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February 09, 2006



I used to think New Jersey drivers were aggressive. Then I moved to Massachusetts.


Brian, I'm sure you're right; Massachusetts does have the highest rate of road fatalities per capita. See this: http://tinyurl.com/76j25


Ah, driving in Massachusetts... I like to use a special term for aggressive Massachusetts drivers -- "Massholes". As in, "why the heck is this Masshole tailgating me at 70 MPH?" They are insane.


Actually, it's the other way around. According to that table MA is the safest state to drive in, followed by NY, CT, and NJ. Maybe our aggression provides a check on stupid driving...


Just to add a personal experience: I once drove from Ann Arbor, MI, to Princeton, NJ, via Canada and Niagara Falls. While most of the drive was pleasant, the moment I crossed the state line from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, things turned ugly. I stopped at the first gas station in Jersey to call my friends in Princeton, since I was running a bit late. (Partially due to my unsuccessful hunt for a good cup of latte in upstate NY. I never suspected it would be so difficult.) My encounter with a New Jersey pay phone was humiliating. It took my money and gave me the finger. So I got back on the road and suddenly found myself surrounded by crazy drivers. It got worse the closer I got to NYC, especially with the scary huge-ass trucks. When I finally arrived in Princeton, late, scared and tired, but luckily still alive, my friends just told me "That's New Jersey for you".

However, being German myself, I have to admit that driving in Germany is even more stressful and drivers are also very aggressive, maybe even more. It is not so bad on the Autobahn, but driving in cities like Berlin is tough. And as Europe goes, Germany is not even the worst. Try Warsaw or Rome... Fortunately, most European big cities have good public transportation. By the way, Toronto also has terribly aggressive driving, which I would not have expected in Canada. It seems that cars have the power to change people, to the worse.


Here are (IMO) some of the reasons why Germans are safer drivers at higher speeds (beware: generalizations ahead):
-Driver's licenses cost thousands of Euros and weeks of compulsory driver's education courses.
-Germany has tighter restrictions on what is and is not roadworthy (if American cars were boats, more than half of them would sink).
-Germans are obsessed with following the rules.


What still puzzles me is that the USA do not have a sign for "right of way". Germany does, and drivers insist on their right of way, rather honking and risking a crash than slowing down for others who break the rules and cut in front of them. On the other hand, Italy has less fatal crashes, even though Italians show a blatant disregard of traffic rules. They just know that nobody follows the rules, so they have to watch out, pay attention, and not rely on traffic signals. In other words, having lots of rules and a population obsessed with following them does not automatically increase safety.

However, the American ignorance of rules always amazes me. I live in a town with lots of unmarked intersections, and I bet more than 50% here either never noticed (and assume they always have the right of way if they don't see a Stop sign), or think that the wider street or the bigger car goes first. It is especially bad when the new students come into town, because I suspect that nobody ever fucking tells them what the rules are in the first place.



Sigh.. In June, 2005 I relocated to the Nashville area for the sake of my job - and (very subtly) relief from the dificult commuting situation that the New York metropolitan area offers. I figured that moving down here I would be in a state of blissful mobility. The Interstate infrastructure and most secondary roads are magnificent expanses of smooth surfaces. But then there are the police. They do NOTHING else down here but patrol for the slightest infractions, they have rolling radar - they can nail you for speeding while they are driving towards you. The drivers that I share these roads with defy explanation. NO ONE uses their directionals. They all are smoking, talking on cell phones and the like. However they do it so poorly that it surprises you. On every single road you see nothing but thousands of skid marks. On the straightest roads you will read about a driver who rolled their vehicle. They tailgate but NEVER pass you. They will follow behind a school bus on a 4 lane highway, but NEVER pass the bus while it is OK to do so. Nope, the just follow along behind it, stopping every time the bus does(?) They change lanes by, like, moving into the next lane - however they do not look, nor signal their intentions. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board (NHTSA) confirms that this place is far deadlier than good old Joisy. In 2003 to 2004, NJ had a fatality rate of 733 vs 731, a 0% change. In Tennessee the fatality rate was 1193 vs 1288, an 8% surge. Part aggressive driving, but mainly stupidity. And dont forget youse got almost 3 Million more people up there than here.

