Articles

ARE YOU A HEEL AT THE WHEEL?

They murmur “Excuse me” on the sidewalk but snarl defiance even death, on the road. Who are they? Read this — you may meet you

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN May 1 1949
Articles

ARE YOU A HEEL AT THE WHEEL?

They murmur “Excuse me” on the sidewalk but snarl defiance even death, on the road. Who are they? Read this — you may meet you

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN May 1 1949

ARE YOU A HEEL AT THE WHEEL?

They murmur “Excuse me” on the sidewalk but snarl defiance even death, on the road. Who are they? Read this — you may meet you

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

SO YOU’RE a good driver? You always put your hand out to make a turn—well, nearly always. You always pull up at stop streets. You never cut out. of line on a hill. Fine. Now, how about your motor manners? How does your behavior in a car compare with the way you act outside it?

feet’s take yesterday afternoon, for instance. When you left the office and found your way along the corridor blocked by that big fat guy with the suitcase you followed patiently and good-naturedly until you got a chance to pass. You stopped and let that gal in the green topcoat go through the door ahead of you. When you humped into that old lady you touched her elbow and apologized, in the lineup at the garage wicket you took your place at the end of the line. All in all, you behaved like a civilized, well-mannered human being.

Then you got into your car and everything changed. As you rolled out onto the street you gave the first hurrying pedestrian a blast of your four-alarm horn that made him jump as if you’d stuck a pin in him. from then on it was a grim fight to make sure nobody got away with anything. You got into fights with other cars at every intersection. You edged forward at the yellow light as if they were giving Lana Turner away on the other side of the street. You rolled down your window and hollered “doughhead” at that driver in the green sedan just because he pulled out ahead of you. You tried to outbox everyone in heavy traffic and out hiufT everyone on a left-hand turn. You became, in fact, arrogant, intolerant, touchy, haughty, proud and lethal.

What caused the change? That switch in your personality is today the number-one headache of those concerned with cut ! ing dow n motor accidents. It’s more important than your knowledge of braking distances. It’s more important than the time it takes you,to slap your feet on a pair of pedals or the accuracy with which you can run a metal peg down a V-shaped slot. If your motor manners are wrong the other things won’t enable you to drive safely.

When you turn the switch on your car the things that happen under your hat are a lot more amazing than the things that happen under your engine hood. Actually the process starts before you touch I he key. It starts when you pull the car door shut behind you.

Two people sitting opposite one another in a room, with nothing but a few feet, of air between them, behave toward one another in a certain way. They feel toward one another a certain way. In psychological terms they have a certain interpersonal relationship. But drop a curtain between them, or have the same two men addressing one another through a glass partition, and a slight change takes place. They both feel a certain immunity toward one another. They’ll say and do things that they wouldn’t have before.

A King in Every Car

SOMETHING similar takes place w'hen you enclose yourself in your car. You make a shift in the balance of psychological elements that, combined, make up your attitude to the human race and the world in general.

A little thing? Perhaps. But so is the slight shift in mood that makes you resent that light

delivery truck getting into line ahead of you. So i ; the distance between your fenders when you musc I him out. So, often, is the gap between life and death.

'Ehis slight break in your relationship to others is widened by another factor. Your car puts you on an equal footing with everyone else. Perhaps you’re a bit on the roly-poly side. Once you get behind the wheel of your car you become lithe and powerful. Or maybe you never were a great money-maker. Your car puts you on bumping terms with multimillionaires. If you’re timid your car makes you as tough as a gangster. You don’t need to take anything from anybody: if you ram

another car at 60 miles an hour the laws of physics are going to work for you just as well as for anyone else, if you have a flat chest, poor clothes, pintsized biceps, the minute you let out the clutch you’re a great red-blooded, black-haired snorting he-man.

All this equalizing leads to a lot of trouble. If you find yourself in an argument with a hamhanded gorilla of six-foot-six on foot, you gulp back whatever cracks you are tempted to make about the guy’s low forehead and ankle off before you get hurt. It’s a natural act of self-preservation. But, when you’re in your car, you know you have the same chance of reaching that open spot in the traffic as the big ape with the heavy beard, and you jealously exercise the privilege.

