Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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St. Rodney the Divine posed this question almost 15 years ago and it’s just as relevant today.

Road manners in the United States are atrocious. Obliviousness, incompetence and deliberate passive-aggressiveness make the experience of getting from “a” to “b” unpleasant, stressful and more time-consuming than it ought to be. And more dangerous, too.

New laws are not the answer. We have enough laws already. They’re mostly counterproductive laws, too – such as those which assume everyone’s inept because some are inept, such as “no right on red” laws.

No, what’s needed is something more organic and spontaneous. Something that could be subsumed under the heading, common courtesy.

I’ll give you an example.

Every day – literally, every single day – I find myself stuck behind another driver who is not only traveling much more slowly than I am but also more slowly than the posted speed limit. This is on my 35 mile trip into “town” (we live in the boondocks) on a two-lane road (one lane each way). It is a not-busy road and the slow-mover ahead could easily pull off onto the shoulder and let me (and other faster-moving cars) get by. I often do this myself when I am coming back up the mountain in my old truck, the bed loaded down with stuff.  In my opinion, you have to be a PhD Dickhead to deliberately block traffic and force others to proceed at your pace. Why not just pull off to the side? It only takes a moment – and defuses a tense situation (for all parties) immediately.

Yet this simple act of common courtesy is scarcely seen – at least, in my experience. People will see you back there and still refuse to pull off/over and wave you by them. I find this startling. People – generally – don’t just stand in your way at a store, for instance – knowing you are back there and purposely blocking you from getting to something you want. Usually, they’ll see you there and oblige by moving over enough to allow you in. Often with an “oh, excuse me”or “sorry” added for good measure.

But put some of these same people behind the wheel of a car… .

How about this one:

You are approaching an intersection to make a left turn. There is a car ahead of you, not turning but blocking the left turn lane. You notice there’s ample space for this driver to pull forward enough so that you can squeeze into the turn lane – and make the light. But the PhD Dick – who sees you – just sits there. What conclusion can one draw from this? The only explanation that comes to mind is that the blocking driver is enjoying this small exertion of power over you. He is getting his kicks knowing that he has prevented you from squeezing by – and making the light.

Oh Brave New World that has such people in it!

But the thing that amazes – appalls – me the most about all this is not the DMV-grade malice, the low-rent sadism on display. It’s the pointlessness of it all. Common courtesy comes at no cost to you – and (provided others behave courteously in return) ends up redounding to your benefit. Consider the example of the refuse-to-yielder. How does it harm him to allow you to get by? His travel is not impeded and if anything, his trip should be less stressful, since he no longer has a tail of other cars hanging off his bumper. If everyone, as a matter of reflex, gave way to faster-moving traffic, how swimmingly – how civilized – going for a drive would be.

Instead people behave like silverback gorillas – only without the silverback’s courage, because at least a silverback will actually confront his opposing silverback in person (so to speak) while the typical Cloverite passive-aggressive American driver will simply use his car to make his point.

If you stop to think about it, this pattern repeats on other levels, such as the political. Most people would never threaten their neighbor with violence in order to force him to give them money. Yet the will routinely – casually – vote in favor of doing  precisely the same thing, only by proxy. They lack both physical and moral courage to steal, but provided it is called something else and done by someone else, then it’s ok.

Admirable, even.

It’s the same with road manners.

Well, we need a wake-up call – and a remedial lesson, too. Nothing good comes of theft – or being a PhD Dick behind the wheel, either. You may think you’ve got the upper hand, that you’ve “taught them a lesson” – but in fact all you’ve succeeded in doing is ratcheting up the Hate, and that will come back to bite you in the ass one day, too.

















  1. Oh, I forgot to mention, that when I was stationed in Germany, if one wanted to get in the hammerlane and go, they would leave their left turn signal on the whole time. So the guy you’d be gaining on would get a visual clue (the blinking light) in his mirror by the time you’d caught up to him and get over. Now, say you were the slow guy zoned out in the fast lane and they had to flash their head lights, you would be considered the asshole for not paying attention. If they had to additionally hit their horn (on top of the flashing lights) to get your attention, they would probably call the police on you for obstructing traffic.

