Doesn't life seem more dangerous when you don't check the optional insurance boxes on a rental car contract? Last week I watched in horror from the driver's seat of my totally uninsured, shoestring-budget rental car as the rear quarter panel of a Crown Victoria lazily drifted almost to the skin of my precious rental's fender at 65 mph on Florida's Turnpike.
The near-sighted menace behind the wheel, a look-alike of the 'Mr. Magoo' cartoon character, forgot to use his turn signal and somehow couldn't tell that he was about to crumple my rental car with half my worldly possessions in it, and reduce my modest writer's lifestyle to Cup o' Noodles and cardboard-box living for a while.
As I finished my multi-state journey on the streets of my little corner in New Jersey (where Mad Max could have been filmed), I started thinking about what lunacy everyday drivers have to deal with on the road these days. Here are the top 10 driving habits that drive me crazy, and probably get under your skin, too.
We have enough problems with people breathing down our necks on supermarket lines, train ticket lines and (sometimes in my case) unemployment check lines. We don't need them breathing down our necks on the highway, too.
I found this problem so bad in California (even when going 90 mph) that I thought drivers there had to attend tailgating school before they could obtain their driver's license. My dad even had a bumper sticker made up: "You don't need to tailgate -- you can ride in my back seat." So far there have been just two takers.
Spontaneous road-battles are the worst. When dealing with someone with road rage, suddenly you're expected to dodge insults, trash and who-knows-what-else in a chariot battle right out of Ben Hur when all you wanted to do was hit the local Stop N' Shop.
A slightly portly friend of mine with road rage recently got stuck in her sunroof trying to climb out of her car in order to hit someone with her shoe. Honestly. She got rid of her car shortly thereafter, swearing that she has too much road rage to be behind the wheel.
I say people with road rage should try stocking their CD players with the 'Relaxing Sounds of Nature' series and keep a carafe of chamomile tea on hand at all times.
Grooming While Driving
Has anybody actually met someone by exchanging glances on the road going 60 mph? It's like a car is a dressing room for some people -- people that need perfectly manicured hair and flawless skin at all times. I don't know how impressed I'd be if someone swerved into me while primping in the vanity mirror. But maybe that's just me. Maybe someone out there actually wants to have their insurance rates raised.
No Turn Signals
Have you noticed that there are two types of drivers that don't use turn signals? There's the bunch that don't use their signals because they're trying to be sneaky and grab the incredibly tight space in front of your car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As if you won't notice the minute-and-a-half of steering-wheel turning they're doing to cock their tires at an extreme angle before they try and jump in front of you.
Then there's those who just don't seem to remember or care to use their signals, like the guy who veers into a turn in front of oncoming traffic and freaks everyone out at the intersection. For the latter, maybe driving a car simply just isn't engaging enough to demand their attention like it should. They need more speed. They need more freedom. They should try riding a horse to work instead.
Slowpokes in the Fast Lane
Is there any simpler way to phrase it? "Keep right except to pass." Some drivers just don't get it. They just love that left lane, even when they're rolling along 20 mph under the speed limit. Maybe they get nervous when cars whiz past their window. The left lane's no-traffic shoulder may seem friendlier.
Also, it's easier to see the scenery out the driver's side window from the left lane, as there are no cars to block the view. Highway departments should develop something like a high-speed snowplow to come up behind these 'pokers, and gently shove them over to the right.
About a year ago, I saw a driver so protective of his space behind a tractor trailer that, while maneuvering to keep someone else from merging, he actually impaled his bumper on the back of the truck. The truck pulled away and yanked the whole bumper off. And the other car jumped into the space anyway, rubbing some salt in the wound.
If you can't help but be greedy for that car length or two, maybe a car with more relaxed acceleration is in order, like a vintage Yugo. You won't have to worry about careening into other vehicles when you stab the gas.
The Multi-Lane Dash
Don't you just love it when a car makes a desperate diagonal bee-line across three lanes for an exit? It's like there's going to be an epic 50 miles until the next chance to exit and turn around. Granted, in some remote places there actually could be 50 miles between exits, but in major metropolitan areas? Perhaps they just enjoy the thrill of cutting everybody off on the road at once.
You have to wonder if people had the same driver's manual as you did. Maybe they got their license in a different age, one where you could get three-quarters of the questions wrong on a permit test and still be approved to drive a vehicle. That's what I wonder when traffic gets hot and heavy and one lane is forced to merge with another. My book years ago talked of cars taking turns to form a staggered merge, one car from one lane going ahead, followed by one car from another lane.
The unwritten rule of the New York Tri-State area seems to be 'survival of the gutsiest.' If you act like you're crazy enough to smear your bumper all over another the side of another car, then you can go ahead. But you'll still need to edge in and squeeze up to do it. Now I truly appreciate the day years ago my dad picked up a $300 beater car to be used exclusively in city traffic.
Meals on Wheels
My driver's education instructor once ate a salad, utensils in either hand, while driving. He lowered the steering wheel as far as it would go and simply steered with his knees. Insane, you say? Absolutely. I think he wanted to give us a little scare after all the grief we'd put him through. What's astonishing is all the people eating in their cars on their morning commutes. Frankly, hash brown grease and ketchup only coordinate with your suit and tie if you're under 10.
Talkahaulic: The Cellular Phone User
Now that the 80's are over, the whole rich and influential power-broker look with a cell phone attached to your ear is a tad passé. Do people really need to flaunt their handheld cellular phones as they steer with one hand nowadays? If drivers really want to broadcast "I'm-so-successful-and-busy-and-everybody-needs-to-do-business-with-me-even-when-I'm-driving," why not hire an out-of-work actor to dress up as a personal assistant and furiously take notes for them as they drive? In addition to their cell phone, they can even put a fax machine, photocopier and coffee maker in the car so it looks like they're bullish on wheels. Don't forget an ironing board for the suit.
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