and wider, so Texas drivers don’t develop the defensive driving techniques that come from being surrounded by curvy roads and mountains. I’ve also been told a lot of people from rural areas learn to drive on farms instead of actual roads, which means fewer cars around so mistakes matter less.
But in the middle of heavy traffic, I honestly don’t care why. I just scoff in disbelief and honk my horn in fury (though it sounds like more of a cartoon beep to my road-raged dismay).
I am so tired of no one using their blinker. So angry about routinely being passed on the wrong side – often when I’m going the speed limit or even a few mph over it. I’ve even seen someone cross the yellow centerlines to pass me when I was going the posted speed limit in a construction zone.
I don’t care where you’re going – it isn’t worth the lives of whomever you might hit to get there a few minutes sooner.
In the North, one or two jerks might speed up instead of letting someone over, but here in Texas, five to ten vehicles routinely speed up to pass me on the highway instead of letting me over when I have my blinker on and am trying to merge. I’ve started counting. I bet they’re the same people who cut me off in stop-and-go traffic without using their blinkers.
Just so you know, that space between my car and the one in front of me is called following distance. It’s NOT an excuse for you to cut me off.
Furthermore, I drive a standard, so in heavy traffic that is also the space I need to not stall out and worry about getting hit from behind. Again.
I’ve been rear-ended twice (once at a red light) and had two cars totaled because of it since I moved to Texas. I’ve also suffered from back sprain both times. I am just getting to the point where back pain doesn’t keep me awake when it’s cold at night, though I’m still often stiff. And my last accident was a year ago.
If you really think about it, we’re all driving a bunch of death machines. Giant heaps of metal and glass speeding along inches away from one another and traveling at speeds of 60-70mph, or greater for those who speed. My father always said the fact that driving works at all is kind of a miracle. But it only really works if we know what to expect from other drivers.
It takes three-quarters of a second to register that someone has turned on their blinker, andanother three-quarters of a second to put your foot on the brake. That second and a half before your car even starts to slow down matters, because the widely accepted safe following distanceis usually three seconds.
Cutting people off without a blinker isn’t just ass-hattery.
You could get someone killed.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were no deathless days on Texas roadways in 2011. Not one.
On January 28, I didn’t even attempt to get to work in part because over 300 accidents were reported on the Travis County Traffic Report Page. You can say that’s because Texans don’t know how to drive in ice and snow. It’s true there isn’t the infrastructure for salting the roads and such here. But I’m from the North, so let me break it down for you. Do you really want to know how to drive in ice? Cautiously. But that’s exactly how Texans don’t seem to know how to drive.
Slow down. Use your blinker. Cooperate with other drivers. Unless you’re on the way to the hospital, no one’s going to die if you’re a little bit late.
But they might if you don’t start driving more carefully.
So stop messing around. Take a driving course on-line. Read a driving handbook. Or at least start using your blinker.
This OP-ED was originally published by The Horn on 02/07/2014.