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Take the high rude -- er, road

There are any number of problems we can address to make driving more tolerable. But let's start with these 10.

January 02, 2008|Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writer

Want to see how Americans behave? Take a drive. There is a lot of civil and decent behavior on the road. On the other hand, I see a lot of this kind of driving:

1. Harassing older drivers. I constantly observe motorists, typically middle-aged folks, flashing lights, honking horns and waving arms at older drivers. Yes, we all sometimes become impatient or annoyed at drivers who go too slowly, hesitate when changing lanes or violate the law in innocuous ways. In general, expressing road rage is a bad habit and a potentially dangerous one around L.A., given the number of assaults that occur. But getting on the case of older drivers is really lowbrow.

2. Gap closers. If you turn on your turn signal to change lanes, a lot of other motorists automatically hit the accelerator to prevent you from moving ahead of them. Of all the insane and discourteous behaviors, this one has to be the most common. Exactly how much time can a person save by preventing one motorist from changing lanes?

3. Line cutters. This problem is the opposite of the above issue, occurring when an obnoxious and self-important bozo attempts to cut in a long line of cars waiting at a transition road. You can see other motorists trying to prevent this by making sure there are no gaps where people can cut in. But this reaction seems like a good way to cause a rear-end collision.

4. Illegal mufflers. Over the last several decades, California has watered down its vehicle noise laws and reduced enforcement to the point that almost anything goes. As more people drive SUVs and trucks with modified exhaust systems, the amount of urban noise is growing. The worst are motorcycles with straight pipes, a problem serious enough that even major motorcycle owners' associations now condemn the equipment.

5. Tinted windows. I wonder what's going on behind those windows that are so blackened it looks like a computer might be driving the car. Wild sex? Drug parties? Personal grooming? Dark tints on front side windows and windshields are illegal for good reason. They prevent drivers and pedestrians from making eye contact and ensuring that the other driver sees them. And they give police a real scare during traffic stops. The fines for this violation, which in L.A. County run about $100, should be sharply increased.

6. Wandering trucks. Southern California has the worst traffic congestion in the nation, but it has an added problem in the number of big rigs that use the freeways. Every day I see trucks that wander out of their lanes or are so big they cannot stay inside their lanes on curves.

7. Extreme speeders. You can see these suicidal maniacs driving above 90 mph on the freeway, weaving around heavy traffic and coming up to other vehicles' rear ends at breathtaking rates of closure. It's another problem that is growing because police have reduced the emphasis on routine traffic patrol.

8. Parking hogs. Some folks prize their brand-new $40,000-plus vehicles so much that they take up two parking spaces so they can avoid having their doors dinged. Whenever I see this, I try to squeeze into the slot, just to make the point that the rule is ONE space per car. Obviously, I have a number of door dings, but my car wears them as a badge of honor.

9. Distracted police. I notice a lot of police officers engage in the same bad habits that they preach about to us civilians, including talking on their cellphones, typing on their computer terminals, speeding through residential neighborhoods and yakking with their buddies in the next seat while they pay scant attention to the road.

10. Cellphone junkies. Speaking of cellphones, the new law banning hand-held cellphone use goes into effect in July. It's one thing to get a brief call but another to be engaged in a long conversation while driving 10 mph less than other traffic. I don't count on the new law doing much good; the problem is divided attention, which a hands-free system will not really solve.


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