Clovers Ed

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As a rule, poor drivers aren’t born. They are made.student driver pic

The other day, I came upon one such in process. She (as it happened) was obstructing five or six cars, all bunched up behind her. The speed limit was 55. She was doing between 40 and 45.

On the roof of her car, a placard read: XYZ Driving School (XYZ is made up, the rest is real).

A student driver being taught in the ways of Clover. To not move over. To pay no attention to the rearview mirror – or the inconvenience being caused her fellow motorists. To be oblivious – and entitled. No doubt her instructor was admonishing her that this constituted “safe” driving. And that all the cars bunched up behind her were “aggressive.”

For about eight long (and slow) miles, the ever-growing line of backed-up traffic followed the young Clover. She remained oblivious. Ignored numerous opportunities to pull off the road and into a parking lot – so that the by now dozens of people she was holding up could go about their business. This probably never occurred to her. She was tunnel-visioned on the road ahead and – for “safety” – being sure to never approach the posted speed limit.pupa pic

This pupating Clover will soon join the rest and traffic will get just that little bit worse.

Scale it up, ponder the effect of millions of such – and you will grok why things are such an enervating mess out there. Why throughput (how many cars can transit a given piece of road over a given period of time) continues to decline.

It literally takes just one Clover to clog an entire lane of traffic for miles behind him (or her). To make you miss a light you could have made because the driver three cars up took five seconds to notice the green – then another 15 to clear the intersection. By the time you get there, it’s red again.

To wait… and wait to merge with traffic from a sidestreet because the driver ahead of you requires 100 yards of clear space to the left and right before he’ll even make the attempt.

We’ve all experienced this.

But the experience has become more common because it is now policy to be a Clover.

Just as it is policy to be a busybody.

The other day, I happened to be watching an episode of the ancient ’70s TV show, Emergency. A busybody had phoned in about a kid left inside a parked car outside a store. The show’s stars – paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto arrived on scene. And did not break into the car. Did not arrest the woman – the kid’s mother – when she returned to the car five minutes later. They sheepishly apologized to her for the ruckus.busybody pic

That was America, circa 1972.

Similarly, the kind of “driving” that is now the rule rather than the exception was once upon a time considered socially unacceptable. There was, accordingly less of it. Because more was expected of people. New drivers were taught to use their mirrors. To yield. A new car’s passing gear performance was routinely touted and talked about.

Fast-forward 40 years to the era of the cruise-control pass.

If it is even attempted.

Mostly, not. Because up-and-coming drivers have been trained to regard over-caution as the sine qua non of “safe” driving.

Slower is always safer.

To pay attention to their speed above all else; to be certain that it is always in conformity with the signage (which is there for “safety”) than take note of and react to the ever-changing environment around them.

There’s a reason, incidentally, why race cars don’t have speedometers.

To creep and crawl.   old clover

And to never, ever pull off or move over – even if you have a half-mile long conga line of cars stacked up behind you.

Such arthritic old lady-ism would was ridiculed within living memory of any person over the age of 40 today. I remember it distinctly.

Was it ever real?

Lawn darts (we learned to duck). Kids playing for hours unsupervised (we learned independence). Nobody wore seat belts except geeks. People made fun of Volvos.

I picture the future, a time when old people (future me) will be the ones who drive faster than people in their 20s and 30s – the latter having been thoroughly Cloverfied. Probably, none of us will be driving at all. The cars will do that for us.

For “safety,” you know. 

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Eric is fundamentally right. This kind of road manners and behavior is taught. The majority of people have the ability to drive much better if a) properly taught and b) consistently enforced on the roads. Neither is happening.

    I grew up in a communist country. As a broken clock, purely incidentally, they did certain things right. The driver’s education and enforcement were those rare cases – they copied this system from Germany. Let me elaborate, and sorry for the long post.

    Back then I managed to obtain the so-called “amateur”( not professional ) driver license. I would venture that no less than 90% of non-CDL drivers in the USA would have failed to get through judging by their evident skills.

    The driver ed, even for the “amateur” driver, was a long and multi phase process.

