Life in the fast lane

Life in the fast lane


Word on the street is Long Island has the most obnoxious drivers around. Does that upset you? Do you feel insulted? It upsets me. But before you raise your middle finger and bark out a few expletives, maybe we need to take a look at the person in the rear-view mirror.

Perhaps the claim is not an exaggeration.

As I drive the streets in and around my hometown of Sayville, encompassing the towns, hamlets and villages of Suffolk—most frequently Patchogue, Bohemia, Bayport and Blue Point—I am astounded at the impatience, the speed, and reckless driving of the average motorist.

In fact, drive anywhere on the 1,401 square miles of our island and you’ll be cut off, tailgated and honked at. More dangerously though, you’ll witness people speeding through neighborhoods, running red lights and rolling through stop signs. Our main streets are narrow and filled with pedestrian traffic, with vehicles parking and pulling out. It is not feasible, nor safe, to drive over 25 mph. But that doesn’t seem to matter. Everyone is in a hurry.

The other day as I drove north up Railroad Avenue in the town of Sayville at 32 mph, a pickup truck tailed my bumper, almost hitting me when I slowed down to go over the railroad crossing. This person went speedily on their way, but I was left feeling like I’d been personally harassed. 

It says something about our society when a driver’s priority to get wherever they are going outweighs the safety of pedestrians and other people sharing the road with them. And it doesn’t say anything good.

Not long ago, I witnessed a car accident outside my home. Two cars attempted to pass through a narrow space between cars parked on either side of the road. They were both going too fast. One car got through. The other crashed into a parked car. The woman driving was unharmed, but she was enraged. The other car hadn’t stopped to let her pass first. Fortunately, there were no injuries, but driving too fast (on a neighborhood road) and making assumptions resulted in two totaled cars—hers and the parked car. Damages, insurance rate hikes, and loss of time and vehicle add up to a lot of headaches and money. Was attempting to get there a little faster worth it? 

Everyone knows that talking on, composing, sending, or reading e-mails, texting, and/or viewing or taking images on handheld mobile devices while driving is prohibited by New York State vehicle and traffic laws, and yet it happens all the time. A man drives through the neighborhood talking on a cell phone with his teenage daughter in the passenger seat. Dad might also tailgate the car in front of him and ignore the school zone’s reduced speed signs. What do you suppose this father is teaching this soon-to-be teen driver?

Most can appreciate the irony of the statement, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As parents, it’s vital that we set examples for our children on how to behave in life—respect, diligence and consideration. In a culture where cars are fundamental to our lives, those teachings should extend to one’s behavior on the road. It would be total hypocrisy to believe children witnessing a vehicular faux pas would not imitate the behaviors they observe. It takes years of driving for someone to be really good at it. To be safe, young drivers simply cannot and should not be distracted. If you don’t want your son or daughter, niece or nephew speeding, being impatient with other drivers and using their cell phones while driving, reinforce it by not doing it yourself. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

We are all busy. We often feel like we are juggling too many things, running from one task to the next. Under these unending daily pressures—many of us parents hauling around uncooperative, dawdling children—we get into our cars, focused on getting from one obligation to the next. Feeling overburdened can make even the most responsible and levelheaded people become dangerous on the road. When stressed and harried people get behind the wheel of a 4,000 or 5,000-pound vehicle, it can be downright frightening.  

It’s important not to allow one’s mood to endanger the safety of those in the car or traveling on the roads around them. Be mindful of when you feel distracted, rushed and/or impatient and therefore more likely to be discourteous. Consider how being rushed and anxious affects all aspects of your day. Then, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and put the moment in perspective. Yes, it can be that simple. Decision combined with willpower is an amazing combination.

If you’re an exasperated parent out of patience, ferrying children about, think about the precious cargo you’ve got. Set a good example, take your time, and instead of multitasking autonomously for this one errand, be singularly focused. You’ll not only deliver your family to their destination safely, you’ll be happier.