Three Hail Marys

I was a resident of New Jersey from 1995 until 2005, and for the last two years I’ve been living in the DC metro area. I have vague memories of being 18 years old and finding myself on the New Jersey Turnpike in morning rush hour traffic heading toward the Big Apple. I’m pretty sure “terrified” is the best description of how I felt at the time. But my time served in the Garden State turned me into a pretty confident driver, and heavy traffic on city streets or “under-construction” highways just doesn’t phase me any more.

Catholic Mom and SFO Mom have each written posts about driving, road rage, and surviving the highways. My approach to driving is fairly similar to Barb’s:

I don’t carry a gun in my car and chase down some other driver who cut me off. I don’t change my destination so I can tailgate them for miles, and I absolutely don’t roll down my window at the next traffic light so I can give them the “one-finger salute.” But I do yell at other drivers from the privacy of my own driver’s seat. And I do that often.

Yeah, me too. Yesterday, I was in Arlington, and the road I needed to follow was being re-paved – one lane was closed. I dutifully moved into the open lane in a safe and early fashion. Dozens and dozens of cars flew past me in the fifteen or twenty minutes that it took for my lane to travel the half mile or so and get through the traffic light at the end of the construction zone. I really wasn’t bothered by these obnoxious people because I knew that the half-mile backup would have stretched out to two miles on city streets if everyone moved over right away. But as we got closer to the merge zone, my irritation grew at the sluggishness of the truck and passenger car right in front of me who seemed to be letting everyone else go first. Polite merging requires that each lane take turns – one car at a time. My NJ driving instincts came out in force, and I sat on the bumper of the car in front of me refusing to allow any additional cars to move over. But I did break a cardinal rule in NJ – if you look, you yield (remember that, Denise, the next time you head on up north! The merest glance at another car indicates that you will allow them the right of way, and this applies to passengers in your car, too!). The woman who was trying to cut in was gesturing madly at me and clearly yelling that she felt she ought to be permitted to merge. Since she hadn’t been sitting in line for as long as I had, I thought her anger at me was completely unjustified, and I let her know it – of course, the only people who heard me were my kids.

The Vatican is getting a lot of ribbing for its recent Ten Commandments for drivers. They are a bit…ethereal (Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness??) I’ve come up with my own list of practical rules:

I. Do not attempt to drive if you are not physically, mentally, or intellectual up to the task. This covers everything from being too drunk or too sleepy to drive to being ignorant of the state or local statutes governing driving.

II. When traveling in moderate to heavy traffic, the posted speed limit is not to be observed. Maintain the speed set by the majority of cars in your lane. Traveling faster or slower than the cars around you creates an unsafe situation. If driving 20 mph over the speed limit in heavy traffic on metropolitan highways frightens you, use a different roadway.

III. Keep to the right as much as possible and allow others to pass. If you decide you want to pass the car in front of you, be sure you can do so quickly and without disrupting the traffic in the other lane.

IV. Know where you are going. If you are lost or confused, safely pull over and figure out what you want to do. Carry a map or have the phone number of your destination handy so you can get directions.

V. Follow the traffic pattern. If you are in a right turn lane, turn right. If you are in a straight lane, go straight. If you do not want to turn, but you are in a turn lane, too bad. Safely figure out a way to turn around after you turn and without creating chaos.

VI. Be considerate of other drivers. Do not make u-turns when other cars are present. Do not attempt to make a left turn out of a gas station onto a busy road. Do not block the progress of traffic in your lane in heavy traffic by waiting for a break to make an illegal left turn. Do not allow private conversations or distractions from the cell phone, other passengers or the radio to affect your driving. Do not block other cars so you can have a conversation with your best friend who just happened to pull up at the light in the lane next to you.

VII. Be aware of the current traffic situation. Look farther up the road. Perhaps the lane is stopped because a tractor-trailer is making a turn up ahead. Don’t block an intersection and prevent left-turners from getting through. If the highway sign says your lane ends in a half-mile and you are driving 60 mph, realize that you will hit the merge point in about 30 seconds and begin looking now for a spot to move over.

VIII. Do not pull into traffic without sufficient room. The smaller the gap, the bigger your engine and the faster your reflexes ought to be. Making other cars slow down to give you time to get up to speed is rude, and often dangerous. Do not pull out in front of a car with no cars behind it.

IX. Do not be Santa Claus in July. Stopping briefly to allow a car to make a left hand turn is nice. Stopping for a minute or two to allow a half dozen cars to make a left hand turn is rude to those behind you who would like to get to their destination sometime today. Stopping traffic to allow someone to make an illegal or extremely inconvenient turn only encourages them to do it again.

X. Do not assume that the big, white 12 passenger van filled with kids is the reason your lane is moving slowly. You can tailgate, flash your lights, and yell obscenities, but I can’t make the little, rusting Dodge Neon in front of me go any faster. And if you find a break in the right lane and try to dart ahead, don’t think I’ll have forgotten your rudeness and will feel disposed to let you get in front of me, even if I do think perhaps that the little, rusting Dodge Neon needs to be run off the road.

