Traffic stops and so does sensible behavior.
Who's out on the roads these days? More accurately, is it safe to be out on the roads today, given the apparent increase in the number of aggressive, rude - and dangerous - drivers?
Law-enforcement officials say discourteous driving habits are increasing at an alarming rate, with a resultant increase in accidents. And while no statistics are readily available, the problem is acutely obvious.
Among the most common examples of rude driving habits cited by authorities are: weaving in and out of traffic; changing lanes without giving proper signals; not using turn signals; speeding past a line of traffic to secure a parking space; failure to dim high beams; passing an auto and then slowing down; driving on a shoulder past a line of traffic to get to the head of the line; tossing out lighted cigarettes or litter while driving, and making obscene gestures.
One trip along the length of the Main Line just about any time of the day or night offers demonstrations of most or all of these bad habits.
Everybody has at least one story to tell.
A young woman motorist and her companion were driving along Valley Road in Tredyffrin Township two years ago when a man in the vehicle behind them pulled up alongside at an intersection.
The man, who had been tailgating for several miles, berated the women in the car for driving too slowly on the two-lane road, then pulled out a pistol and threatened them.
The passenger in the car happened to be Kelly Baynard, now 21, daughter of Tredyffrin police Superintendent Thomas Baynard. She memorized the license- plate number of the car and called the police. The driver was arrested and charged with a firearms violation.
Not everybody encounters such a threatening situation - or gets the same satisfaction at the outcome.
More likely, people are left to fume behind the wheel, honk the horn in a quick release of anger, or simply shake their heads in amazement.
"The reason for discourteous driving is that the bulk of the people are in a hurry and impatient, and it just makes them drive a little more aggressively," said Sgt. Dane Merryman, of the Bureau of Patrol for the Pennsylvania State Police in Harrisburg. "It doesn't save them that much time, and I don't believe they even realize what they are doing."
Many law-enforcement officials generally agree with Merryman, but Clark R. McCauley, professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, volunteered another reason for this growing phenomenon.
"I think a lot of people drive the same way they conduct their business or professional lives," McCauley said. "You have heard of the term 'hard drivers'? Well, hard-driving describes people with a lot of drive and motivation. They wake up puffing all the way to get as much done as possible. These are the people who get ahead."
At the end of the workday, McCauley said, the "hard drivers" are so consumed by their fast-paced lifestyle and pressure to succeed that driving a vehicle is an extension of their aggressive behavior "to get ahead."
"On weekends you see less hostile behavior on the road because they are more relaxed, they are away from their work," he added.
Perhaps. But that's not apparent in the parking lots of shopping centers and business strips, especially in the pre-Christmas season.
Cars jockey with each other for scarce parking spaces, the drivers convinced they can intimidate each other into relinquishing the spot. Pedestrians are fair game in crosswalks as drivers race from one store to another.
Another theory for inconsiderate driving was offered by James P. Barnes, manager of the Keystone AAA Driving School program.
"Basically," Barnes said, "most of the (discourteous) moves are simply a symptom of an aggressive personality, and the driver takes it out on the car. A lot of times, people who don't have an aggressive personality change once they get behind the wheel. They lose the feeling that anyone knows them, and they turn aggressive.
"Of course, at times people who make mistakes on highways are not concentrating because of a fight with their spouse or boss at work or some other distraction. But in the end, if you are courteous, other drivers will be courteous to you."
The extent - and examples - of rude driving habits seem limitless to law- enforcement officials, driving-school instructors and anyone else out on the roadways regularly. They each have their own pet peeves.
"I probably could write a book, but I have never taken the time to collect my thoughts," said Merryman of the State Police. "But I hate when people cut in front of you and then slow down. That drives me nuts. Another is when you try to pass a car and the other driver speeds up."
Tailgating is Baynard's personal choice for the most discourteous act behind the wheel.
"Tailgating gets drivers nervous," he said. "Some drivers show no discretion, particularly when they are behind elderly drivers. They get nervous and their reaction time is slower. Many times, they will pull off the road and into a ditch. The best thing to get the agitator off your back is to pull to the right and let them pass."
And then there's what Baynard calls the "California slide." The slide is when a motorist fails to make a full stop on a red signal before making a right turn. It seems to make no difference if a pedestrian happens to be in the middle of the crosswalk at the same time.
What bothers Maurice L. Hennessy, police chief of Radnor Township, the most is the response from other drivers to a motorist trying to squeeze into a line of traffic from driveways or exit or entrance ramps.
"Sometimes a long line of cars are stopped because of a traffic light," Hennessy said, "and somebody is trying to come out of their driveway and nobody will let them in. One more car in the line isn't going to delay movement of traffic."
Some drivers aren't even fazed by traffic laws.
"On major highways, such as (Route) 202, people insist on entering an
intersection even though the light is red," said Upper Merion Police Chief Clement G. Reedel. "They are breaking the law when they block the
intersection, and the congestion multiplies."
Police Chief Daniel Hennessey of Marple Township often sees autos parked in spaces clearly marked as fire zones or for the handicapped.
"When we give them a ticket," Hennessey said, "they become indignant
because they say they were there 'only for a minute.' And I don't like it when people blow their horns at traffic signals the instant the light changes."
Cracking down on discourteous drivers is difficult and time-consuming, according to local police officials.
"Police have other duties and obligations besides enforcing traffic safety," Baynard said. "You just can't have your department (only) watching out for traffic violators. You could spend the whole day issuing citations, but you would be neglecting other important duties."
Most of the bad driving habits are illegal, however, and could result in traffic citations if observed by law-enforcement officials. Police will enforce such violations - when they see them.
The best time to learn good driving habits is early, before an operator's license is issued, according to Mark Rosenstein, president of the Confident Driving School of Bala Cynwyd.
"When a person learns to drive," Rosenstein said, "it's important that the instructor teach respect and good attitude in driving. Teach driving as an art." The unfortunate thing, according to Rosenstein, is that a lot of new drivers learn from old drivers.
Rosenstein said relatives and friends volunteer to teach, but often they unconsciously share bad habits with intructions.
Some law-enforcement authorities also acknowledge that drivers often are unaware of their discourteous habits because of distractions of their own creation.
And, not surprisingly, police have a long list of bizarre examples:
The driver who thinks he or she can simultaneously navigate, and spreads a road map over the steering wheel while maintaining a 50 mile-an-hour pace. Or catches up on world events with the newspaper.
Or the drivers who also are petlovers and enjoy having Fido in their laps, even if Fido stands 3 feet tall.
Or the appearance-conscience but behind-schedule motorist, who also uses the car as a mobile boudoir in which to shave, apply makeup or give oneself a manicure.
Or the talkative mobile phone-user who forgets that he or she also happens to be piloting several thousand pounds of steel.