    There’s a big difference between people with a cooperative attitude toward traveling and the state worshiping policy wonks here in the states.

  2. People are ignorant, period! They are so narcissistic that they don’t even notice that there are OTHER people doing the same thing as themselves… IE traveling on the same road in the same direction, therefore traveling down any public is a cooperative venture. And for the people that believe that the speed limits are just too high… just stay home. Every conceivable “thing” can now be ordered on line and delivered by the professionals you are delaying with your slow-poking control drama. This will also leave you more time to answer your cell phone while people are talking directly to your face. Yay, it’s a win, win, wait for it…WIN!

  3. Probably need a ‘PLEASE’ in that move over sign as the other one, seemingly giving an order, would probably make most people just that much less likely to move over.

    • Probably!

      But these “types” typically won’t heed a polite admonition. Of course, going rude doesn’t help, either. My approach is to just evade/avoid them to the extent I can – with as little prior notice given beforehand as possible!

  4. LOVE the ‘MOVE OVER ——>’ sticker for your windshield. Think I might have to get one of those. Aside from PHDicks I also see how bazzillions are spent redoing and widening roads. If only all roads had been originally built with turn lanes on both sides and u-turns at all intersections I think traffic thru-put would have been more than double, and all the effort put into redesigning and widening wouldn’t have been necessary. Oh Yeah! No damn HOV lanes – what a huge waste.

  5. It was, I believe, a comedian who once called people, “Monkeys with car keys.” I have changed that to the more technically correct, “Apes with car keys.”

    If they have an IQ to begin with, people seem to lose it when they get behind the wheel of a car. It’s like they’re sitting on their sofa at home, alone, isolated from all required interactions with other apes. They ride forever in the passing lane at or below the speed limit, wander to the limits and beyond of their lane, don’t use turn signals, instead expecting you to read their minds, take 1/2 or more of the duration of a left turn signal to realize it’s green because they’re talking about, most likely, nothing of any importance on their cell phone, don’t make room for a lane merge, tailgate, etc., etc.

    Every time I drive, I see why this country and the world for that matter are in the state they’re in.

  6. You think the road is full of power hungry idiots? You ought to see the recovery room where I work. The few back biting ambitious ones have risen to the top in the all mighty 24 bed recovery room. They exert their power like tiny tyrants, working nurses (that they don’t like) to death while their friends lounge about. This is at the expense of the patient’s safety and the nurses sanity.
    Stay on the road and out of the hospital. The road is much safer. The hospital is a microcosm of female tyrants waging tiny wars. In fact, it’s a metaphor of Animal Farm. I’m Boxer.
    (My intuition tells me that most covert aggressive drivers are nurses.)

  7. Aggressive driving (passive – aggesssive is flip side) is considered a psychological impairment to driving. There’s research on the topic that’s not hard to find. It’s the same in all countries.

    • Aight, so I am driving to work this morning. I live on a mountain and have to come down when I leave home. Lately I’ve been leaving around the time the buses are picking up kids (mine being one of them). When I am behind a school bus that makes lots of stop I kind of pace behind it so I don’t have to keep hitting my brakes and coming to a complete stop every time it stops. Anyhow, I guess a lady behind me got upset about it this morning. She passed two cars (me being one) to fly up right behind the bus and come to a stop. For the next few miles you can bet your ass she was right up on that school bus’s ass (for each stop). Once the bus pulled off she began to drag ass right at the speed limit. What a fucking tool! I ended up having to pass her and she tried to road hog too! Amazing!

      • I was on my way down to the lake Sunday to do a little fishing. This round brown fuzzy in a Malibu starts riding my butt like we’re in a prison shower. I’ve got two guys ahead of me pulling boat trailers and I’m hanging back (I observe the 2 second rule on following distance or a little more depending on conditions), but we’re all running about 5 over. So I tap my brakes a couple of times to signal him. He ignores me, but I can see his wife talking to him sternly in my rearview. I brake again and he backs off, then he’s right back on my butt again and he can see the two boats ahead of me, it’s a curvy two lane road and no place to pass. He just refuses to back off, so I’ve had about enough and almost come to a stop, he locks ’em up and we proceed through the next set of curves at about 20 miles an hour. Now you’d think by now he’d get the message. Nope right on my bumper the whole way with his wife chewing his butt. As soon as we get to a straight stretch, he nails it on a double yellow just so he can get up beside me, lean across her and flip me off. At least I know from the expression on her face he won’t be getting any in the near future. What’s with these people?

