Bad drivers are getting worse by the day


Courtesy / Flickr

Crashes on New Hampshire roads are a tragic reminder that driving is a dangerous responsibility

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

This past weekend, the New Hampshire State Police Instagram page posted photos from a serious four-vehicle crash on Route 16. Anyone viewing such images would think the passengers in those cars are lucky to be alive. The very same day, a driver was arrested on I-93 in NH for recklessly driving at speeds of 105 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, these posts occur regularly on the NHSP page, as they do on many other law enforcement sites, and a quick YouTube search will yield thousands of videos depicting “idiots-in-cars” or “stupid-drivers.” If you drive, you may even now be saying that these posts only account for a handful of the ridiculous things that happen on the roads which go unreported.

In the past few weeks, I have seen cars veer into a right turn from a far “left-turn only” lane, witnessed a driver back into a car while parallel parking (knocking the other car’s bumper off) to then park and walk away, been passed on single lane back roads by cars doing nigh-on 60, and been stuck behind cars which refuse to do more than 25. One gentleman, if you can call him that, even had the audacity to yell at me for not turning right at a red light when, for one thing, there was traffic in the intersection, for another thing, there were several signs clearly stating “no turn on red,” and last but certainly not least, I wasn’t even the first car in line!

All ranting aside, I have noticed that drivers, since the start of the pandemic, have steadily gotten worse. People are ruder, more aggressive, and seem to have no regard for the rules of the road or even common courtesy, for that matter. Merging is a mystery to them, stop signs are irrelevant, and God forbid anyone actually obeyed the speed limit. While, as of yet, this trend has been a mere inconvenience for myself and many of you, at any time it could have horrific consequences.

Fortunately, we have seen strong downward trends in the rate of motor vehicle deaths since as far back as the 1970s. This is, of course, thanks to constant advances in automotive safety systems such as seatbelts, airbags, and ABS braking, as well as new technologies like blind-spot and lane-departure warnings and collision avoidance. Even the simple back-up camera has certainly contributed to the prevention of a few fender benders.

Yet I have to think that the reduction in actual crashes is being paid for by a massive increase in gut-wrenching near-collisions. Could it be that all these safety features are causing road-users to become too complacent and, therefore, unaware of the dangers of the road? Is it the stress of the modern world causing people to neglect their common decency and become more aggressive? Or, are we just becoming a nation of idiots, as YouTube would have us believe?

I argue strongly in favor of the first two. Modern technological advances allow people to feel comfortable doing all manner of things while driving. What once seemed like risky behavior, such as eating, texting, or sleeping behind the wheel, is practically encouraged by car companies claiming that their vehicles can keep you in your lane and out of danger better than you can.

At the same time, road rage, reckless driving, and flagrant disregard for the law seem to increase with the passions and discontent of the population. Massive lifted ‘Trump-trucks’ speed down country roads and veer in and out of traffic, while entitled Karens refuse to yield or use their blinkers now more than ever. I have to believe that this behavior stems from the disordered sense of self-importance and societal angst we all got a big dose of during the last few years.

Of course, I have no business complaining if I can’t offer at least some possible solutions to the problem. Maybe what we need is one massive nation-wide group therapy session to get over all this angst and stress from the last few years. Or, we give up driving all together and rely on either public transportation or our own two legs to get us wherever we need to go.

The fact of the matter is that cars are multi-thousand pound pieces of complex machinery, and we are willing to hand the keys to just about anyone. To operate a train, for instance, you can’t even begin training until you are 18, and you must be at least 21 years old to actually work the controls. Yet, we send 16-year-olds off in their used Honda Civics and, essentially, hope that the accidents they cause in the future won’t be too bad.

Could we possibly learn a lesson from our European colleagues, who do not allow drivers to get behind the wheel until their 18th birthday, and place far more requisites on driver’s education than we do here in America? Well, the statistics show that we can. As of 2020 in the United States, we have a rate of nearly 12 vehicle deaths per 100,000 people every year, whereas Finland has only four, and Germany has 3.3 per the same metric in the same years.

Clearly, even with our advances in automotive technology, the U.S. falls well behind other nations in regard to road safety, and, anecdotally, we experience a great deal of terrible drivers almost every time we take to the roads. The big difference here is culture. Europeans view us as a lot of selfish jerks, and our roads certainly don’t prove them wrong. The only remedy, then, is to dramatically shift our approach to driving. Operating a vehicle is a great privilege, which entails even greater responsibility, and requires a certain level of maturity, which quite a few of our neighbors seem to struggle with attaining.