They drive close together here

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.


One Response to “They drive close together here”

  1. One of the biggest problems in the US is the fact that states have the authority to license drivers as they see fit. Since there is no coordination between states, you have all sorts of differences such as the youngest age at which you are allowed to drive alone to all sorts of driving differences. For example, I grew up in Georgia where you got your license at 16. It’s now 18, but even by holding a valid GA license at 16, I was allowed to drive in any state. Also, states set up different rules of the road. In California, lane split is legal for motorcycles….but not in other states. In New Mexico and Nevada, it’s legal for pedestrians and cyclists to be on the Interstate. Most drivers are aware of about 60% of the traffic laws for their state of residence, but it doesn’t matter because once they hold that license, they can drive in any other state.

    Regarding truck drivers, there are far more regulations in place (coordinated even at the North American level). Federal DOT safety inspections and audits are required quarterly for most companies, and logs must be kept by all drivers and audited quarterly. Failure to comply with any of these regulations results in any number of things, such as revocation of your DOT operating authority (look at a truck door the next time you see one…there will be something that says US DOT #XXXXXXXXX), suspension of license, hefty fines, or any number of those. Most people like to blame truck drivers on the road, but every single one I’ve ever met and talked to has been far more knowledgeable at operating vehicles than your average US driver. It’s almost always the SUV asshole trying to overtake the vehicle in the truck’s blindspot.

    I wish the federal DOT imposed a set of minimum standards that states have to adhere to for licensing individual drivers. Let states decide on things such as how much the license costs, how often to renew, and age restrictions, but everything else needs to be coordinated at a national level. Rules of the road should not vary by state.

    BTW, if you want to experience some _real_ surfing, you need to visit Hawaii. :)

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