Dave Barry

Driving while stupid

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sept. 22, 2002.)

So I have to tell you what I saw on the interstate the other night.

First, though, you must understand that this was not just any old interstate. This was I-95 in downtown Miami, proud home of the worst darned drivers in the world.

I realize some of you are saying: ''Oh yeah? If you want to see REALLY bad drivers, you should come to MY city!''

Listen, I understand that this is a point of civic honor, and I am sure that the drivers in your city are all homicidal morons. But trust me when I tell you that there is no way they can compete with the team that Miami puts on the road.

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I know what I'm talking about. I have driven in every major U.S. city, including Boston, where the motorists all drive as though there is an open drawbridge just ahead, and they need to gain speed so they can jump across it.

I have also driven in Italy, where there is only one traffic law, which is that no driver may ever be behind any other driver, the result being that at all times, all the motorists in the nation, including those in funeral processions, are simultaneously trying to pass.

I have ridden in a taxi in the Argentinean city of Mar del Plata (literally, ``Cover your eyes''), where (a) nobody ever drives slower than 65 miles per hour, including inside parking garages, and (b) at night, many motorists drive with their headlights off, because-a taxi driver told me this, and he was absolutely serious-this extends the life of your bulbs. (When he told me this, we were in a major traffic jam caused by an accident involving a truck and a horse.)

I have also ridden on a bus in China, plowing through humongous traffic snarls involving trucks, cars, bicycles, ox-drawn carts and pedestrians, all aggressively vying for the same space, and where the bus driver would sometimes physically push pedestrians out of the way. I don't mean with his hands. I mean with the BUS.

My point is that I have seen plenty of insane driving techniques, and I am telling you for a fact that no place brings so many of these techniques together as Miami, where a stop sign has no more legal significance to most motorists than a mailbox. The police down here have given up on enforcing the traffic laws. If they stop you and find a human corpse in your trunk, they'll let you off with a warning if it's your first one.

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So I've seen pretty much everything on the roads here. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the driver on the interstate the other night. I heard him before I saw him, because his car had one of those extremely powerful sound systems, in which the bass notes sound like nuclear devices being detonated in rhythm. So I looked in the mirror and saw a large convertible with the top down overtaking me at maybe 600 miles per hour. I would have tried to get out of his path, but there was no way to know what his path was, since he was weaving back and forth across five lanes (out of a possible three).

Fortunately, he missed me, and as he went past, I got a clear view of why he was driving so erratically: He was watching a music video. He was watching it on a video screen that had been installed where the sun visor usually goes, RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS FACE, blocking his view of the road.

I don't want sound like an old fud, but this seems to me to be just a tad hazardous. I distinctly recall learning in driver's education class that, to operate a car, you need to be able to see where the car is going, in case the need arises (you never know!) to steer.

Of course, more and more, drivers do not have time for steering, as they are busy making phone calls, eating, reading, changing CDs, putting on makeup, brushing their teeth, etc. I recently received mail from an alert reader named Kate Chadwick who reports that she drove behind a man who was SHAVING HIS HEAD, with his ``visor mirror positioned just so, windows wide open for hair disposal, and for a significant portion of the ride, no hands on the wheel.''

But at least these drivers are able, from time to time, to glance at the road. Whereas the guy I saw on I-95 basically could see only his video.

I hope you agree with me that this is insane.

I also hope you are not reading this in your car.

© Dave Barry

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