Revealing Behaviors

My mother used to lecture my sister and me about the importance of treating other people well; her (very outdated) measure of other women’s character was how they treated their maids.

Maids are in very short supply these days, but the sentiment remains valid. You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat subordinates or strangers.

Or–as I was recently reminded–by the way they act behind the wheel of a car.

My husband and I were driving home from South Carolina a couple of days ago and encountered one of those construction sites requiring the merger of two lanes of interstate traffic into one. Most of the affected motorists dutifully “lined up” when they first saw the signs, but there were several who immediately sped up–passing the patient/obedient drivers who were inching along waiting their turns, in order to get to the head of the line where a courteous person would allow them to merge ahead of the rest of us suckers.

This behavior, of course, further slowed the progress of everyone else.

Drivers who do this are sending a pretty clear message: “I matter, other people don’t, and if some of the schmucks obeying the signs are inconvenienced, I couldn’t care less.”

I can think of few behaviors that are more revealing of essential “assholery.”

These are the people who go through life making everything harder for the rest of us. If they had maids, they’d treat them badly.


  1. This reminds me of a local construction area and a schmuck (asshole) driver my daughter and several drivers behind her dealt with. For some reason the construction area on North Arlington was shut down to one lane for the weekend; drivers needed to watch oncoming traffic and take turns drivng through approximately 1/2 block of one lane. My daughter was near the end of the lane headed south when a driver headed north pulled into the construction lane headed north, blocking her exit. He began blowing his horn, waving his arms and yelling something. There were a few cars behind my daughter, none behind the northbound fool. My daughter finally turned her car off, sat on her hood, pulled out her cell phone and called police. Those behind her did the same; none of them upset by her action. Police of course made the fool back up and park till, by then, a number of southbound cars drove through the site. The “me generation” is still going on, in full swing…especially on our roads.

  2. I’m a good boy, rule follower from way back. People who cut in construction lines infuriate me beyond reason. One of my happiest moments was riding shotgun with a friend in a cargo van. Someone was trying to cut in at the front of the line, and my friend refused to give way — forced the cutter into the cones.

  3. Sorry, I’m going to disagree with your character assessment here on the grounds of efficiency. When a construction project causes a lane closure, the most efficient way to deal with this is for all cars to use all available lanes up to the pinch point, and THEN to courteously take turns merging. When everyone voluntarily chooses to “line up” far in advance of the actual pinch point, it causes the backup to extend further back and makes the total disruption greater for everyone. This is a case where trying to be “nice” is not in the best interest of the larger good.

  4. I’m with Doug. People who don’t merge until the last 100 ft., and all but beg to get in because they have run out of space is nothing but chutzpah. Of course these were the same ones who, a few minutes earlier, were zooming by the folks who did actually merge and who were following the rules. I’d like to see those folks pulled over and made to wait an extra 15 minutes.

    Mary’s contention is actually a behavioral engineering question that has probably been answered in some paper. I just don’t believe that passing everyone and then pleading for folks to let you in helps traffic, primarily because it actually disrupts traffic flow at a critical juncture rather than facilitating it. And it irritates people–how many is another one of those behavioral engineering questions.

  5. The reality is drivers who cheat and cut line don’t make it their destination any faster than the rest of us.

  6. Mary Strinka is exactly right. This may be the first time I’ve ever disagreed with you…perhaps because I consider myself sort of a driving expert…unofficial, of course. There are two lanes there (up to the point of closure/pinching) for a reason. Everyone should fill the lanes until the merge point, and then alternate. That’s how it works in an ideal situation. It cuts down on the size of the congestion, and works much more efficiently. This is something that happens all the damn time, and if people learned to handle the situation properly, the waiting, and the frustration would both settle a little. The construction area that I most often dealt with was the Meridian Street White River Bridge. It’s done now, but I always approached that from the south side traveling north. I came from the west on Kessler, and the back-up during the Friday evening rush hour was such that you could almost never turn north on Meridian because the north bound lane that was open across the bridge was backed up…one had to turn into the empty lane if you ever wanted to turn…probably all the way to the Circle. People…for miles didn’t want to use the other lane. It was nutz. If both lanes were filled, and people merged at the end as they are suppose to do, the backup would have only gone south to 38th Street! It’s always amazed me that people will begin their single file miles before it is actually necessary. The technique is designed to be efficient if used correctly. Way to go Mary. You got it right.

  7. I have similar thoughts on the selfish-egocentric attitudes when I see people park in a handicapped parking place, without a handicapped placard or plate and stroll into the store, etc.

  8. Louie, you don’t understand what’s really going on there. We are in the age of miracles, in which a person gets in the car as handicapped, and at the end of the trip comes out of the car healed. It would be appropriate for us all to surround those individuals and congratulate them that such a wonderful thing has happened to them.

  9. Apparently, Mary is correct (hated to write that). Actually, lots of work done on that question. In one article (cited below), the writer said, “When you apply the term “sidezooming” to late merging, it conjures up all kinds of negative images. But there is an argument for late merging: It’s a more efficient use of the road.” On the other hand, it produces a lot of hostility from the drivers who have patiently lined up.

    In Minnesota, the land of rational scandinavians, they (as in Germany) found the following solution: “Minnesota DOT engineers developed what they call a ‘zipper,’ which meshes cars quickly. Signs advise drivers of the upcoming lane closure, tell them to use both lanes up to a point and then direct them to take turns merging. When traffic is flowing, drivers merge early to avoid unsafe maneuvers. But when traffic is congested, motorists make full use of both lanes. The data revealed that the change reduced traffic lines by 35 percent and also brought down “lane changing conflicts,” says Craig Mittelstadt, Minnesota DOT’s work zone safety specialist.”

    The citation:

  10. A few months ago I was driving past Warren Central High School; school zone with 25 mph posted and double yellow no-passing lines center of 16th Street when a sports car flew past me at a high rate of speed. When I got to the corner of 16th and Post, there sat the car in the left turn lane. I rolled down my window and called to the young man, told him he flew past me speeding in a school zone and a no-passing zone and all he did was beat me to the red light. Luckily he had a sense of humor and not a gun, he laughed and waved goodbye when the light changed. I thought later, it could have ended in a much different way.

  11. Mary is right. Drivers should use both lanes and then take turns merging at the point where the lane closure begins. Read this “Traffic: Why We drive the Way We Do” by Tom Vanderbilt.

  12. Thanks for following up and providing the research Stuart. If we actually taught this to all drivers, then there wouldn’t be the feeling that some people are “following the rules” and others are “cheaters”. The need for proper functional and intelligent driver education, now that’s another whole rant….

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