Studying Desire Helps Me Survive in Traffic. . . For Now

It is only a matter of time before a psychopath motorist comes out of nowhere and hits me with $800 in repairs. I’ve reached this conclusion after just three years of commuter driving. The trick to prolonging that fateful day is amateur behavioral study. Every driver fits a particular pattern based on their wants and needs. If you can work around such patterns, you have a better of chance of getting to work with your bumper intact.

The folks who drive to work every day are just like you and me. They’ve got places to go and people to see. Collectively, they move like an ant colony or a school of fish. But if we separate that rush into the interpreted needs of each driver, the traffic starts to make sense. Here are some of the simple desires of drivers that may determine how they drive.

Desire:   I really need coffee!

How do they show it?   Double-parking with hazard lights

The drive-thru coffee shop is a wonderful way to alleviate morning traffic. Drivers are lured off the road for five minutes in a cute circuit while they buy a coffee and muffin before slipping back to the road. (The circuit reminds me of tracked routes used by fake cars on a ride in Epcot Center.) But coffee shops in the city don’t have special lanes, so drivers move differently to find them. It isn’t uncommon for commuters to double-park outside a Starbucks and run inside for sustenance. Unfortunately, the hazard lights left flashing on the abandoned car don’t indicate a real emergency, but rather, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Desire:   I wish to occupy the lane in front of you.

How do they show it?   Crossing over without signals

The directional is soon to become a defunct attachment on the steering column. To see a blinker on a moving car is like catching Elvis in a Walmart.  When it comes to changing lanes or getting into a parking lot, the modern driver performs on instinct. Their casual drift into the next lane is a constant problem for vehicles behind them. The best chance to avoid the “invisible” lane crossing is to watch the drift of the bumper in front of you.

Desire:  I want to see around all this gridlock.

How do they show it?  By straddling lanes

People who slow down to see a roadside accident will transform a highway into a river of molasses. Downtown, a curious driver actually straddles a yellow line to peer down the line. . . perhaps to judge their distance to the lights, perhaps to determine their place in the world. When drivers tread too close to these absentminded wanderers, they box them in to both incoming and outgoing traffic. The best solution is to slow down, give the daydreamer a friendly honk, and let them slip back into the gridlock.

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