    Phase 1. The theory of driving ( this was literally the name of the course ).

    Taught for about 40-50 hours ( don’t remember exactly ), with quizzes along the way. Included:
    – Road rules,
    – courtesy,
    – what, and most importantly WHY ( this helps to remember), to do, or not to do, certain things. Planning ahead and making the right decision quickly ( not the speed alone ) as the decisive safety factors.
    – Basic knowledge of the internals of a vehicle.

    Phase 2. Initial driving training – another 20-30 hours.
    On a closed course, with the instructor always present in the vehicle, with a clutch and break pedal for the instructor. The vehicle was something like an old 4X2 Ford Ranger, with a 1.6L carburetor engine, a manual transmission ( automatic wasn’t even a dream then) and no power steering ( of course! ).

    This phase included the following elements:
    – Driving through the about 2 mile loop with speed bumps and sharp turns, until shifting becomes smooth and natural,
    – Starting up a ramp to learn not to roll back more than 4 inches,
    – Backing up into a garage – without touching the orange cones on the perimeter
    – A u-turn ( we called it a 3-move turn ) in a spot just a couple of feet wider than the vehicle’s length. Since there was no power steering ( not even the concept of it in our minds ) the turn required finessing the gas pedal, clutch and the steering wheel. Had to be completed in no more than 3 moves – as the name implies.

    Progressing further from this phase was based on the instructor’s assessment – some people never made past this point. I say – so much better for them and the rest of us.

    Phase 3. On-road driving training – another 40-50 hours.
    In the same vehicle from phase 2 ( manual gearbox, no power steering, weak engine, drum brakes all around ), on public roads. Emphasis on SITUATIONAL AWARENESS, QUICK DECISION MAKING and NOT CREATING DANGEROUS SITUATIONS or Obstructions to traffic. Learning to pass safely, quickly and decisively was a big part of that phase. Since most of the roads were 2 lanes ( one in each direction and no dividers), it necessitated moving into the opposite traffic lane and back. NOT recommended for clovers 🙂 – you will not come home for dinner if you try.

    Again, progressing from this phase to the exam with the Road Police was based on the instructor assessment and not everybody moved further.

    The exam with the Road Police had 3 parts to it, corresponding to the 3 phases described above – the theoretical exam, and two practical exams, in the closed course and on the road. Except they had their own closed course and they picked the most dangerous heavily trafficed roads.

    An important detail – the “amateur” ( non-professional ) license covered vehicles only up to 3.5 tons GWV ( no more than roughly 8000 lb ).

    Now, if you managed through all these hurdles, get the license and hit the road, the enforcement was unrelenting and merciless. There were much fewer cars on the road so the chances of being noticed and pulled over were much higher than in the US. And most importantly, the prevailing culture and attitude among drivers and police alike was intolerant of idiots and hogs. The concept of personal responsibility and mutual courtesy on the road was firmly engraved in everybody’s mind.

    When I arrived to these shores my driver license was deemed invalid ( ha-ha ). I had to take the driver’s ed anew. This was a special for new students – 5 hours of road practice plus the road test – for $129. I was shocked – now you can imagine why….

  2. I’m afraid Eric is mistaken on a few things. It is not about safety, it is to avoid highway robbery.

    Some cops may allow 5to10 over the limit. Some do not… People drive like assholes because they will be fined if they don’t.

  3. The person was in driver’s training…why would you possibly expect them to drive properly? They ARE focused on the road ahead of them, because it’s taking all their focus just TO drive.

    They’re nervous, unfamiliar with the car and mirror-checks and dealing with distractions (like the instructor constantly telling them what they’re doing wrong) and the like…and yes they are going to go slow because they are LEARNING how to drive fast. Once they get their license and get a little more experience they will go a little faster and change lanes more frequently just a we all do, but until then, they’re griping the wheel white-knuckled just trying to not crash the damn thing.

    Could the instructor have told them to pull off and let you pass? Sure, but what would be the point? Now they’re learning that they are a hazard on the road and they’re already nervous…she’d be pulling off every few minutes!