        • OMG that is the best saying I’ve heard in a long time! “starts riding my butt like we’re in a prison shower.” Like I said before, I leave a calling card on the back of my ride. If they wanna ring me they know how!

          Calling Card

        • I think we’ve all experienced this. When it happens to me, it’s especially startling because unless I am driving with a heavy (or not so steady) load out back, I am always moving faster than the limit. Not that there is ever any excuse for tailgating. But when you’re already going faster than the limit (mind, not in the left/passing lane) it’s especially obnoxious to be tailgated.

          This is when it is fun to be driving something old and rough. When I pick up a tailgater while driving my pickup I will – if it’s an extreme case – wait for the right moment and then jam on the brakes, hard.

          This will result in either a spilled-coffee wake-up moment, the guy shitting his pants, or him piling into the rusty bumper of my old truck and owing me money.

          Can’t lose!

          Also: I have pro-gun stickers all over the said rusty bumper of old truck and that along with my generally scruffy redneck appearance when driving said truck is usually enough to cause the shitheads to stay back.

          • Eric I’m assuming we’re still talking about single-lane roads; on highways, it’s just totally inexcusable to let people pile up behind you.

            It seems like Texas is just about the worst state* for lane-discipline. People here simply do not understand the many “slower traffic keep right” signs. The worst cases are the unutterable anal orifices that consider it their civic duty to assist in enforcing the speed limit.

            I try to give plenty of warning when I see these slow-clovers in the left lane ahead of me on the highway. If I’m really moving, I’ll give a single long flash of the highbeams about a hundred yards out, and another at fifty. Their usual reactions are:
            1) bovine incomprehension
            2) oblivious continuation of the sail fawn conversation or better yet texting
            3) the finger
            4) the worst–on a two-lane highway, they spitefully pull up next to another car and match their pace

            The last one exemplifies the corrosion of culture that occurs with statism; it’s all about “The Law” (nevermind “The Law” is a corrupted malum prohibitum devoid of common-law sense) and the individual be damned.

            Someone on this thread said it’s going to take a change in the culture before even fully private roads will eliminate this self-righteous collectivist attitude; I’ve got to agree. Americans need to return to the “live and let live”, “mind your own business” philosophy we held fifty or a hundred years ago.

            * Having driven all over the South, I’d say Florida and Alabama are the best in terms of people staying out of the left lane, or moving over quickly when they observe faster traffic behind them.

            • I find that giving these ass clowns any heads-up at all is counterproductive. If they don’t yield automatically, when they see you (and they always see you) coming up behind you, then you should know automatically that they have no intention of yielding and will actually try to keep you from passing if they can. Hence, I try to get the drop on them. I ease in behind them, rather than rush up behind them (never tailgating) and, when I have a window, I punch it and am past them before they have a chance to react. This accomplishes two things: One, you get past the ass clown. Two, you have the satisfaction of knowing you just annoyed the ass clown!

          • Eric, you’re an inspiration to me! I think I need a bumper sticker for my old Dodge truck that says:


          • That sounds like a comment I made earlier… anyway what I find strange is that the society that can really ‘live and let live’ on the road is one of the most rule-following on the planet, the Germans. I think it happened because efficient and polite driving requires a few simple rules be followed.

            Some libertarian minds over on LRC like the rule-less society spontaneous order approach to traffic. I can see the argument but it does not scale. I think in the small villages with the irregular roads that it has been tried in that it is perfect for that. But I think it would be just as bad as the present in an expressway environment, perhaps worse. The few simple rules approach has to be used. One law that needs to be eliminated is the speed limit. It is the root of the problem. It wasn’t so bad when it was reasonable but it hasn’t been for decades now.

            The death of lane discipline in the USA came with the NMSL. And the dedicated LLBs are something to behold. My favorite was this old fart who did well over 90mph when he noticed me getting around him in the far right lane. Yeah… the speed limit is so precious to them they will shatter it to keep someone from getting by them. Usually the response to ‘flash-to-pass’ around here is a brake check. I start with the left turn signal. It works sometimes.