Back in January I had the pleasure to travel back to the NYC metro on business that required driving. I was IN HEAVEN. Routes 1&9, Route 3 west, 17 north. Yes! Drivers - skilled drivers! That to me is the definition of bliss.

Bill, you live in the most wonderful of places. You have speedy drivers, TONS of culture, bagels, pizza, breakfast sandwiches, delis, and you can get WFMU on your car radio. I'm just trying to cope :-)

Well the acreage, and all my new guns are OK, I suppose...

mikes - chapmansboro, TN

Ray Brazen

After doing extensive traveling up and down the eastern seaboard over the course of the past year and a half, I can attest to one simple fact: nobody drives SLOWER in the passing lanes than in Florida. By coming down there you are effectively trading your frustration over aggressive drivers for frustration over distinctively NON-aggressive drivers -- many of them 75 years of age or older. Those left-lane hoggers that are younger can be found generally chatting on their cellphones, which is still legal while in motion there, unfortunately. Sometimes I don't know what's worse... all I know is that it makes for a very rough trade indeed.

Bill, thanks for another engaging post. I think I'll forward it to my mother -- she still spews forth tons of trucker's talk behind the wheel to this day. In Florida, you have to be extra careful trying to control the urge to flip aggressive and/or just plain common-sense-deficient drivers the bird -- you never know what kind of steel objects might lurk underneat the driver's seat of your friendly neighborhood redneck...


An eloquent user on my ISP summed the situation up thusly:

"You can feel the rage rising like heat from the throngs of cars jockeying
for position in little unpredictable spasms of competition in the just-
across-the-Hudson parts of NJ. I swear sometimes the anger shimmers like
a wave in the air. Cars from NJ enter Manhattan through the Lincoln and
Holland tunnels like bullets shot from a gun."


Over 40,000 Americans are killed in auto-related accidents each year. If that number of people died while, say, going to the movies, I think all movie theaters would be shut down and a Congressional investigation would be under way. But that's the price of freedom, or some other empty hoo-ha that is offered as an excuse for this carnage.

The automobile is a socially isolating device. Occupents behind glass and steel are only passing through that particular area. So they don't hesitate to throw garbage out the windows - heck, it's not their lawn, it's not their town. They may never pass there again. Drivers behave in a way they would never if they were walking on the street. Giving the finger, or cursing at other drivers. Would they behave the same way towards a total stranger if they had to encounter them (sans the protection of a car) on a street? I would say that drivers would even try to get away with murder while behind the wheel - witness the number of hit-and-run "accidents". The same people may not think of leaving the scene of a crime (that they committed) if they were on foot. But in a car, it's as easy to flee as to step on a pedal. And just as easy to put the accident behind you as putting the miles behind you.

The automobile becomes more and more like a rec room on wheels - plush seats, top-notch video and audio, conveniently located snack trays, cellphones at hand. People are in a comfort zone and not attuned to the world passing by at 60 mph. They are sold this pack of goods by Detroit and Madison Avenue, and they believe it. They have a right to go where they want and when they want and damn everyone else! And the growing girth of Americans is matched by the growing size of the automobiles.

You're right William. Life without a car means not only less stress, but monetary savings and (usually) better health. Among the many ways government can help is by eliminating subsidies to oil companies and allowing the price of gas adjust upwards accordingly. Only when Americans are hit in the pocket book will they change this lifestyle that's leading us down the road to ruin.

Mr. Science

I live in LA. Please kill me.


If anyone has ever been part of a protest that has even briefly blocked a street you know the ugly side it. People, not everyone but enough to give you occasional insomnia, go berzerk when their right of way is blocked. Even if its a march of a few thousand people and it takes 15 minutes or so minutes to pass folks get out of their cars and are utterly beside themselves. Weeping, wailing, the gnashing of teeth, etc. The most extreme instance I know of occurred the first night of the first Gulf War in 1991. Some folks blocked the Williamsburg Bridge. A motorist who could contain himself no longer punched the gas and drove right through the crowd. A good friend of mine suffered a broken pelvis. People were thrown off the bridge. She told me about how the folks injured that day would get together on the bridge on the anniversary. She described the gathering as "too sad" because many of them were injured worse than she was. Fortunately nobody died.