    Just be patient, they’ll get to normal levels soon, like a child learning to do anything, but until then you just have to bear it. That’s why they put the “driver’s training” sign on the car, to warn other drivers that this person essentially has on 4-way flashers and YOU should accommodate THEM, not the other way around.

    It’s not bad habits being taught, it’s recognition of low driver skill, something you yourself advocate…driving to your skill level. Well theirs is at it’s lowest, so it’s silly to expect them to act otherwise.

    • Hi Mamba,

      The first lesson every new driver ought to learn is not to be a hazard.

      It’s not the slow/cautious driving that’s the problem here. It’s that driver did not pull off the road to let the long line of cars that had stacked up behind her get by.

      She had numerous opportunities. And she needed to learn to use her rearview mirror and be aware of her car in relation to other cars.

    • Mamba, I must agree with you. I had to take driver’s ed just like the kids who had no clue. Some were actually scared to death. I’ve seen them break down and cry.

      As kids though we joked incessantly with whoever was driving and I think that helped a lot. One girl I remember as not having a clue was always a hoot at a stop sign. After the rest of us unplastered ourselves from the dash or back of the front seat we’d kid her with lots of sarcastic remarks. It was in good fun although sometimes it was downright frightening. I should have had more respect for the instructor though with obvious nerves of steel. One of our coaches would take a group of boys and have us drop him off at another coach’s house in another town and tell us to be back by so and so time. We cruised around and kept that old Ford 352 nailed all the time while doing it. Of course we were very sophisticated with the girls in other towns since we were 14 and worldly…..old enough to be on our own with a learners permit. I’d love to have some pics of us from back then. I can barely keep from laughing.

  4. The rules of the road eminate only from the elements of concrete and asphalt of which it is comprised.

    The four thousand tons moving at 75 mph will impact you as if you are nothing not because of equations or declaratively imagined laws of physics, but because of all those nuclei and orbitting quarks striking your much smaller collection of nuclei and orbitting quarks.

    Whether you model reality under Newton, Einstein, or Feynman will matter not in the least, because your beliefs are just excited neurons that exist only in your particular mind and nowhere else, and no one else shares these beliefs precisely no matter how many authorities and rote incantations you may invoke to make it so.

    It’s only the sad sack little Justin Believer generation that hallucinates reality magically manifests because a yellow line of paint has been laid down. Or that lights and signs have been placed like spirit totems and the New Safety Chiefs have spread their wisdom along the trails of tears.

    No a thousand times fucking no, whatever fucking visions you have dancing in your head are not grokked by anyone else. You are no more right or good than any one else because of your ephemeral fleeting beliefs.

    Even the best of you are saying things like: “the truckers” do this and do that. How the hell are they doing that. Obviously they’re all different entities and none of them is coordinated with the other in anyway. Why speak in such innaccuracies and mushy wrongthought?

    Hundreds of years ago there were Illini in the area that today is imagined to be the sector named Illinois in the nation named United States, but where are they now and what did their beliefs bring to them. Where will you and your indignation get you, have you ever considered.

    The aboriginals’ beliefs brought them nowhere and now they are scattered and gone and nearly totally forgotten. And so will any others who sincerely belief that worshipping the imagined keep right and eyes on the road sky daddy will be the right juju to finally break them free of their misfortune from those who drink bad medicine and just won’t capitulate to the herd authorities.

    Drive to any ghetto neighborhood and see how far that keep on your side of the double yellow line gets you. We drive park and do whatever the fuck we each want thankfully. The real evildoers are the ones who notice when Bob’s truck leaves a grease spot in his driveway. Because they have no souls and realities of their own, and only exist as Agent Smiths in their upscale Matrixes constantly scanning for any Zionists or Neos who might get out of the lines of housing code and human conduct they’ve somehow accepted are real.

    A right libertarian is still a republican. And at heart, a republican is one who thinks the world can be put right if only enough things are regulated. If only the rules and norms are enforced so the right people can thrive and the bad wrong people can all be kept out or caged and contained or even killed.

