Have you noticed that traffic on the Eastern Shore is getting heavier—and more dangerous? I have. And while I am reconciled to more people venturing back on the roads than last year, I wonder why so many of them appear to be driving drunk, recklessly, or distracted. Did they forget how to drive or, better put, do they give a damn about others?
My complaints are not the idle comments of someone unable to find something more important to write about this week. Rather, this year we’ve already been the victim of one reckless driver which resulted in an accident, and now we have two friends who have also been victims. Nobody was hurt, but that’s just luck.
In our case, a badly drunk driver who was driving at more than 75 mph slammed into the back of our car. Had our car been going slower than the 50-mph speed limit at the moment of impact, the crash would have been far worse. Still our car had more than $5,000 of damage. The drunk’s car was totaled.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the drunk was not aware that he had hit another car. He seemed surprised to find his badly smashed car lying on its side in a ditch with all airbags deployed. That driver left the scene of his accident in the custody of the police. It was only 7 p.m., still broad daylight. The trial is in about a month. I hope that they throw the book at him.
Drunk driving seems to be an epidemic this summer. On my bicycle rides, I see not only more beer cans, but many of those little vodka, Jack Daniels, and other booze bottles that I associate with air travel. There are so many of them that there must be a small army of clandestine drunks who choose to enjoy their drinks on the road.
Then there are the distracted drivers. Just yesterday, a huge Ford SUV in front of me suddenly went off the road onto a bike path. The driver jerked the car back to safety in time, but the episode scared the hell out of me. Was it a cell phone problem? A tired driver? Yet another drunk or druggie? I don’t know because I immediately slowed down to give myself a few hundred yards of distance.
In addition to the distracted drivers, there are, for want of a better word, the idiots. These are drivers who realize their turn is 20 feet ahead of them at the last second and decide to thread their way through oncoming traffic to make the turn. The stunt is technically reckless driving, but it’s not the type of traffic violation that’s easy to catch.
There are many species of idiot drivers. Last week I ran into one as I drove into the town of Oxford. The driver was tailgating me as the speed limit dropped from 50 to 35 mph. When I slowed down, the driver appeared irritated. She closed the gap between my car and hers. Just as the speed limit changed to 25 mph, the driver decided to pass me. As an apparent energy conservation action, the driver chose not to use her turn signal to let me know of her intention to pass. There was no accident, but there very well could have been.
The Oxford police, who, as anyone who has ever been to Oxford might know, frequently stake out the entrance into town to write tickets on speeders. Unfortunately, nobody was on duty that morning.
The driver, who I must credit with inspiring this piece, eventually turned, again without a turn signal, into the Oxford Community Center. She was dropping a child off at summer camp. Nice.
So, what’s the point of this string of complaints about my fellow drivers? It is to warn you that it’s getting a lot more dangerous out there. Be careful. I also suggest that if you spot an obviously impaired driver on the road, you should notify the police. The life you save could be your own.
Also, if you are texting or using your hand-held cellphone while driving, think about putting the damn thing down. You are not only making driving unpleasant for others, but you are putting lives in danger. No call or text message is worth that.
Finally, if you are drinking and driving, stop. You’re going to kill or injure yourself or somebody else.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.