cars do suck; but that occasionally blissful drive into countryside ne'er seen before -- means I, short of playing derek loud and fried, how else do ya remember how hard it is to remember


By my experience, nothing beats Montreal/Quebec drivers for sheer self-absorbed obnoxiousness. Even if you are going 40 km/h over the speed limit and passing other cars there will be someone directly on your ass trying to bully you into going faster. Lots of red light running, constant honking (I have to close the window in the summer to sleep and sweat it out rather than be kept up all night by horns) and I've been nearly hit twice while walking in the past month alone by people not paying attention while turning. When this happens the drivers are often mad at you, as if it's your problem you were in the way, instead of it being their fault for nearly running you down. It's really a rage-inducing beast that swallows its own tail.


Our automobile dominated transportation system is dysfunctional - a fact which nobody wants to admit. When it takes 1 1/2 hours to go 10 miles by car as it often does here in Los Angeles we have a system that is broken. Furthermore it is a system that can't be fixed even with the addition of more lanes. Those lanes would quickly fill to capacity and we'd be right back where we started.

What leads to the phenomenon of the homicidal motorist is the combination of this congestion with the powerful marketing power of automobile manufacturers, who saturate the advertising market with images of luxury cars freely traversing the rural landscapes they are actually destroying through global warming and terrible car-centric urban planning. It’s impossible to watch TV, read a magazine or newspaper, surf the internet or even take a walk without seeing a barrage of automobile advertising.

This literally deadly combination of congestion, the resulting anger, and advertising messages has created a general psychosis which I experience almost every time I venture forth as a pedestrian or cyclist. People here in Los Angeles drive 40-50 miles per hour down quiet residential streets to avoid congested freeways. They run stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians that they probably don't even see since they are so busy talking on the cell phone, adjusting the DVD player and grabbing the super big gulp in one of the twenty cup holders. Motorists are rude, distracted and genuinely vicious.

I ride a bike - here in Los Angeles, the belly of the automotive beast. The funny thing is, for most trips it's actually faster than driving, especially during rush hour. Deciding to climb on a bike here in LA has been a little bit like the character in the Matrix who takes the red pill - my whole perspective on the world has changed. I can see, more clearly, the evils of advertising and the hypocrisy of anti-war stickers on the back of an SUV or any car for that matter. When I see fat people now, I think "motorist". I've realized that I also became much more aware of how our culture does everything it can to demand that we all own cars. I feel now, despite the sheer hassle of cycling and walking here, that at least I've opted out of this insanity.

C.S. Lewiston

Last spring, someone in an SUV (who may have been talking on a cell phone) rear-ended me as I waited at an intersection to merge onto a main street. My car, a compact, had its rear end flattened. The other driver's car, a massive SUV, wasn't even scratched. WHY do people drive these overpriced, elephantine porkmobiles? In the mid-1960's, gas-hungry "muscle cars" with massive engines were the rage. Even so, they had far better styling and handling. A Ford Mustang Shelby, an Oldsmobile Delta 88 or a Dodge Charger had the kind of class that these boxy, butt-ugly excuses for vehicles never will.

The problem with automotive transport is that, for most Americans there is no viable alternative. In New York City, you can hop a subway and (usually) get where you need to go in rapid order. Here in upstate NY, public transportation sucks, plain and simple. A trip that takes 15 minutes by car takes a whopping 45 minutes or even longer by bus. That's partly because buses have to cover large swaths of populated areas, following routes along traffic-light-ridden main streets or following labyrinthine courses through residential areas. Smaller buses or "jitneys" to serve residential areas could speed things up, but no legislature will allot ther money or take the necessary legal steps. More buses would permit more express runs to common destrinations, but again, the government's will and wallet aren't there. And if you live in the country (because housing prices in town just cost too damn much), there's one or two buses a day if you're lucky.

And don't even talk about Greyhound. As the late Harry Chapin once sang, "It's a dog of a way to go". They run buses when they want to, not necessarily when you need them. Their level of serivce is just above mediocre. And those jokers never let you forget that you're a captive audience.