    Texans are more free because they do more things. Because there is more opportunity there at the moment, and the opportunities are being seized. And because they for the most part are concentrated on making Texas the way they want it and not concerning themselves with everywhere else in the world.

    Just listen to yourselves. The trucks navigate the spatial reality they are find themselves in and the signs mean nothing. The lights mean nothing. The painted lines on the road mean nothing. The statutes and drivers memorized platitudes mean nothing.

    I don’t think you can be too far wrong being a bigot against anyone in America. It’s great how you see fault in the clovers, and maybe its an encouraging sign. But its discouraging that you don’t also see that you are clovers yourself, only your delusions are more deeply rooted and your prejudices seem more plausible.

    But you too are clovers, and the world would be better off if all your idiocies were erased from the world, and you were forced to serve under different masters. Or better still, left to fend for yourselves and the elemental reality of matter and forces that are not at all affected by your childish beliefs and bloodsoaked notions of good and evil.

    What you call good and evil is nearly entirely arbitrary. And without merit. Which isn’t to say the idea of right acting and wrong acting aren’t valid. But only that your systems as they now exist make things far worse than they would otherwise be.

    I’ll take a spic, a black, a welfare cheat, an illegal immigrant, a petty thieving hustler any day, over nearly every one of you so called good guys in good neighborhoods. Even the best of you with so called good jobs, are they truly good in a philosophical sense. Many of them really aren’t and you’d better quitting them today and doing whats right for you and yours as individuals.

    Because the American neighborhoods are bizarro towns. where the doers must serve the believers. Where its manners and sentiments above all, even if billions should suffer and be subjugated by them.

    Where the makers must hide from the lawmen and judges, while the takers roam and ramble with hardly a care in the world.

    Fuck the police. Fuck the police statesmen as well. Y’all need you some clovers ed yourselves. When the Erics and the Eightsouths are gone, there’s gonna be hardly nothing left and barely no one worth saving.

  5. Sure am glad I learned to drive back in the bad old days of the 1980’s. My driving instructor would probably not have a job today (he is long retired now), as he was not a timid driver, nor did he teach timid driving.

    As I was driving one of the days, I was cut off by another driver and we nearly crashed. At the next stop light he was out of the car screaming at the guy. It was hilarious!

    There is no way he would have allowed me to block up traffic like that either. On the subject of “safety” blocking traffic like that is hardly safe. Weird what “they” think is safe, and what really is safe or not. Timid driving is far more then annoying to other drivers, its frankly very unsafe, and the heavier the amount of traffic, even worse.

  6. Eric, I know computers are not your ‘thing.’ But it’s a shame you couldn’t Photoshop that picture to say “Student Clover” instead of “Student Driver.”

  7. One time I was driving along a 2 lane suburban route with a 50 mph speed limit. The driving school car was going about 45-50. I called the driving school to complain and they were glad I did. Told them that drivers needed to stay right. The instructor who was there said thank you and would talk to the the driving instructor. So, I would call the clover driving school.

  8. There are three phases of learning to drive; physical operation and control of the vehicle, governing laws and courtesy in traffic. Most new drivers have zero experience operating self-propelled motorized machinery, the automobile may as well be a magic carpet. They are so focused on operation and control that everything else is ignored, like blinders on a horse. The behaviour is comparable to a single dimensional being dumped into a three dimensional environment. Incredibly steep learning curve for youngsters used to being spoon fed tiny nuggets of knowledge.

    Welcome to the 21st century.

  9. Eric,

    You paint a sad future.

    One thing I will say in defense of the student driver — The driver may have commented (to the instructor) about the long ling behind, but told by the instructor to keep driving. (at least I hope this was the case)

    I remember during my instruction when I got on the highway. I asked the instructor about moving out of the right lane. He asked me why. If you are not passing anyone, keep in the right lane.
    I guess they do not teach this anymore or most people ignore it.

    • Mith – possibly, but more likely said driver was not even aware of the cars (or anything else) behind her.
      I’m old enough to remember when seat belts first became available – as an option. Not many takers, so ‘someone’ lobbied the gunvermin to require them.

