Monday, October 13, 2008

Driving New Jersey

People in New England don’t drive like we do in New Jersey.

For example, they just mosey onto the interstate without looking. All of them. Everyone. I have even had New Englanders try to tell me that cars accessing the highway have the right-of-way and vehicles already on the road must yield. That is not the case here. In New Jersey we are taught that if you are coming onto the highway, you must speed up or slow down to merge seamlessly with the flow of traffic. This is purely theoretical of course since traffic on the interstate is usually at a complete standstill anyway.

I can see why they had to change things around in New England. The typical New England driver cannot see out his rear windshield because it is totally encrusted with Red Sox decals. Nor can he look over his left shoulder because the brim of his Sox cap will bump into his visor. Since all he can do is pull on the road and hope for the best, the states had to accept reality to prevent needless slaughter and preserve the Sox fan base.

Not that we are such great drivers in New Jersey. Our state motto should be “We Will Not Yield.” New Jersey drivers will not let another driver in… no way, no how. Drivers in other states are not so dogmatic. Despite their fearsome reputations, New York City drivers will let other cars in ahead of them. Usually they do so by swerving into the next lane and cutting that driver off who swerves into the next lane, etc., etc.

It is not so in New Jersey. Even if you innocently find yourself in a pickle because of roadwork or a stalled vehicle in your lane, Jersey drivers will not let you in. They will creep forward until their bumper is locked with the car in front. They will stare icily ahead, never making eye contact with the motorist seeking salvation. Most New Jersey drivers would rather have an accident than yield to another driver. We pay the highest auto insurance rates in the country; we might as well get something for it.

The only chance you might have of getting in is for your wife or female companion to roll down the window and plead with the other driver that she is with child and due to deliver momentarily. Even this doesn’t always work because many Jerseyans take a dim view of adding another child to the school rosters, thus pushing their already insane property taxes even higher.

Yielding not only costs you your position and possibly delays you reaching your destination by a few nano seconds, it is perceived as an insult to your manhood and self-respect.

The worst form of this is what I call “Getting Taken From the Rear.” This happens on state and county roads that go back and forth from one lane to two. These two lane stretches are usually provided on the upslope of steep hills or to accommodate access to the ubiquitous Jersey strip mall. During these short two lane stretches, everyone is either trying to advance his position or resist Getting Taken From the Rear. Slow drivers will speed up and occupy the left lane, daring anyone to pass them on the right. Faster more aggressive drivers will rocket in the right hand lane trying to knock off as many slower cars as possible before the road goes back to one lane.

And that, of course, is the moment of truth. Someone will dominate, and someone will Get Taken From the Rear. The Taken driver will feel a sense of humiliation and violation that will remind him of his times in the showers at Rahway State Prison.

Another thing about Jersey drivers is that apparently we believe we are the only ones who know how to drive a traffic circle. I have seen this on several “You are from New Jersey if” joke sites: “You are from New Jersey if you know how to drive a traffic circle.”

In New England they call them rotaries. This confuses the New Jersey driver to whom a Rotary is a social/business club. If he sees a sign that reads “Rotary Ahead” he will be having a warm and fuzzy vision of sharing a few coldies with insurance brokers in polyester sport coats and loud ties only to find himself navigating the incomprehensible complexities of a traffic circle that no one but he knows how to drive (“keep moving, you idiot!”).

Anyway, I have come full circle. I think I will go for a ride.


Mary Lois Adshead said...

I'm studying for my New Jersey driver's license. I understand that the rule in the book is that if the person ahead of you in line is driving poorly (or too slowly), it is your responsibility to sound your horn.

I'm sure a few well-projected expletives are in order as well.

KJA said...

As a NJ driver in Boston - my favorite thing to do is when there is a line of traffic in the right lane waiting to exit the highway: I hum along in the center lane at about 70, paying careful attention to the spacing of the cars waiting to exit, then at the last possible moment I drop a few gears and dart over onto the ramp in front of some guy who flinched to take a sip of his Dunkin Latte. "Ha ha. Gotcha!"