Teach young drivers patience, courtesy

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Local police these next four weeks will devote more effort toward cracking down on aggressive driving along Route 19 and its feeder roads. We wish the extra enforcement could occur 52 weeks a year.


We all know about aggressive drivers – those people riding our bumper, weaving through lanes at high speed and without turn signals, as if their commute were a NASCAR race. And then there are the hotheads, seething behind the wheel, who see other vehicles and their drivers as the physical manifestation of their frustrations in life. We read about them in the Police Beat when they chase down and confront other motorists, sometimes brandishing weapons, sometimes using them.


Peters Township police Capt. Michael Yanchak, in an article in Wednesday’s Observer-Reporter, said patience is the key for drivers. “Years ago when I started driving, there was no such thing as road rage,” he said. “That is a term that has only recently been coined.”


Although drivers have used their horns and salty vocabulary ever since the days of the Model T Ford, it is true that road rage – physical violence between motorists – is a modern phenomenon.


But why?


Sgt. David Richards of the North Strabane Township police said that many young drivers lack the education about how to behave behind the wheel because driver education programs at local high schools have largely disappeared, the victims of budget cutting. Without this instruction, the young have only their parents’ example as their guide. If those parents behave badly behind the wheel, it’s likely their children will, too.


Another reason for the rise in road rage may be the increase in traffic. Fifty years ago, a typical family – say, a husband, wife and two children of driving age – may have owned just one car, or possibly two. Now, it seems, everyone old enough to be licensed has his own vehicle.


Traffic volume as exploded. Fifty years ago, railroads carried most consumer goods across country. Now, tractor-trailers do it.


Back in the 1960s, Interstate 70 in Washington County, for example, was a safe, well-designed highway when it carried only a fraction of the vehicles it does now. It is being reconstructed, piece by piece, its short entrance ramps lengthened, its cloverleaf intersections replaced, because of the huge volume of traffic and the insistence of drivers to travel at high speed. When roads are rebuilt, there are delays; and delays occur, patience is tested and rage builds.


Culture is another reason. As Americans, we value individualism. We would rather be alone in our own vehicles than spend any more of our tax dollars on public transportation. We have our own agendas and time tables, and when they are disrupted by Sunday drivers and traffic jams, we boil over.


Driving around New York City can be a frightening experience, but also an enlightening one. With a metropolitan area of just over 20 million, free-flowing traffic is rare and congestion normal. Most drivers there are resigned to the fact that they will spend too much time getting to where they need to go by car and adjust their schedules accordingly.


Driving in India can be just as scary, but also revealing. Traffic laws there are few and mostly disregarded. Its enormous population and emerging economy have resulted in too many vehicles on too few and too narrow roads, and traffic jams are epic. Yet, drivers there exhibit amazing courtesy and patience. Indians themselves joke about “Indian Standard Time,” which is highly flexible. Being late is not so reprehensible; it is considered an unavoidable result of circumstances beyond an individual’s control.


Reducing road rage requires a change in culture. We can do that by becoming more patient drivers and teaching our children to do the same.


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