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Rules of the Road

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imagesI was rolling down the road, belting out the chorus to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” when a white Volkswagen zig-zagged in front of me, cutting me off. I watched the car tailgate and nearly hit someone who was driving the posted speed limit, then nearly wreck another car it tried to pass on the right shoulder of the road.

Following behind the white car, I watched the driver roll through a second stop sign.

No pause. No hesitation. Nothing.

Really? Optional?

I couldn’t believe it.

Eventually, we came to an intersection where the light was red. I slowed to stop, but the white VW sailed right through.

Something has got to be wrong with that guy, I thought.

I never thought I’d catch up to that zoom-doom car as it weaved its way down a busy stretch of road, lined with shops and gas stations and restaurants. With so many destinations, it’s easy to lose someone. But as luck would have it, a train was coming. The crossing gates had gone down, forcing a long line of cars to idle, waiting.

The white VW was right in front of me. The driver honked twice.

I couldn’t help myself.

I got out of my car. Tapping on the dark glass with my fingertips, I waited to see the face that went with the driver.

I expected to see a boy, a teenager hurrying to get back to school — or a man. Clearly, there was some serious testosterone in that car.

But when the window whirred down, a woman about my age stared back at me. She was wearing enormous designer sunglasses with pink lenses.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Of course.” The woman tilted her head to the side. “Why?”

I shouted over the train’s rumble.

“You rolled through a few stop signs and a light. Did you know you did that?”

I expected the woman to offer some explanation for her recklessness. Or, at least, to qualify her behavior. I could understand if she had to get to the school to pick up a sick child. I could understand if she was hurrying to get to her mother’s house. Maybe her mother had called to say she had fallen and she couldn’t get up. I needed to hear her say she was driving herself to Urgent Care because she was bleeding and in pain. I needed to know she was rushing home because she realized she had left her oven on. Hell, I would have been okay if she had admitted to rushing to the grocery store because she was out of sugar.

Honestly, I just needed to know she was okay.

That’s a lie.

I wanted her to apologize and acknowledge she’d been driving recklessly.

But the woman in the pink sunglasses looked at me like I was a cockroach she wanted to flatten with her fist.

“Stops signs and stop lights are stupid,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say.

Because what do you say to that?

As she rolled up her window, I hurried back to my car and slammed my door. The rumbling noise of the train was muted, but the noise in my head was not.

I copied down the woman’s license plate on a piece of scrap paper.

I considered what would happen if everyone drove the way that woman drove. What if everyone thought stop lights and stop signs were stupid? Her disregard for the most basic rules of the road scared me. There have been times where I have sat at a stop light when no one else was around and thought: Duh, this is stupid. No one is even on the road. I should just go. But I don’t. Because the first rule I ever learned was something like: We stop at red, and we go and green.

I thought about the stop signs near the school by my house. I wondered if she ran through those signs, too. I imagined her white car hitting a child — mine or someone else’s.

I dialed 911.

Yes, I decided. It was an emergency.

I reported what I had witnessed, the conversation that had taken place. I reported my location and the license plate of the white car.

“You shouldn’t have approached the car,” the woman from dispatch scolded. “The driver could have been dangerous.”

I shivered a little. I hadn’t considered that.

The dispatch agent told me that unless an officer actually observed the car driving erratically, the driver couldn’t be issued a citation; however, she added, since I was able to provide a description of the car was and the direction in which she was traveling, she could get an officer in the vicinity to try to catch up to her.

By the time we finished our conversation, the train had passed and the crossing gate’s red and white arms that had held back traffic were going up. Traffic had started to move forward.

I have no idea if anyone ever caught up to the woman in the white VW, but I hope someone did.

Obviously, something was off that day.

Maybe she’d forgotten to take a necessary medication. Or maybe she’d been drinking. Or maybe she was just a really crappy driver. Whatever was going on, that woman needed to get off the road.

That afternoon as I drove home, everything felt fragile. I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters like safety, I prefer the illusion to reality. I need to know people believe in stop lights and stop signs. I need to believe there are more stable, kind people on the earth than dangerous, psychopaths out to do harm. I need to believe we are civilized.

Have you ever come across someone who has broken a basic safety rule and endangered others’ lives? What did you do? When do you decide to get involved?

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114 thoughts on “Rules of the Road

  1. Like you, I’ve been at red lights that go on forever and thought they were stupid. And like you, I follow the rules. Doesn’t matter how stupid they are, you do what you’re supposed to do so that everyone stays safe. Good for you for calling the police. I agree that approaching the car was dangerous, but I get why you did it. Let’s hope someone stopped her before she hurt someone.