One local bus driver said, about 15 years ago, that when the price of gas goes to $4.99 a gallon, then and only then will Americans start thinking seriously about public transport. I believe that things will not change until the oil commisars and their bought-and-paid-for allies get booted out of the halls of government.

Viola obtusa

Jack Turner, writer and part-time resident of Jackson "Land of the Beautiful People," Wyoming, has this idea for alternative transportation: "Ride a camel, right in town. On a camel, you can ford rivers, survive the desert, the cold, the heat. You sit tall on a camel. And camels spit at Hummers."

J.G. Tardif

To increase the fun on Jersey roadways one needs to be driving a semi. Now you are in a big, slow moving vehicle with all the little tykes zooming all around. One thing I can say though is that Jersey drivers DO give us respect. My wife (She's from Iowa) just could not get over the idea fo the jug handle turn.

Wooden Thomas

Was I born from the Earth our mother? Or did I descend from Space our Father?
Either way It's articles like this that make me less of a Jerseyite at heart and more of an observer from somewhere/ nowhere.
As some might know, I don't drive. I walk, I bike, I ride on trains and busses and the passengers seats of cars but I don't drive.
Why? Because I am poor and I have a vision; That their will come a time as if cars never existed. A garden continuous of Eden , of grass as far as all eyes can touch and feat can see.
No asphalt. No environ-mental pollution....metal pollution ENVIRON-Mental pollution.
That is what cars and asphalt cause is mental pollution. If there were never such an invention as the auto mobile, people would be having conversations like; "How many days did it take you to get to the city Joe?" _ "Oh Tom, about two, the horses were a little low on food so some passers by stopped to share some hay and have a picnic".
I'm telling you , a beautiful world with out oil wars and carbon monoxide is a foot. No more Pulaski Skyway, No more toll booths and other extortions, no more stress! It will happen! The trees will grow back. The grass will provide green lushness for our eyes all asphalt having been removed. All dears and bears and quail can now roam the land wildly.
Picture a park land of leisure contiguous and endless until the ocean cleaner than it's ever been marks the peripheral carless- carefree - car less world with roaring waves and in each crisp sound and chirp of seagull you can hear of when dinosaurs chewed tall trees now also exstinked and ripped each others heads off, of when Native American tribes smoked and relaxed by their tee pees under the moon, talking of where their caravan will take them next.
Look up in the sky , Meet George Jetson, his daughter Judy and his son Elroy , Jane his wife and their dog Astro. Look up and see the future of cars and leave this great planet alone.
New Jersey is the land of innovation and history and yes, wilderness. They haven’t ruined all of it, besides what do I care I'm from another dimension.


Wooden Thomas is the poet of the Earth and Sky. I will live in this beautiful vision with him.

Check out the places where the vision has become real:
World Carfree Network http://www.worldcarfree.net/about_us/charter.php
Carfree Times
Get a Car or Get a Life!
The Common Good Planning Center
Unjamming the future
Car Trouble? http://www.pps.org/info/ppsnews/car_trouble
The carfree universe project: Strengthening communities of the carfree. http://www.carfreeuniverse.org/


C.S. Lewiston

Geez, I dunno. The current non-system is not sustainable, that's for sure. Even if the gasoline were FREE, there'd still be issues like pollution and congestion (people have rightly gotten the shivers over the idea of 1 billion Chinese developing an American-style car culture). On the other hand, the Luddites' programs aren't viable either. I for one do not want to go back to the days when visiting relatives in the next town meant a 5 hour horseback ride.

So what to do? How about:

Anyone who doesn't NEED a light truck for their business pays triple taxes on their vehicle (the SUV tax).

Encourage car makers to integrate bike carriers into their cars the way Volvo used to integrate ski carriers into theirs. Drive to the outskirts, ride the bike in the city when weather permits.

Make public transit viable. Could be a mix of public and private systems would do the trick.

Get government to quit bending over for big-box chains and promote local businesses (I know, easier said than done).

Find some way (I know not what...) to make it so that people with average incomes can live near where they work and shop, instead of out in the sticks.

Europe and Japan are having some success with rail systems. Talk to 'em about it!

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