Two cars roar around me, jockeying for position as they weave in and out of traffic, speeding toward a red light that is 100 yards ahead. At the last minute, two sets of brake lights come on and both cars tilt forward as they come to a rapid stop. I arrive at the light about 30 seconds later and take note of the drivers in those cars. One appears to be a college-aged girl and in the other car is a middle-aged man in a suit, talking on his cell phone. Both cars are now creeping forward incrementally in anticipation of a green light, and before long both are at least a car-length ahead of the white line that marks the stopping point – and still creeping.
In the relatively brief period of the red light my mind wanders, and I think about the horse and buggy days – wondering if there were aggressive drivers then. I'm sure there must have been, but my only experience with horse and buggies has been in Amish country where I've never seen any evidence of aggressiveness. Perhaps there is a correlation between modern technology and aggressive driving.
Thanks to horses, I'm a reformed driver. If you have frequent access to the Internet, you may have seen at least one of the e-mail forwards with titles such as, "Everything I know, I learned from my dog," or cat or child, or in kindergarten. I should create one about horses, because I have learned a lot about life from them. But most of all I've learned about driving – and I have never driven a horse and buggy.
I used to be a relatively aggressive driver. Not dangerous to others, and not a tailgater, but I drove too fast, took curves too fast, and had a radar detector to keep me safe from speeding tickets. There is something about being behind the wheel that instills feelings of power, independence and freedom. What better way to satisfy these feelings than to go fast? Then I bought a horse. Having a horse required that I purchase a horse trailer and a truck to pull it. Never having ever driven a truck, let alone pull a trailer with a horse in it, I sought expert advice about horse hauling. The advice I got was, "Drive like your grandmother is standing back there."
Soon I was starting out from traffic lights very slowly and slowing down well before anticipated stops. Using my brakes almost became a nonevent. I began slowing down for green lights just in case they changed. I didn't want my grandmother falling down because of a quick stop. I started noticing the cautionary speed signs for curves and slowing down accordingly. Speed limits were now more than a reason to avoid tickets, and the old rule of allowing one car length of spacing for each 10 mph of speed suddenly seemed inadequate. I was driving according the rules, not because they were rules, but because they seemed logical and appeared to have been designed for people hauling horses and grandmothers.
A few trips hauling my horse between the East coast and Colorado quickly turned my cautionary driving into a habit that applied to all of my driving. I was surprised to discover that my mental attitude was also reformed. I was no longer eager to get somewhere quickly, and I didn't feel competitive or aggressive behind the wheel. I was relaxed and enjoying my trips, whether to and from Colorado or to and from work.
Fast has always been a more appealing concept than slow. Try and think of a product that has "slow" as a desirable feature. Its generally a negative attribute for people and products. These days the entire country appears to be in a panic to get somewhere fast. The number of aggressive drivers is increasing. Some states now post phone numbers that you can call to report aggressive driving. It's not working. I am in a shrinking group of drivers who are going the speed limit in a world where doing so is not socially acceptable and speeding tickets are affordable.
It doesn't bother me anymore that lots of people are passing me at 20 to 40 mph above the speed limit. They might arrive a few minutes ahead of me, but their chances of not getting there at all are much greater. I still don't like cars tailgating me, so I just slow down until they speed around me and give me some sign of their irritation. They are the losers, because it is their blood pressure that has gone up, not mine. I'm comfortable and happy with driving the speed limit.
Finally the light changes to green and the two creepers roar off down the road toward the next light that is just changing to yellow. I'm sure I'll see them at the next intersection in a minute or so, and if they see me, I'll be smiling.