        • Well, they only have a limited amount of attention. Primary focus (correctly) is forward. Secondary, hopefully is right and left. But for many of them the speedometer is 2nd priority, because ‘speed kills.’ Nothing left for the mirrors.

          • PtB, you think that sucks? Try being in the turn through an intersection with a big rig and some idiot pulls up to the line….or beyond. They could have stopped back where you could turn but now it’s either run over them or stop. Of course I stop and wait. I’ve even had to back up and nearly did this morning for this idiot driving a big rig who intended to run a 4 way stop. Of course he’d slowed down and I had no idea he thought he had the ROW since I was sitting there and began turning when it was obvious he could stop but not obvious he had no intention of doing so until my rig was all he could see. The patch sucks the big one now, clueless driving school drivers and half from the wrong side of the border.

            • If I crossed the double yellow line making a turn I would be ticketed even if it were the middle of the night and nobody was around. But it’s the four wheeler’s fault for being where he should be, on his side of the road, when a trucker is turning? I’ll be entering a left turn pocket and then from around the corner (still blind to me) a semi appears making a wide right and is now coming straight at me. I am forced to come to a stop. At times the truckers look at me like I am in the wrong spot, 20+ yards from the line. I loathe people’s self serving made up rules of the road.

              • It’s called geometry. Many intersections have lines too far out for a semi to make the turn because of obstructions like buildings. This doesn’t mean a car’s driver shouldn’t understand to not blast up to this line when a truck is already trying to make the turn. People will turn onto that road a block away and be in your way to turn while you’re in-progress. That gets old. Maybe the state, in its infinite wisdom should create a line on the shoulder beyond which a car can be parked and give a truck enough room to turn. I promise you, there is a finite amount of turn in each semi and that varies with the trailer length and the tractor length as well. Once I’m turning, the law doesn’t require a dolt from running up there and blocking me but physics does. Maybe if you lobbied the state you could have a pit team installed at every intersection where “trucks are allowed” as if we had any choice. They could run out rapidly, jack the rear of the trailer, push it sideways and you could self-servingly stay in that place you so blithely took from the trucker mid-turn. Probably the uber-rich would gladly pay for these extra costs and trucks would be ever so grateful for state employees to jack their trailer any old place they deemed suitable.

                My idea for safer roads is everyone must obtain a CDL. Then, with that knowledge, you could drive a car too(that’s the way it works now, I’m covered under the doubles, triples, tankers, etc. and motorcycles with cars being thrown in gratis…..and I can even drive one of those like I did Saturday even though it seemed strange…..and scary up side those big rigs on the interstate, but that’s just me).

                Last year in a small town we built a huge pad and other stuff. It was the same route 15-16 times a day. One intersection where the intersecting road came in was about a 120 degree left turn(thankfully it was a left turn). Most people would see a truck coming, and many of them had finally learned, to not pull up there and effectively block that turn. Now if the ass of the trailer had not been stopped on a major highway, it would have posed little risk but we didn’t get to pick the route so we took what was there. So many times people(esp. women, and yes some really shiny ones who grinned really big and waved)would pull up to the stop sign and wait for us. I’d stop in the road and wave them on. Most realized they were blocking me and turned at my behest. Others, clueless ones, would continue to sit there and wave and ask me to go ahead and turn. Luckily the barditch was level with the road at that point and we promptly ruined the side of the road having to turn into the barditch and then back up on the road to be done with that Mexican stand-off SOME people just flat never understood. Of course when there is no place to go the stand-off continues until the car moves. The next car back has had a lesson in geometry so they stay their spot and let me turn. Real life instruction is the best way for those who can’t think “outside the box” or have no conception of angles, turning radii, etc.

                • We all have to live with the government’s poor road design. The turn I mention I’ve seen many truckers make the turn properly. Plus this isn’t the main way in or out of the industrial area. The trucker who can’t make the turn because of his skill set or the truck is too long or too broken or whatever can go down to the next intersection which is bigger and is the main way in and out. It’s clearly a little intersection with a stop sign. The next traffic light and the larger intersection are clearly visible.

