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Two Continents, Two Driving Styles

I thought that you would enjoy this inter-continental comparison of driving styles, and that it might provoke a discussion of what's gotten into us on the roads.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I've just returned from two weeks of working in Nairobi, Kenya. As many people know, the traffic congestion there is so awful that it is captured in one word: "Jams."

Gridlock seems the norm, with cars/trucks/buses of all kinds crowding onto roads unable to handle them all. And yet ... a certain courtliness and grace exists there.

Unlike the D.C. area, Kenyan drivers have developed various hand gestures (none of which seem to involve just one finger) to signal other drivers to merge in front of them or to allow them to merge. Unlike here, Kenyan drivers don't wear deathmasks of frustration or anger. In fact, several times our cabdriver received advice from other drivers on alternative routes or how to avoid some of the larger Jams.

More times than I can count, our driver was also waved into a lane by a car who paused so we could merge in front of him.

I'm sure sociologists can come up with all kinds of socio-economic or cultural reasons for the good manners of Kenyan drivers. But my question remains:

Why must D.C. area drivers be so aggressive and rude, often bordering on dangerous? How much time would you lose out of your day by allowing a car on a ramp to merge in front of you? What thrill does it give you to drive inches from my bumper because I'm not quite going fast enough for you? We have a lot to learn from drivers in Nairobi where Hakuna Matata ("no worries") is a bumper sticker and a driving philosophy.
Tamar Abrams
Arlington

By Robert Thomson  |  June 16, 2008; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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Comments

Well, normally I agree with Tamar Abrams...you don't lose a lot of time and the good karma piles up. However, it is difficult to cheerily let others in front of you in this area because when you give an inch, intended for one driver, invariable the next ten drivers behind that driver or to your side will take a mile. They will take complete advantage of your generous gesture and leave you, and those behind you, sitting and rotting until you get, well, MAD and bully back into movement. Seriously. People in this are are not observant and do not pay it forward. The people taking a mile when given an inch do so because they know that people dumb enough to leave room to let them in are few and far between. No one likes to wait, either giver or taker. So, while I am courteous and am more than happy to wave mergers on in any other part of the country (except, maybe, Boston), here it just comes to bite you in the butt and tick off everyone around you, while the person you let in snickers "sucker!" under his or her breath. It is a testament to the completely self-absorbed nature of the important VIPs who live in this region.

I drove to the Shenandoah mountains over the weekend and the difference between drivers in ROVA and drivers here as we re-entered NOVA on our way home really was quite noticeable. ROVA people are laid back and generally acknowledge that you, too, exist. NOVA...I could feel my blood pressure bubbling up as I hit 66 at Gainesville. Ugh.

Posted by: How Much Time? | June 16, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

That's because RoVA drivers have their 8-lane roads paid for by NoVA, so of course they are laid back and have plenty of room to let you merge in, etc.

We're the ATM for Richmond and RoVA, nothing more. As more and more businesses and their tax dollars and employees leave this Commonwealth, and its 19th century transportation system, perhaps Richmond will listen. Too little, too late.

Posted by: VDOT is incompetent | June 16, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, I think the problem around here (with the residents of this area in general, not just the driving, although it comes out in that arena as well) is that this area is primarily filled with bureaucrats, government workers, and wealthyish CEO-types, all of whom believe their time is more important than anyone else's. (The whole "This city runs the country, dag-nabbit!" entitlement menality.) So they cut people off, they speed, they do stupid things like try to squish their car as the second in a gap meant for one, they get annoyed at people driving only 10 miles above the speed limit, because of course they believe they're entitled to do so.

Those of us who don't fall into the bureaucrat/CEO/etc. category are reacting to those who do, which means that everyone here is a complete jerk in traffic (and can't figure out what that wet stuff is falling from the sky or realize that i tmight make a road slippery, but that's another rant).

Posted by: Grrrr... | June 16, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Because I'm better than you, Tamar.

I shop at Whole Foods, drive a BMW, vote Democrat, and am a proud NIMBY.

I am better than you, Tamar.

Posted by: Average Driver | June 16, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

8-lane roads in RoVA? Ha!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

8 lane roads? Where? You lose the third lanes before even leaving Northern Virginia.

Posted by: Dave | June 16, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

ROVA= Rest of Virginia?

Posted by: ? | June 17, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

One reason Nairobi residents might be considerate
drivers: some years ago most of the traffic lights in that city were inoperative. That's what my wife and I observed in 2001 when we spent a week there.

Posted by: Charles Packer | June 26, 2008 9:54 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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