YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Driving Ourselves Crazy : Road hogs got you ready to declare a PigAlert? Some motorists turn to squirt guns (risky!), others to anti-stress seminars for help in coping.


You're cruising in the fast lane down the San Diego Freeway doing about 65. It's one of those too-rare times when traffic isn't bumper-to-bumper, and you're feeling good. Then, suddenly, some idiot races up to your back bumper and sits there, waiting for you to slump off into the next lane.

So you sit there thinking how you'd really like to cram his head into the steering wheel, while at the same time wondering whatever happened to "courtesy" and "defensive driving"--things they taught in high school that now seem as dated as a slide rule--and how L.A.'s streets got so mean.

Maybe it's the millions of cars on the road. Or the fears of carjackings. Aging streets and freeways. Recession woes. Seventy-mile commutes, each way. The first casualty of this war is etiquette, and today's road warriors have developed their own ways of coping.

In fact, driving has become so hazardous to the nerves that it's a featured subject in stress-management seminars. And where professional driving schools used to deal with skidding and braking, now they're tackling how to deal with rudeness.

Wilson McKee has found a way--potentially risky--to deal with drivers who cut him off or make dangerous illegal turns in front of him. He squirts the offending driver with one of those mega-squirt guns. Apparently nobody's pointed anything back--yet.

"I needed something, just as an outlet," says McKee, who's been a driver/messenger for the Express Group messenger service in Westwood since last fall. "It relieves a little bit of stress. I have to be careful--some people have chased me, even though I've only hit them with water. Others just look at me really surprised. Once I caught someone on the 405 going over the hill to the Valley who was driving in a lane that was ending. He just passed tons of cars and then tried to merge. So I squirted him, and got a lot of thumbs up from other drivers."

McKee, a recent transplant from Ohio, says: "When I started driving for Express, I was not really prepared for all the traffic that was out there, and how bad people really drove. The only way to survive is to drive like everyone else drives. There's an occasional good Samaritan out there, but other than that it's very much dog eat dog."

Once he saw a driver pull out from a side street into a main thoroughfare without checking traffic first, causing an accident in which a Fiat spun around a few times. McKee said no other cars stopped.

"There's that holier-than-thou attitude," he says. "I've made a couple of mistakes once in a while, and I feel really embarrassed. I'll say I'm sorry, put my hand up, apologize. I still try to have something of a conscience out there."

A 32-year-old textile designer from the San Fernando Valley, who asked that her name not be used, puts some 15,000 to 20,000 miles on her Miata each year for work-related trips alone.

One of her major annoyances is "when you're sitting in a traffic jam on the freeway and someone drives up on the shoulder. It's always some jerk who thinks he's too good to wait. So you kind of wedge your car there so he can't get by.

"I think everyone is just out for themselves," she adds. "They're not looking out for the other person on the road. Like when you're trying to get over to the freeway exit and someone's refusing to let you off. Lots of times you pass these people and look at them and they're in their own little world. Maybe they're not doing this stuff on purpose, but they're just in another world, not realizing how many thousands of cars are behind them."

Freeway accidents that cause lane closures can also cause some pretty bizarre maneuvers.

Gary Gram has seen most of them. As a Caltrans associate transportation engineer and supervisor of a traffic management team, he's at the sites of major incidents, such as accidents that block lanes of traffic.

"It gets to be a little scary sometimes," Gram says. "There are people in those closed lanes on foot, and we're trying to think safety all the time. . . . We'll also see people going by, shouting or yelling at us, like, 'Hey, why are you guys out there at 5 on a Friday closing lanes?' I'm not choosing this. This is not a planned repair activity, it's not our choice to go out there and close the lanes. It's a little unsettling."

Still, Gram acknowledges that in the 10 years he's been doing this work for Caltrans, "things have gotten a little better compared with what I've seen in the past. People are starting to pay more attention to warning signs. That's not to say that there isn't room for improvement."

The millions of cars choking the roads and freeways in Los Angeles County are an obvious and major contributing factor to why some people turn into Evil Speed Racer From Hell once they get behind the wheel.

Los Angeles Times Articles