Why does it seem we change when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle?

For some it seems that once they are behind the wheel they suddenly become irritated by other drivers at the drop of a hat.

Not too long ago I was traveling and decided to stop for supper. The restaurant’s parking area was fairly full so I was looking for the first open spot I could find.

I found a spot and quickly turned into it. As I pulled in a woman driving a pickup was pulling in from the opposite side into an open space on that end. As I pulled in she stopped and glared at me. It was definitely as the saying goes ... “if looks could kill.”

I’ve pulled into hundreds of parking spots at malls, grocery stores and restaurants. Many a time I’ve thought to pull through but another vehicle was pulling in from the opposite side. It happens quite frequently in those types of parking areas, especially if it’s a busy time of day. I just usually figure I’ll be backing out of the parking space rather than driving out when that happens and I then go about my planned activities.

For this particular driver, going by facial expressions, it looked like I had committed the worst offense. I did not pull in as far as “my parking space” allowed but left her extra room to pull in.

Her reaction seemed over the top but in all fairness she might have been having a bad day and this was the last straw.

The other change I’ve seen happen way too many times is that once we get behind the wheel, we suddenly don’t think those posted road signs are meant for us.

Several years ago I wrote about an observation I had while driving along the State College bypass (Interstate 99). A vehicle had appeared in my rearview mirror and had quickly overtaken me and sped out of sight. The speed limit at the time was 55 mph in that area and I was traveling between 55 and 60 (back when there seemed to be an unspoken 5 mph grace area).

Recently driving the same stretch of road, which is now posted at 65 mph, I realized nothing had changed. I was driving at the posted speed and yet other vehicles still sped by leaving me behind so quickly I could almost believe I was at a stand still.

It seems our ability to read speed limit signs as we navigate the area highways is just about nil. Even electronic signs that tell us what speed we’re traveling at make no difference. I suspect it’s because drivers are driving so fast that they are past those signs before it can land on the vehicle’s mph and post it for all to see.

It happened just this week while traveling to Brookville on Interstate 80. Signs were everywhere telling traffic about the work zone ahead. It noted trucks were not to be in the right lane. Far past the sign I saw tractor-trailers in both lanes.

The speed limit it noted far ahead of the active work zone would be reduced to 60 mph through the work zone. Again, plainly listed on multiple signs so if a driver happened to speed by the first one, there were plenty more to grab the driver’s attention.

But that blindness that hits drivers hit two of them as we approached the work zone. I could see the electronic sign flashing the speed that motorists were traveling. It’s like a final red flare going up to grab a driver’s attention and say, ‘Here is the speed you’re traveling!’ in the hopes that the light bulb would go off and the driver’s foot would connect with the brake to slow them down from the 75 mph they currently cruising at.

As I approached it, putting on the brake to slow my vehicle’s speed down those last couple of miles per hour, I happened to glance in my rearview and saw a car followed by a tractor-trailer coming along in the right-hand lane – the lane that was closed. I could have sworn the sign several miles back said no trucks in right-hand lane. I guess it must not have pertained to this truck driver. Then right before I reached the final entry into the work zone where the two lanes come down to just one open lane, these two vehicles swoosh by me on the right. I guess it was important for them to beat me into the work zone. I happened to glance at that electronic sign as they were going past. It flickered quickly and finally flashed 74 mph.

With the number of accidents we read about in newspapers, see on television or on the Internet, one would think that any sane person would want to follow the speed limits. Bad things can happen when they are ignored, such as major pileups with injuries or death.

Are we all in such a hurry that the two miles or six miles or whatever miles a construction project covers is too long of a time for us to follow the posted speed?

At one time I thought it was a need for more state troopers to monitor major highways such as I80 or I99, but now I think that is an impossible task. I’ve watched traffic slow down when they know a trooper is watching and once they figure they are outside of the range of any radar device, they speed back up.

Changing the speed limit is not the answer either. As the speed limits have changed, drivers just drive faster. At 55 mph, drivers wanted to drive 65 mph. Now at 70 mph, they are going 75 or 80 mph or higher. When would it ever end?

Maybe it’s the fast pace of our lives that’s to blame. We eat meals quicker, try to put more work into a day, and try to pack a week of down time and travel into a quick weekend. We’ve lived this lifestyle for so long, maybe we have become addicted to it.

People today could not have survived in my grandparents' time. Back when you went on a “Sunday drive” to view the changing of the leaves in the fall, or the sprouting of the leaves in the spring. We traveled the back roads to see what we could see, to enjoy the beautiful landscape all around us and to spend time with family. Today, that drive would have all the passengers on their cell phones and the driver would be taking every shortcut and traveling so that the scenery is a blur in an attempt to finish the trip in record time.

When the self-driving vehicles came along I thought they might be the answer. They still might be. Wouldn’t it be great if they would only go the posted speed limit on any road they travel? Everyone would slow down in construction areas to the posted speed limit or in bad weather conditions or because it’s the law.

What a world that would be – maybe we’d return to taking Sunday afternoon drives as we converse with family members and view the splendor of nature that surrounds us.

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