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Defensive Driver Needs to Get a Tank

March 06, 1985|MARSHALL BERGES | Times Staff Writer

Lately I have been shopping (by telephone) for a tank. I have checked across the metropolitan area with stores advertising "Genuine Government Surplus" and "Slightly Used Army Equipment."

Some clerks seemed puzzled by my quest, while others indicated earnest curiosity and an eagerness to help. One, in muffled tones, wondered if I might be recruiting professional soldiers for an underground army. But none of my inquiries thus far has turned up a solid lead to a tank.

In desperation I turned to back issues of Pacific Telephone's Yellow Pages. My heart leaped when, on Page 1,563 of the August, 1982, edition, I spied an advertisement for surplus tanks. But a quick call established that the items, no longer in stock, were fuel tanks.

My kind of tank has been manufactured for decades. It has a heavy steel body to protect its crew. The tank has an awesome appearance. Other vehicles--even other tanks--give it a wide berth; and this is the heart of the matter.

I do not need a tank's cannon and I have no intention of using my tank for combat. My modest ambition is to travel peacefully--and safely--on our freeways. An ordinary passenger car is, I fear, out of date.

Not that I wish to be a Dr. Doom. But increasingly in recent months I have become aware of a stepped-up intensity, an acceleration of manic desperation in the frantic frenzy of freeway driving.

Even as the dashboard radio crackles with the latest report of traffic conditions--a collision with injuries on this freeway, a series of fender-benders on that freeway, ambulances en route on still another; even as I hear of these accidents, I see more and more occurring around me. One might expect the news of mishaps to induce caution, but caution seems to be fading from fashion. What appears increasingly on the scene is a New Breed of motorist, in several disguises:

--There is the I.C.E. (I Crave Excitement) type who evidently finds it boring to travel in one lane (he switches constantly, but rarely if ever takes time to signal) and even more boring to travel at less than 90 m.p.h.

--There is I.C.E.'s equally deranged brother, F.F. (Fast and Fearless), who believes that accidents happen only to other people. When F.F. discovers, for example, that you have allowed 10 feet of open space between your car and the vehicle directly ahead of you, he decides that you were saving it for him and he darts in. When F.F. suddenly notices that the exit he was looking for is immediately on the right, he allows nothing to interfere with his determination to reach the exit--even if he happens to be in the sixth lane on the left.

--There is the L.G.G.E. (Let's Get Going, Everybody) type who does not understand why you are reluctant to tailgate the vehicle ahead of you. He rides your tail and flashes his bright lights, evidently intending to instruct you in this code of road behavior.

These are only a few of the New Breed; no doubt you have made your own list. The legions of sociopaths, Type A personalities, weirdoes who choose to work off their hostilities at the wheel of a car instead of inside a padded gymnasium, homicidal eccentrics, ordinary run-of-the-mill morons--all these are beyond counting.

However, I do not suggest that these characters necessarily constitute a majority of drivers. Most people are, in my view, too sensible and too responsible to drive recklessly.

But it also is apparent that the New Breed is not screened out in the democratic process of issuing driver licenses. It also seems that the New Breed is breeding at a faster rate than the sensible and responsible driver population (although the biological explanation, if any, escapes me).

This perception has led me to shop for a tank. If anything can inspire another driver to maintain a respectful distance, surely this mammoth vehicle holds the promise of doing so. A learned colleague reminds me that a tank is incredibly slow, capable of only a few miles an hour. That's OK. I would rather arrive later, in one piece.

While shopping for a surplus Army tank, I do not intend merely to wring hands in despair, as traffic conditions grow worse. I do plan to write to various members of the state Legislature to propose a new kind of law.

My premise is that the New Breed is simply not inhibited by the possibility of fines or jail. My solution is for the Legislature to create a mandatory punishment, to be imposed on anyone who drives recklessly: a sentence of 30 days--to be served not in jail, but riding the freeways in a vehicle made of papier-mache with aluminum foil bumpers.

But just in case the Legislature lets me down, I intend to keep looking for a tank. And meantime I wonder if the police department would put me on the waiting list for its first surplus battering ram?

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