I hope everyone has safe travels this summer. I, myself, am heading up to PA and NJ tomorrow for the weekend, and will be traveling half-way across the country a week after that. A girlfriend of mine has a little motto that she (and her kids) say when traveling by car: “Three Hail Marys for a safe and happy trip.” We’ll be praying!

14 thoughts on “Three Hail Marys

  1. Ha! I grew up in NJ and learned to drive there. I remember we were in Kentucky one time, going to the free zoo day with one of David’s buddies from Korea. The line off the highway was miles long and we were wanting to merge into it.“You’re never going to get in there,” Jerry said, somewhat anxiously.I looked at him and smiled. “We’re from New Jersey. If we want to get in, we’ll get in.” And we did. You just keep pushing, slowly but persistently, and eventually, that other car has to yield.And I laughed at “If you look, you yield”. Yup, people up north, they keep their eyes glued straight ahead. I still do it, too, when I don’t want to let someone over.Thanks for this post. It has been highly amusing!

  2. Sounds like NJ and Texas have some things in common.Amen to #2! It is so funny. People in Texas drive slower the further south you go. You might have to do 80 to keep up with traffic in Dallas but San Antonians drive 10 miles under the speed limit. When my husband was learning how to drive around here I kept telling him “Keep up or you’ll get run over!!”

  3. See you tomorrow!! Hope the roads are free of construction and distracted drivers, and may traffic jams be parted like the Red Sea….

  4. May I add something to your point IX?If someone is trying to make a left turn across two or more lanes of traffic, do not stop and motion them on across unless you are absolutely sure the other lanes are going to also stop or are clear. On so many occasions I have had someone in the near lane stop and motion for me to go when cars in the lane next to them continue to roar by. I don’t mean to be rude when I decline their invitation to cross, but if I followed their advice I would be T-boned by the oncoming cars.

  5. I agree, Denise. One of the few accidents I’ve been in involved a truck leaving a break in a stopped lane to allow left turners to go. A woman could not see around the truck, and neither could I as I drove up in the free and clear lane to the right. She blindly jumped out, hoping for good luck, and hit my left front. I was so mad, I couldn’t even speak. When the police came, I let her tell the story (where she tried to explain how <>I<> hit <>her<>) and only nodded my agreement. It was a joyous moment as I watched him hand her a citation before he kindly sent me on my way with only information about when and where to get the police report. It was another joyous moment when I handed that report over to her insurance company who had just suggested that they wouldn’t be paying anything until they determined who was at fault. The agent had an immediate change in tone and they paid out the claim fairly quickly.

  6. I agree with all of these – I didn’t grow up in NJ, but spent several years there commuting from McGuire AFB to Rutgers in New Brunswick – ah, 600 miles a week along the turnpike… I actually grew to love New Jersey drivers, if for no other reason than they forced me to learn how to really drive defensively.

  7. Hey just found your blog! It’s great & i notice my name! Thanks for that…just about to add your blog…God bless

  8. I don’t understand why the Vatican is getting so much grief, it makes sense to me. And, if everyone followed those rules, it would be a pleasure to drive.I also laughed at your rules, though!

  9. Amen!!!Sometimes I think the Vatican forgets it is in Rome (very bad traffic).Michelle, I love your rules! They are wonderful and express my feelings exactly.If you made them like the Bill of Rights, I would add:Parking lights are for parking, not driving – that’s why they are called “parking” lights.Mom R.

  10. I drove in Naples, Italy for 3 years and still even thinking of driving the New Jersey Turnpike makes me sweat. I giggled at the “you look, you yield” one when I think of one day going to the Roma airport in heavy traffic. Someone was trying to cut in front of us after speeding past everyone on the right shoulder. I stared at him and yelled through my closed window in English as he was yelling at me in Italian. We were driving a beater car while he had a fancy Audi. I won.

  11. Safe trips to you and the whole family.the only defence I had for my first two years spent in NY…a class 67 Ford Mustang. Folks were usually so surprised to see such a car driving about, they gave me room…so they could stare at my car I suppose. All those crazy on and off ramps around the city…one wrong turn and off you go over a toll bride you didn’t mean to cross. glad you’ve pulled through today.

  12. That white 12 passenger van rocks! Culture of Life on wheels!

  13. Kat – You demonstrate the second basic tenet of NJ driving…ugly car always has right of way. The third tenet is the Lug Nut Rule…vehicle with the most lug nuts has right of way.Bill (Michelle’s husband)

  14. Hi, i just surfed in searching for interesting blogs on Spirituality, you have a cool blog. Do keep up the good work. I’ll be back even though i live far from where you live. its nice to be able to see what people from across the world thinks.Warm Regards from the Other Side of the Moon.On a related note perhaps you might find the following link interesting. Its propossing a theory and i’ll like to hear your take on the subject via comments. See ya…< HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>Was Jesus an Essenes ?<><>BibbyKerala, India

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