How To Drive a Car By Edwin German
I played three games of handball this morning atStotzskyParkin Riverhead, which is the last “official”
handball court going east, onLong Island. Stotzsky Park is also one of the locations where the Department of Motor Vehicles conducts road tests for people applying for their driver’s licenses, and they line up their vehicles one behind the other, just parallel to the handball court. Today, there were about 20 cars lined up down the block, many of them driving-school cars where the students wait along with their instructors, for their turn to take the test. After the three games I got into my car and left the park, on my way home. As I’m heading east onPulaski StreetI look in my rear-view mirror and there’s a driving-school car behind me. When I stop at the traffic light atGriffing Avenuethe driving-school car stops behind me with the instructor sitting behind the wheel, and the passenger, a red-haired teenage girl with freckles, was sobbing into a pink cell phone. The light turned green and I proceeded with the grey-haired instructor behind me, looking straight ahead with a blank expression, as we both turned right ontoRoanoke Avenueheading south towardsMain Street. The signal light at the corner ofRoanokeandMainshowed the green, right-turn arrow, so I made the right then the quick left onto Peconic towards the traffic circle with the instructor still behind me, and the red-haired girl still crying and talking into the pink cell phone. She had obviously failed her road test. It was April 19th, about11AM, and for her, a perfectly nice day to get her license. It’s sunny, unseasonably warm, summer’s coming, graduation and prom coming, perfect, except for this damn road test. They made a right at the circle and headed towards the expressway.
As I round the circle I’m reminded, summer is coming. Maybe it’s here. Every year new people discover theHamptons. And more people. And they’re driving.
In all of New York Citythere are only two traffic circles, one in Manhattanand one in Brooklyn. The circle in Manhattanis Columbus Circleat 59th Streetand the one in Brooklynis at GrandArmyPlaza, and both of these circles are controlled by traffic lights, so there’s no ambiguity. So many drivers, when they exit the L.I.E. at exit 71 or 73 on their way to the Hamptonsor the North Fork, aren’t aware of the rule of the circle which is, “vehicles already in the circle have the right of way”. I’ve often been in the circle behind a driver who decides that now is a good time to exercise “courtesy”, allowing a driver waiting to enter the circle to go ahead. Wrong. Courtesy is certainly a major principle of good driving but coming to a stop in the traffic circle can cause an accident, because people behind you don’t expect you to stop. Drivers who are waiting to enter the circle aren’t looking for courtesy, they’re “yielding” and waiting for clearance to enter. Once you’re in the circle, don’t stop unless it’s an emergency. It’s dangerous and irritating, and Irritation is the “ignition key” of road rage.
I imagine the same red-haired teenager crying into the pink cell phone, this time sitting behind the wheel of her first car, but crying because she’s been hit from behind by a tail gaiter driving a Dodge- Ram Pickup.
One of the reasons people drive to the country is to escape the irritation of the city. Forget that here. The most irritating thing in outdoor public life is the way people drive. It’s not how they walk down the street, not how they jog, not how they ride their bicycles. But humans, when given an engine, get the power to do the most despicable things. We try and try to have faith in each other as people, but that faith is scraped like the scab on a sore every day as soon as we get into our cars because let’s face it, people do things in their cars that they would never do while walking down the street. The car becomes an escape capsule, a shield and a weapon. There are few rules that are absolutely perfect but the rules of the road are flawless. If obeyed by all, there would be no deaths on the highway.