            On two lane road around here I will be doing the speed limit. I will not pull over to the right to let others by because there is so much traffic I will be there forever before I can get back in. I don’t want to go that slow, but these people and the system of selective enforcement they love often selects me so they can contact the representatives they elect if they don’t like it. If they want to pass illegally I won’t stop them. The really sad thing is that I am usually stuck behind someone going slower than the speed limit and the person behind usually wants to as well… One road I can drive 50mph on legally and the dufuses drive 35-45. Then when we turn on to the 35mph road they keep doing the same speed! (really, they should both be 50)

            One day, back before they took the passing zone away I passed a woman who was going slow on that 50mph road. She snapped. Accelerated to block my pass, started tailgating me afterwards… I just pulled over and let her by…. I miss that little passing zone, every couple of months oncoming traffic was light enough I could actually use it.

            State of best lane discipline and driving properly I’ve seen, WV. Worst? Tie between WI and IN.

  8. While I agree with most of what you say, I often find the problem/solutions offered somewhat simplistic.

    I often like to cruise at the speed limit or just below the limit. If the road is fairly straight, with mostly a dashed line divider, why would I pull over just because the yeahoo tailgating me forgot where the gas pedal is and does not pass me? To make matters worse, drivers start backing up behind him? In this case the problem is not me, but the person directly behind who will not pass. After a few minutes of this I will pull over, but that does not help the crowd as they are still behind the joker that will not pass. They just got a new leader. (sheep!)

    I have been in the reversed position as well. I may be the fifth or sixth person in line when the joker behind the cruiser will not pass him. (Oh and I love it when folks don’t leave enough space to cut in!) I wait for an opportunity and pass them all at once. Eventually I will see someone in the rearview finally making the effort to pass the yeahoo and the cruiser.

      • It (overtaking/passing) is always an option, Clover – unfortunately, it’s also often illegal (even though safe when done properly). The pointbeing, the Clover slow-poke who refuses to yield forces the other traffic to either sit and stew or execute an illegal maneuver and risk a ticket if a cop happen to be around.

    • Tailgating is even worse than slow-poke driving and left-lane hogging – just to be clear!

      And people who do it – and who don’t pass when they can – are High Clovers.

  9. I’ve long discussed and theorized on why people drive the way they do. In brief it is because they are treated like small children and the law by being absurd in key areas has destroyed respect for the vehicle code. Treat people like they are idiots and the result will be “better” idiots. Speed limits are absurdly low and enforced for revenue. Because of this people don’t think many other aspects of the vehicle code is worth their effort to follow. So forget about turn signals, proper lane usage, etc.

    dumbed down predatory environment with predicable results all thanks to government.

    • Why do folks like you blame all ills on government? Stuck on stupid is a human condition, not a government mandate. Get over it, already.

      • Because government makes it so. “debate” with these people some time. It’s all about “the law” to them. Not to mention that the bad driving really got rolling with the 55mph NMSL. Claybrook in the typical government way considered slow drivers scattered across all lanes a good thing because it forced others to go slower. Mark Rask does a good job laying the blame for bad driving in the USA at the feet of the government’s policies in the book “American Autobahn”.

  10. Eric, I have been your reader from day one, with great respect. You have raised this problem many times on your pages ( as have many other before you ). I actually did some research on this and, in collaboration with Prof.Walter Block ( I am sure his name is familiar to you ), authored a paper on the subject, from the libertarian, austrian economic point of view. For your amusement ( or maybe more ):

    Couldn’t get it published in USA or in some well-established magazines – too much of herecy for their taste.


  11. I live in the boonies and drive a two lane country road 20 miles to Charlottesville. It’s a hilly/curvy road with lots of traffic going to work and going home in the eve. and can be dangerous, with many accidents over the 35 yrs I’ve traveled it. So going the posted limit is not always wise.

    I like to drive fast but give the slow guy his space and calm myself down because some times I too like to Sunday drive.