  2. Holy frackballs! That’s frickin insane. People can be soooo stupid.I’m glad you called and reported her though. Wise move and totally necessary.

  3. So glad to hear you called the police! I, too, hope that someone caught up to her and gave her a good scolding!

  4. You are one brave lady. My heart dropped when I read you went up to the car. Seriously. We all know none of us will ever do that ever, ever again after being reminded here. But good for you for reporting that nutso woman. I’m in FL right now (… your vacation home awaits …) and there are plenty of crazies on the road here too. Call #347 and there will be follow-up apparently.
    http://www.florida-lawblog.com/2009/09/florida-highway-patrol-encourages-you-to-report-dangerous-drivers.html
    There’s also this website to check out and apparently the reckless driver’s insurance company will receive a notice. I hope it’s legit. http://www.reportdangerousdrivers.com/ and also zapatag.com
    Good for you for calling the police. Thanks for the reminder not to simply shrug and let it go.

  5. Guess you have never driven in Texas. Everyone is like that here, it is par for the course. I fear for the lives of bikers on our roads. We have stretches of the fastest roads filled with the most ignorant drivers. Yet, when I travel I find myself discovering road rage in more polite cities.

    Everyone is correct though, never approach a car. Never get out of your car. Dial 911, but never follow, never exit your car. Never!!

  6. Impressive mix of vigilante and good Samaritan…the makings of a badass mommy!

    1. I think I am kind of badass, actually. I think my son does, too. Kind of. So far he still likes to bring friends over here. I don’t think it is for my cooking. 😉

  7. Scary story! I think you did as much as you could have short of putting your own safety at risk. I’ve never seen anyone drive like that and I hope never to.

  8. So smart of you to dial 911. Next time, stay in your car. Do not approach the other. Like they said, you just never know. You got lucky. I’d hate to think if something had happened. It kind of reminds me of my one trip to England. I got the impression that everyone treated the lights as decoration. Our taxi driver zipped and swerved around other drivers like he was used to utter chaos on the road.

    The very first week I own a cell phone (now this is really going back) I had a driver in front of me acting rather odd. He started missing lights, swerving in and out of his lane and acting rather erratic. I called 911 and they asked me to stay with him at a safe distance so that I could let them know where to send the authorities. He drove up dead ends and would turn around, never stopping. His tire popped and he kept going. By the time the cops showed up he was driving on his rim. Sparks were flying all over the place. They were able to get him to pull over.

    It was a poor old man, afraid and confused. So sad. I was able to help that day and see that he got home safely. But you never know who might be behind the wheel of the “other” car, so you can never be too careful. If they’re following you, I’ve been told to drive straight to the police station (Learned this info after I didn’t).

    I hope your gal got caught that day. I like the fact that we take our lights and signs seriously.

  9. I can’t believe you got out of the car to confront her! Part of me thinks that was incredibly foolish, but my biggest response is respect – good for you for doing what you thought needed to be done.

  10. A man just got beat nearly to death here in Seattle by a road rage driver. I’m so glad you didn’t get hurt, Renee!
    I have called 911 a few times when I’ve witnessed wreckless driving, and I ALWAYS call if I think they are drunk.

  11. I’ll be the odd one out and say that I’m not surprised that you went to the car. I’d have done it, too…and then, like you, berated myself for it afterwards. Or listened to my husband lecture me about it. Or lain awake at night contemplating all the “What if?”

    It’s hard to reconcile my belief that people are basically good (if misguided, or driving-challenged) against stories and reports and newsfeed filled with people being bad. I don’t know how to change that – any of it.

    I’m the person who agonizes about not picking up hitchhikers on the lonely country roads I sometimes travel. If a car is stalled on the side of the road, I slow and sometimes get out to see if anyone needs help. 8 months pregnant with Matthew, I stalled out on the 401 (highway) and promptly stuck my thumb out, lumbering cheerfully into the cab of a transport truck, trusting the driver to be kind.

    He was. I was lucky. It makes me sad that I consider myself “lucky” when really, all he did was extend a decency and kindness to someone in need, like that driver you confronted might have been. If she weren’t such an idiot, I mean.

  12. We live near our town’s high school. One day I saw a school bus filled with HS students pass another school bus stopped with its flashing lights and stop sign arm extended (which was picking up my own elementary aged kids)! I couldn’t believe what I witnessed! I had the presence of mind to get the bus number so I went in my house and called the HS to report this reckless driving. I don’t know if they actually followed up with the bus company as they said they would, but I felt better that I tried.

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