So the whole customary framework of your psychological makeup is thrown out of gear. You don’t realize all this. You are probably consciously thinking of whether you can talk the wife out of going to a movie tonight, or the bright-eyed look you got from that little chick in your last customer’s office. But these other things are going on inside you, psychologists assure us. Then things start to happen.

The minute you roll out into the traffic lanes you enter into competition with other humans. There’s nothing unique about this: you spend the biggest part of your life in competition with others.

But when you’re driving, competition is sustained and expressed in its simplest, most explosive terms. It’s immediate, undiluted, personal and concentrated. Every driver Continued on page 32

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Are You a Heel at the Wheel ?

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on the road is trying to outsmart you, waiting to seize every opportunity you give him to get ahead of you or jockey his car into better position. And there’s no recognition of even such simple kindly rules as you would observe when lining up for a movie. There are traffic lights and stop streets and a few other mechanical governors to keep you from going completely berserk, but you do most of your driving between intersections. You can get in the end of the line, the front of the line, or the middle of the line, depending on how fast you are. It’s largely a free-for-all.

The Beast Is Loose

So you roll off the parking lot onto a stage that’s set for you to behave in your worst possible way. Many of the deterrent and inhibiting factors that keep you in line as a fairly civilized human being have been reduced or eliminated. If you were emotionally mature you’d still behave in a rational way. Rut chances are you’re far from perfect. And right away a lot of aggressive tendencies prowl out of their lair licking their chops and looking for food. There’s no danger of losing friends, making yourself look ridiculous. Nobody you know is going to see you. Your real, arrogant nature sits back, rubs its hands and gets ready to have itself a time.

A car approaches you well on your side of the white line. To pull out of his way you’ve got to slow down and ease in behind that car at your right. The other driver doesn’t show any signs of getting back on his own side. He’s imposing his will on you. So you tighten your lips and drive on. Rut you finally have to give in. You skin as close to him as you dare, but still you have to slow down and pull a bit off your course.

You let fly a barrage of epithets that drown out the commercial coming from your car radio. You call him a !!—$()! doughhead. Why? Oh, he’s a !!—$()! doughhead, all right. Rut your rage comes from something else. If you knew for certain, for instance,

I that the other driver were really a bit simple - minded, you’d simply have steered out of his way and shaken your head sadly as you passed.

If it weren’t for your aggressive traits it wouldn’t have bothered you even if it had been sheer carelessness on the other driver’s part. If you knew, for instance, that the driver was a very submissive, timid sort of a little guy who was apt to be absent-minded, you’d have taken it as a joke. (There never was any real danger, you know, until you tried to shave the paint off his fender.)

Rut no. If you examine vour reaction closely you’ll discover it stemmed from your determination that nobodj' was going to put anything over you.

Then you blew your top, because you let the guy get away with it. That’s another characteristic about your hosiile attitude. It goes hand-in-hand with ! a deep-lying conviction that you’re not j as tough as you’d like to be. It needs i constant bolstering, and anything that undermines it makes you nearly take off.

Next, you come to a stop light. You glance out of the corner of your eye and see in the car at your right a big fat self-assured-looking jerk smoking a cigar. On the other side is a taxi driver. You’ve never liked taxi drivers since that one gave you a lot of lip over the size of your tip. You get your

car into low gear and rev up the motor. From the sound of the motors on either side of you you know that these two characters are actually going to try to beat you —you!—to a getaway.

The world again becomes an arena where the fittest survive. You have to come out on top, or, in this cace, in front. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Rut by then your guardian angel is probably snarling at you and wondering if it’s all worth while.

This compulsion to feud and fight with everyone on the road shows itself in a dozen situations on the way home. You get in line to pass a streetcar. Somebody pulls up beside you waiting for a chance to get in ahead of you. You nearly ram through the car in front to make sure he doesn’t.

Not that letting him have his way would make two seconds difference in the time you get home. Or you get in a long traffic jam and see someone trying to get out of a parking lot into the line of traffic. You know that the guy has to get out sometime, but the thought that he tries to muscle in ahead of you is what makes you hug the car ahead so that he couldn’t get a small boy between you, let alone a car.