    What irks me are the drivers who tailgate at any speed even when they could pass me with ease. They seem oblivious to their dangerous habit. I admire people who I know want to drive faster than I do but are willing to keep their distance. They encourage me to pullover when I can.

  12. I’m new to this blog, but, aren’t you suppose to drive slower than the speed limit? I always assumed “limit” meant “maximum”.

    From reading your post I guess it’s supposed to be suggested speed? or average speed?

    The world would indeed be a more wonderful place if all those dickheads out there did the courteous thing and got out of my way.

    That’s what you get when you have public roads paid with funds illegally confiscated from citizens without their consent. We need more private roads. That way we can kick all the dickheads off.

    • In theory, a speed limit ought to be just that – the maximum safe rate of travel. In practice, though, most posted speed limits correspond to about 5-10 MPH slower than the average, routine flow of traffic. So, people going slower than the posted speed limit are often creating a real impediment to the flow of traffic at reasonable speeds.

      In any case, the polite – and safe – thing to do is always yield to faster-moving traffic.

    • Speed limits (as a rule) in north america vary from “suggested speed” to “moral minimum” depending on how underposted they are. There are few exceptions besides residential streets.

      The 85th percentile method, while law in most states (either outright or through incorporation of the MUTCD) is very rarely followed to the letter. Usually the number on the sign comes from one three places, the ass of an elected office holder, the ass of some neighborhood control freak, the equations of government “engineer” that make assumptions that must be based on a 1928 Model T sedan driven by a 100 year old woman in poor physical and mental health with eyeglasses 1/2″ thick.

      Private roads will not fix the problems. Because the kind of private roads we will get at this point will be government-private partnerships of the red light camera kind. It will just be a new way for political insiders to steal from the population. We can have private roads only after the mindset of the nation has been changed and the institutions that currently rule are dismantled.

      • Quite right Brent, in today’s newspeak: ‘private’ = fascist; ‘free market’ = mercantilism or crony capitalism; ‘money’ = bank notes; ‘speed limits’ = revenue collection threshold, ‘freedom’ = a police state. Private roads would amount to the same thing as private prisons; a way for the huge government favored corporations to extract ever more of our wealth. I fear the when you agreed to pay for the use of ‘private’ roads, you would be implicitly contractually required to waive your rights to privacy and being armed. Just like a trip on the ‘privately owned’ airlines these days gives implied consent to molestation just by buying a ticket. It’s always great to pay to get screwed, huh?

        Once again, to resolve revenue-collection speed-thresholds, will require our direct involvement at the state and local levels, vocally expressing our opinions and encouraging our friends, family and neighbors to vote for liberty minded candidates. As some of you may recall, AAA used to have some success in shutting down speed traps by identifying them and having their members boycott the local businessess. When in doubt cut off the money and make sure you tell ’em why! Soap box off.

        • Airlines… You got that right. The government would use the same ‘but it’s private so we can do it’ BS they do with the airlines. They strong arm the private companies or get them to agree to it for costs and then bingo, no rights at all in the mind of government employees.

          boycott businesses. That’s how the red light cameras got pulled from
          Schaumburg Illinois. Because of a BS ticket I got there I stopped
          spending money there. I even order stuff online for a store I used to go
          to there.. They charge me state tax but the town is cut out. plus their
          prices are lower and selection better on the web and their shipping is
          usually cheaper than the gas!

    • @Tom:

      Hooray! Another raving lunatic libertarian on this site! Man, a few more people like you guys and I might start to think we’re not headed straight for a Brave New World in 1984. It gives me a glimmer of hope.

      Tom have you read Walter Block’s excellent book on privatizing the roads?

  13. How do you know “clovers” are consistently going under the speed limit? I wouldn’t want to be caught behind such a driver (the exception is a loaded up vehicle or a heavy vehicle but you can usually overtake them anyway). Maybe they’re really old people or something. Tempting as may be for you to tap them with your car and send into a tailspin and get them off the road how about incessantly honking your horn and flashing your headlights until they give up and pull down?

    • Interesting that on the one hand, we (that is, the system) excoriates drunk drivers – who are impaired by booze or drugs – but consistently soft-pedals drivers impaired by senility. As if it makes a difference what the source of the impairment is….


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