                  Coming up with one’s own social rules of the road is akin to the motorists who’ve tried to run me off the road because they believe bicyclists shouldn’t be there. Or the truckers who decided to brush pass me and thus nearly kill me because unlike the a-hole in a SUV or something the truck has suction and space to end up under it.

                  • I have a problem with STOP signs anyway. Yield, means such and if you should need to stop then that’s what yield means. If nothing’s coming then obviously there is no need to stop or even slow significantly. Of course you’d need to have some order of right of way and that would require everyone to be able to remember that order. Ok, never mind, I guess stop signs are good…..for some.

                    • Back before I came to realize what a racket ‘law enforcement’ is, I used to say I had a vision problem. Whenever the roads were slick, all stop signs would change from red to yellow and lose 5 corners.
                      Now I do that all the time, at least in areas where there is not likely to be a LEO watching.

                    • PtB, You woulda laughed at this. Yesterday a DOT ran me down on the exit ramp and followed me all lit up under the underpass. When I had everything lined up and some room for traffic to pass I jumped out of the cab, no time to let him inspect for me wearing the proper restraint(sic) system and ran back to him. I told him my destination just a few hundred yards away had plenty room to get off the road for whatever he had in mind(hell, I knew, the idiots who put new springs on this new trailer I was pulling set the springs on this bolt that keeps the springs in place, a full 4.5″ below the spring pocket equalizer). He was concerned it was a hazard(it was). So we went to the Tx DOT location this load was headed to. He then proceeded to examine trailer thoroughly and couldn’t come up with anything(in his book, The Book) although it clearly wasn’t right. I explained to him, just like I had to the boss what was wrong. But it didn’t fit anything in his book. So I walk around, bump tires, drain air tanks, drink some spicy V-8, brush the floor on Step Child and tried like hell to get the headlights(unsuccessfully) to work while he looked. I continued to explain and then started heckling him a bit. When he examined the steering I told him to look closely at the pitman arm he’s just marked. I told him to get his head really close to it and turned the wheel a bit so it turned the tire into it to make my point. He said he’d narrowly escaped that very thing. I said it was no doubt done on purpose….and he laughed. I ended up having a decent conversation with this guy, a first in this new age type people. He was a nice guy and got my jokes. You coulda pushed me over with a feather. They musta let him slip through the cracks. He only wrote me up for 4 items, 2 of which were revenue and to be honest, were serious dangers and if I saw a truck like that I would have stopped the driver and asked WTF was going on. So he says he’s going to red tag the trailer(I would have, tried to actually in attempting to get it fixed). So, since we’re at the point of unloading, he allowed me to unload at my behest so he could see the trailer with no load. I explained a great deal to him and he appreciated it, said he didn’t claim to know it all. Neither do I but I did know this. So I pull out and head to a shop after unloading and he put on his blues and reds and I pull over. We clearly have a lack of communication I thought. Well, he says, now I see it unloaded, I can let you take it 22 miles to the yard and fix it. I was amazed and impressed, a man of logic. So I took it to the yard and we worked on it all afternoon. It ain’t right but it’s sooooo much better.

                      This sorta made me think there was hope for humanity.

                      Then this morning, early, and a friend and I had loaded and were leaving a quarry right beside the interstate. This other DOT sees us and as we make the round and pull onto the roadway he’s already in the barditch in between the lanes. I figure it’s the same guy and he’s going to go back over the problems the day before. I’m behind so I watched the guy turn into the traffic and stop my buddy. I just gave it hell going by and laughed out loud knowing what my buddy was thinking(almost honked and then thought better of it). This was our second load, over 4 hours later from our first and we just didn’t want to get hassled since it was hot and we had stuff to do. He ended up making this guy go get a low tire repaired and wrote him up for some other things, one of which was no cab card for his tractor, not a good thing and I’ve been there before, just recently in fact. They never could find the trailer I was pulling that day, it existed in some other century(literally) and reality. I won’t touch it again and neither will anyone else with a brain. That guy let me go and only wrote me up for 17 infractions that time. Some were ludicrous and some weren’t.

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