Or you get thinking about something that happened at the office, and you unconsciously straddle a line. A horn honks behind you and you sneer at the driver in your rear-vision mirror. Oh, you’ll get over all right. Rut all in your good time. That horn implied that you mightn’t be as good a driver as you thought you were, and you’re not taking that from anybody.

All this battling, in the meantime, is causing something else to take place that’s making you even more dangerous. As a result of the conflicts and tension you’re becoming impatient. You’re driving as if you were trying to beat some sort of record. You hug the car ahead as if you were doing a conga. You try to outsmart yellow lights. You pass everything passable just for the sake of passing it.

You’re behaving in an abnormal way. In other words you’re displaying a motorist’s trait that accounts for hundreds of deaths, broken bodies and broken hearts every year. Chances are you’re going to get into an accident if you don’t do something about it now.

Do You Need a Checkup?

A psychiatrist recently reported that a woman he had treated successfully for neurotic tendencies dropped into his office to tell how well she had been getting along. He asked her what change in her life she’d noticed most since her cure. She said in the number of repair jobs she had to have done on the fenders of her car. She admitted that before she had come to him for treatments she had been one of the most arrogant drivers on the road. Since she’d got herself straightened out, her car had been remarkably dint-free.

It’s not likely that you need a psychiatrist. Rut if you lose your temper while you’re driving, if you glare at other motorists through your window, if you criticize other drivers on the road, if you speed when there’s no real necessity for speeding, you need some psychiatric treatment, even if it’s homemade. You’ll not only be a better motorist but a better human being, because you drive the way you live.

First, get the idea that your conduct as a motorist only reflects, or rather brings into clear focus, your attitude toward life in general. If it makes you feel good to beat a row of cars to a getaway you’re trying, in a small way, to prove something to yourself. You’ll do a lot better to get at the real cause —you’ll be a better man, and you’ll

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be a whole lot easier on your clutch.

Second, if’ you can avoid it, don’t drive when you’re emotionally upset. That’s not always possible, but often it is. There’s often no real reason why you can’t walk from one customer’s office to the next. If you’ve had a rowon your last call you'll be doing yourself a favor to get some air and exercise. You’ll certainly be doing every other motorist on the road a favor.

And, last, try to get a new picture of yourself as a motorist. You are a new type of human being. Back about 25 years ago, when a man got out in front of the rad, instructed his wife on how to work the spark and gas, pulled out the choke, wound her up, leaped onto the seat in a frenzy anti tooled off at 20 to 25 miles an hour along a virtually deserted road, he was a bit of an individualist. It took a certain skill, a certain co-ordination of mind, muscle and will to keep the thing perking along at a safe distance from other cars. But those days are over now. You can drive adequately and so can hundreds of thousands of other people with normal and even belownormal faculties. Besides, that car of yours doesn’t require any great skill to handle.

The only thing worth priding yourself on now is your skill not. as a motorist but as a motoring citizen. And

to be good at that you have to control your individual reactions for the common good your own as well as the other fellow’s. It’s a lot harder to do than to pass everything on the road. But it’s a lot safer.

You have to make a mental readjustment. To drive well you have to anticipate what the other fellow may do; but if you’re inclined to blow your top it may help to think of ot her cars, not other drivers—to think of moving objects which behave often in peculiar ways.

If you want a pattern to follow, watch any experienced bus driver. Watch him when a motorist cuts in front of him, holds him up, and, when he honks the horn, turns around and sneej-s. All the passengers at the front end of the bus are longing to get out and jump up and down on the guy s face. Everybody’s mad except the bus driver. He simply concentrates on his driving until the motorist gets over his tantrum. He’s handling his job like a man, instead of like a public-school kid who has to lick everybody in his class to convince himself that he’s champ.

So the next time somebody cuts in in front of you, or outbluffs you on a turn, relax. You’re not really solving anything by arguing with him. The problem has nothing to do with cars.

You’re the problem. ★