It has been more than a quarter century since I arrived in the United States (fall of 1985). Like much of the traffic into this country at that time, I came here for graduate school and went through the usual experiences of being an almost penniless student.
Fast forward 28 years and I am now teaching my daughter to drive. This process made me look back at my own progress as a driver through these years. Following the standard path of Indian graduate students at that time, I procured a driver’s license. For this I have to thank my roommate Ramani whose boat-like Buick Regal was the car of choice for many a driver’s test. I still remember the dreaded U-turn exercise also called the K-turn. Thankfully in State College where I took the test, parallel parking was not one of the required components of the test. So, in February of 1986, I passed the test in a single attempt without the need to parallelize and squared away a great sense of accomplishment.
After a couple of years of saving, I was able to buy a used red Datsun 310GX to move around. The mobility that my car gave me was indescribable. Gas was 99 cents a gallon and distances were short. I remember driving around the university; for weekend trips to the mall; giving rides to friends or making quick runs for groceries. A few long distance drives to Pittsburgh (the closest city) every few months were part of graduate student life. It was a great feeling.
A few cars and a couple of decades later, here I am with my daughter in the car and wondering how she will be able to handle the crazy drivers that are on the road now who just did not exist when I was a younger driver?
When I was driving, all I had to watch out for was to not drive past a school bus with flashing lights, and not to turn on “No Turn On Red” and not to block intersections.
Let me relate the wacky things that people do now.
How about the people who drive on the shoulder instead of waiting for the person in front of them to turn left? It is remarkable how this practice has changed from a relatively rare one (single impatient driver) to the norm and the exception is the person who actually waits.
What about the rolling stops and people squeaking through the stop sign before it is your turn because you are still pulling in to the perpendicular stop sign?
How about not bothering about “blocking an intersection” rule? You can literally sense the indignation from the driver behind you while you are dutifully “not” blocking an intersection.
And if you are “not” blocking an intersection in a way that is preventing the guy behind from scooting ahead because he is turning right or left a little further ahead, you can literally feel the flames shooting out of his eyes.
How about those driving a good 10 to 15 mph greater than the speed limit and getting indignant because the person in front of you is sticking to the speed limit? Everyone is a speed-demon these days—if one can speed through the yellow, one will. Also, you have to be the second or the third car to go through the red to prevent the hapless driver waiting for the straight traffic to stop to turn left.
And here is a newer development—just when I thought people were turning demure while driving, by constantly looking at their feet and smiling, I realized that they are actually texting or responding to a text message. Look around when you are driving; you will notice that this is pretty much the norm.
Then The Mercury News’ Roadshow column recently had this: “I thought I had seen it all during the morning commute. Men shaving (both blade and electric); women applying makeup; people reading newspapers; people eating cereal; the list is nearly endless. I honestly thought no one could surprise me anymore. I was wrong:
I saw a woman painting her toenails as she drove eastbound on the 237 freeway. She had her left foot up on the dashboard in front of the A/C vent so the cool, dry air would blow across her toes, and she was painting her toenails as she drove during the afternoon commute.”
How do I teach my daughter not to get affected by these atrocities and just follow the rules without being a hazard herself? It is clearly not the right thing to do to allow her to bend the rules this early when she is starting to drive. She can take her time to gain experience and indulge in a few rule-bendings herself as she grows older. Clearly, learning to drive is a tense process for her but it is an agonizing one for me as well as I have to keep both of us sane in the midst of this madness.
The pace of life continues to increase. Faster and better cars, an overconfidence bordering on foolhardiness, an almost complete absence of deterrence for such bad driving, and a plain irreverence to the fact that a mere delay of 15 seconds is not going to radically alter your life are all culprits that have led to this situation. I do wish for a magic hand to appear whenever an infraction occurs and dope-slap the offender immediately.
Oh well, we can all pray for that. In the meantime, I have to teach her to parallel park.
Dinakar Subramanian has been a long time resident of the Philadelphia area after his graduate study at Penn State in the late 80s. He is an avid reader, blogger, Karnatik musician, music and cricket enthusiast. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org