I moved to austin from Providence, RI last October. If you’ve ever lived in RI or the surrounding areas you know the driving manners leave something to be desired. Rhode Islanders are avid practitioners of the “Rhody Left” where you and the driver across from you both have a green light and no left turn arrow, and the driver across the intersection unapologetically cuts you off to make their left turn before you can go straight. A complete right-of-way violation and Initially terrifying, but also quite customary--you just learn to expect it. In fact just the other week my heart made a little “awwww” of nostalgia when someone Rhody Left-ed me in Austin—my first time here.
But this isn’t about feelings--it's about driving. I had heard tell of “the traffic” in Austin just like I had heard about “that summer when it was 100 degrees for 3 months straight,” but if you’ve ever lived anywhere with population density, you know Austin’s traffic isn’t that bad and that summer is just hot. What everyone forgot to mention is that seemingly very few people on the road actually know how to drive safely and/or well.
The inquiring mind longs to wrap itself around these nuances of life with other people. At first I thought it was a fluke, but after road rage-inducing encounters practically every time I drove anywhere, I began to formulate a different hypothesis: everyone’s moving to austin from everywhere and somehow the worst drivers from each location are the ones who have self-selected to move here. And since everyone brings their own brand of bad driving habits, there’s no uniformity in bad driving maneuvers—it’s like a horrible driving grab bag every single time. Wholly unlike the Rhody Left, which you can easily anticipate because everybody does it all the time in RI. Driving in Austin is often a truly wild west experience.
Despite the great variety of weird, unjustifiable and dangerous maneuvers you encounter as a driver in Austin, I've managed to identify a few key moves to watch out for (and look forward to experiencing again and again):
1. Olympic-Level Tailgaiting
It’s the worst and super dangerous to boot. I have never had so many people drive so close to the back of my car. There is no uniformity in the perpetrators of this heinous driving act. Among the guilty: soccer moms, muscle car bros, people in trucks and practically everyone else. My only defense against this epic level of tailgating is the death glare I shoot in the rear view and putting on my hazard blinkers. If you know of any better ways to make this stop, please let me know.
2. the “i don’t care if your car is on fire—i still won’t let you merge”
Oh, merging. So many on ramps and off ramps; so little courtesy. The best is when you’re trying to merge into the left lane and the person in front of or behind you is trying to merge into the right lane and in theory you could just do this beautiful seamless ballet-like merge but what actually happens is you’ve got your blinker on and you're trying to merge but they’re right next to you and they won’t let you, so you either have to speed up and get dangerously close to the car in front of you (see tailgating) or slow way down and contribute to traffic so you can squeeze in. And then two seconds after you've merged you see them merge into your former lane, effectively switching places with you. It could have been so much easier!
3. the ghost merge
Speaking of merging... This one feels like you’re inside a game of Mario Kart. Barely a signal and instead of a linear, forward diagonal motion to merge it’s some kind of wild action-movie-style lane swap where all of a sudden the car that was in lane A is now in lane B almost instantaneously, as if by magic. But instead of magic it’s really just crazy driving that looks more like high speed swerving than actual merging.
4. the “oh, that’s what that was about?”
You’re going along on I-35. It’s some random time of day when there shouldn’t be any traffic at all and BAM! practically bumper to bumper. You slog through that for a while and wonder if someone got into an accident or something awful happened and then all of a sudden it opens up… right after you pass some bridge construction… one highway over in the opposite lane… which everyone apparently had to slow down and inspect. Good thing that was totally worth it.
It’s a daily battle against the road rage, but I presume I’m not alone in my fight. The best solution I’ve found is just opting for a bicycle as often as possible. Austin is a dream, but when it comes to driving it seems all the courtesy is used up in conversation and there’s not a lot left for the road!
Any other atrocious driving tendencies you've noticed? Or novel solutions? Speak now! Or at least please stop tailgating me :/