Those were the words from one of my friends who visited recently. Yes, they do drive close together here, but more than that, Massachusetts drivers are some of the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world (and I’ve been to India). In general, the odds are good that they don’t know minimum stopping distances (not a required part of testing), generally have an aversion to signals, won’t let you in at all costs, and will generally drive dangerously whenever required.
Since I’ve been living in Mass, I’ve seen more accidents happen in front of my eyes than ever before. I’ve seen side swipes, cyclists nearly hit with doors, cars bouncing off one another at high speed in an intersection, and one of the major highways on the way out to the office is usually closed due to an accident at least a few times a week. I largely attribute this to a severe lack of standards, testing, and the assumption that driving is a right and not the legal privilege that it actually is (yes, even here, it’s not a right to drive a vehicle under the law). My own driving test in Massachusetts lasted around 9 minutes – that was the practical test – and the “theory” exam, well, that was simply laughable. There’s no highway code to asses you on (the driving manual is a joke), but that doesn’t mean that the test doesn’t have to be solely about drink driving legislation. Because what would, anywhere else, be a simple question: “should you drink anything and operate a car?” (no, you really shouldn’t, not even a “couple of beers”) turns into a series of questions that occupy half of the test (the remainder is largely pointless – obviously you shouldn’t ever run over blind people). If you fail the theory, don’t worry, because you can retake it as many times as you like back-to-back until you pass.
Once you have your license, you can forget about ever using those signals (don’t worry, they don’t seem to care about teaching you to use them in the first place, but in case you ever bothered to learn to use mirrors and signals), because a large number of the other drivers won’t bother. They’ll happily swerve and overtake/undertake/anytake all without even bothering to indicate intention – or if they do, it’ll be after they’ve already started moving. And there’s no requirement for the signals to actually be a different colour from the rear breaking lights, which really helps keep you awake if you’re driving in poor visibility. When you get where you’re going, don’t expect anyone to let you in. If you use your signals at this point, you’re doomed to failure – it’s a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you must be looking, so other people should immediately cut you up, and go crazy, anything to prevent you from making the move you might be considering. And anyway, don’t worry if you miss your exit, because enough drivers here will happily back up on the highway to get to a missed exit – after all, it’s faster and far more dangerous, and so therefore in keeping with other best practices.
And you needn’t worry about that semi (UK: HGV – Heavy Goods Vehicle) driver who’s overtaking and performing dangerous manoeuvres at high speed on the highway. Because he (or she) are clearly getting enough sleep and rest, after all, there’s no tacograph system in operation, nothing but minimal paper record requirements separating the operating company (with its motivation to get goods to their destination as quickly as possible) from its profit. Of course, I personally think Europe goes too far with its legislation in this respect, so I guess on some level it’s nice to know that many US states do largely nothing in return. I guess on some level, that balances things out quite nicely.
Now, this is where you’re wondering if I’m going to come out praising the UK system. The answer, of course, is that I’m not. I don’t think the UK has all the answers – I certainly think the DSA (Driving Standards Agency) is run by assclowns who couldn’t figure out how to run any kind of commercial operation, so they run a government agency instead – but I do at least think that the UK is setting an example in terms of testing quality that some US states really should look into. You’ve got to ask yourself, when you live in the State with one of the worst accident rates, is it really that people are fundamentally unable to drive vehicles in MA, or is it actually that the standards are so fundamentally low and lacking that they serve to create the mess that is the level of accidents, auto insurance rates, and other craziness. It’s not actually funny, in spite of my use of sarcasm to describe driving here, it’s actually shamefully appalling.
Of course, this isn’t the case of every driver. I don’t think I’m the best driver by any means, and I’ve seen some great examples of excellent driving in Massachusetts and throughout the US. I just wish there were some actual (non-laughable) national standards being applied, some consistency, and more of a desire to use education as a preventative measure rather than a tendency towards being reactionary after the fact.