The other day, I witnessed an odd traffic mishap. As I approached a red light, a van in front of me drove through the intersection nonchalantly. I didn’t see brake lights nor any indication of caution from the driver. Fortunately, they didn’t cause an accident.
A car driving alongside the van did notice the light and stopped like a normal, law-abiding citizen. After seeing the van casually drive on, they must have questioned the existence of the red light because they sat for a few seconds before taking a right turn. They disappeared around the corner and POP! They turned too sharply and ran into the curb, destroying their tire.
My thoughts shifted from the reckless van to the wrecked car. How did the driver manage to do that? Usually people hit the curb with their back tire when they don’t turn widely enough. Did they driver gawk so much that they forgot to look where they’re going? Did they want to one-up the van for attention? I’ll never know.
The light turned green. I drove on.
I caught up to the van at the next light. Through the back window, I saw the silhouette of a child jumping in the back seat. Now I’m annoyed. Not only did they not save any time, but they unnecessarily put their family in danger. My response was visceral: they’re terrible people and they’re raising terrible kids and they’re making the road terrible for everyone.
Woah… did I turn into Mr. Wheeler?
I calmed down and reflected on the situation. Why did I judge this person so quickly? I don’t really know what’s going on in that van. It’s possible the child unbuckled himself, distracted the driver, and caused them to run the light. But it’s also possible the parent is as negligent with driving as they are with their kids. Again, I’ll never know.
However, I do know I shouldn’t get worked up over things out of my control, especially traffic. But I do it anyway.
If you can’t relate, here is some perspective.
Two tons of metal separates you from the rest of the world. Communication is limited to hand signals, horns, and flashing lights. You’re forced to make assumptions about other drivers for safety. In order to prepare for the worst, you must assume the worst, which puts you at high alert for danger. It’s no wonder you react harshly to others’ mistakes—a single mistake can prove fatal.
It’s easy to get upset when you witness a reckless driver. In fact, you should be upset—it could result in an unnecessary, stupid death. You may consider retaliating to teach them a lesson. A brake check, a hand gesture, or gratuitous honking could make you feel better. At the very least, it indicates your disapproval. But you know what that can lead to.
When your emotions get involved, you risk own safety. You might escalate the situation by provoking the other driver. You might drive more aggressively, making the road even more dangerous. With this in mind, your best course of action is to yield—even when you’re wronged. Grumble to yourself and live to drive another day.
If you’re like me, this is easier said than done. When I see a dangerous driver on the road, my response is reflexive. I immediately think that person is a selfish jerk. I fantasize about cops chasing them and pulling them over so I can point and laugh as a drive by. I want to pull up next to them at a red light and give them a look that says, “You’re just racing us to red lights and you’re a terrible driver.”
I am become Mr. Wheeler, the destroyer of civility.
But as quickly as I get worked up, I consciously calm myself down. A few years ago, I watched a video that taught me the virtue of zen driving and the art of yielding. If you ever get upset or frustrated while driving, I highly recommend that you watch this 7 minute video (embedded below).
In face-to-face situations, I never transform into an aggressive alter ego. If someone inconveniences me, I give them the benefit of the doubt and carry on. Bump into me? Not a problem. Blocking my path? An “excuse me” will suffice. In a hurry? I don’t mind stepping to the side. Why should I treat driving differently?
Driving is not a competition; it’s a cooperative task. The system only works when we make it work. Sometimes it means losing your favorite spot on the interstate. Sometimes it means someone changes lanes to let you merge during rush hour. Ultimately, it means that we can all go home safely at the end of the day. Isn’t that the goal?
The next time you see someone blatantly disregarding safety on the road, respond defensively and yield often. Children in backseats everywhere would agree that Goofy is infinitely better than Mr. Wheeler.