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Guts = Courtesy?

First, a little background to this story:

On my way home from work, to get to my freeway on-ramp, I have to cross the weirdest little intersection. Stick with me here; it’s somewhat complicated.

Just before the on-ramp, there is an intersection with four northbound lanes: left-turn only, left-turn/straight, straight only, and right-turn only. If you go straight on the left-turn/straight lane, it turns into a turn-only lane that directs you onto the freeway almost immediately. That is my route.

I approach the intersection on a small single-lane side street running parallel with the freeway. However, before I reach it, there is an off-ramp for the northbound lanes. The cars leaving the freeway have no stop sign, and often cross my path at near-freeway speeds, only slowing down when they reach the four lanes of the intersection about a hundred feet to my right.

My road has a stop sign, warning us that “cross traffic does not stop”. Therefore, anyone approaching this particular intersection from that road has to stop at the stop sign and wait for a gap in the off-ramp traffic to scoot across and into their chosen lane before someone comes flying off the exit again. Most days it’s not a long wait, though – I usually only have to wait for a few cars to go by before there’s a big enough space.

Okay! Tedious description done.

Now, on this particular day the traffic on the freeway was unusually horrible, so any car that could get to the exit was evacuating like rats off a sinking ship. This meant a steady, nonstop stream of cars were blocking my way to the intersection. Curses.
Still, these things happen, so I settled in to wait as one by one the cars ahead of me found their chances and scuttled across. Finally, there was only a single van in front of me, when the flow coming off the freeway suddenly got much worse, just barely a car-length between each exiting vehicle, and I was just feeling bad for the poor van driver when the guy behind me …honked. What? (I actually said it out loud, I was so flabbergasted) What?! Could they not see that there was no space to cross in? What on earth were they honking for?

A brief aside here – I should mention that this is all happening just north of Seattle. We Washingtonians, we only honk for three reasons: 1. The person in front of us hasn’t seen that the light has turned green – that earns the tiniest, politest meep we can manage; 2. Someone does not see us and attempts to merge into us – our response tends to be a firmer but still polite beep! to remind them we’re there; 3: Someone cuts us off so egregiously that we feel we have been endangered – we’ll go HONK! for that, but we’ll feel guilty for being so harsh later.

So, when Guy Behind Me started to honk, I was astounded. What was he trying to accomplish? The van couldn’t move until it found a spot- oh! There it went! It was my turn now!

And then the cars came, and came, and came, and I waited and waited and waited, and then GBM honked again! What. Seriously?

I waited some more, and a spot passed that a very fast sports car might have made it through (but not my tiny ancient truck) and GBM honked yet again, and then some guy a few cars back laid on his horn too.

After I got over my astonishment that I was being apparently peer-pressured to drive directly into the cross traffic, I chose to simply ignore them and wait for a safe gap. None was forthcoming for a while, and the intersection light cycled through a green light. The guy a few cars back started yelling something out his window. I ignored him until at last there was one car in the river of vehicles that was going slow enough for me to safely cross and enter my lane – the left-turn/straight lane that leads directly onto the freeway. GBM tailgated me across the gap instead of doing his own legal stop at the sign, but fine. Whatever. Maybe he was really late for something.

Here’s where it gets good.

As I was sitting there in my lane waiting for the light to turn green again, I realized I could hear shouting. I rolled down my window, and in my side mirror I saw that the Guy a Few Cars Back had pulled up right behind me and was yelling at me. He had one arm out the window and about an eighth of his head, so all I could see of him was that gesticulating arm, some floofy 80’s-curled hair, and his left ear. I found it quite amusing until I heard him shout this: “Hey! Hey, lady, how about a little COURTESY?”


Was he calling me uncourteous for not taking my life in my hands and potentially causing somebody to crash into me?

He continued, “How about a little COURTESY, lady, you’ve gotta have guts! You can’t just sit there and WAIT!”

Now, I’m generally pretty non-confrontational, but his accusation seemed so monumentally unfair that I had to respond. After all, here I thought I was being courteous to the drivers exiting the freeway by not cutting across in front of them and making them crash into me and kill me and all. They probably have a hard enough life without that on their conscience.

So I shouted back, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to risk my life for a green light!”

“Well you’ve gotta have GUTS lady, there’s not going to just BE a hole!”

It’s hard to sound icy while shouting at someone out your car window, but I tried my best.

“Clearly there was one.” I yelled frostily, and declined to speak again. So did he, but mostly because the light turned green.

But wait! Here’s the best part: he followed me through the intersection, perhaps with the intent of continuing our discussion, but was apparently not familiar with the lanes and therefore did not realize that he was following me onto the freeway until it was almost too late. He had to swerve desperately into the correct lane, egregiously cutting someone off in the process, and got a HONK! of outrage for his discourtesy. I laughed half of the way home. 0724-12


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • inNM July 27, 2012, 1:02 am

    3 Points:
    1. When I was learning to drive in Trinidad and Tobago, my mother had me practice driving in the slow lanes on the highway with her in the front passenger seat. I shared the road with truckers hauling semis at 70+miles per hour (anyone who ever did physics, you can only imagine the momentum these vehicles are moving with). After observing me jerking the wheel to avoid the trucks tailgating me, my mother shared this pearl of wisdom: “If they are such great drivers, let them figure out a way to drive around you.” I still use it, especially when dealing with tailgaters in New Mexico.

    2. Speaking of driving in Trinidad and Tobago, our horn culture is quite different to most of the world. We can have a whole conversation with horns. A horn is used for everything; from saying “Hello” to multiple swearwords; and each meaning has a distinct horn pattern, and everyone knows them. In NM, where horns aren’t used the same, I’ll use my horn to alert someone of possible imminent danger (like you’re going to hit me if you don’t stop/pay attention)

    3. My dad taught defensive driving. While it was a pain to be taught (he pushed me harder than any of his other students), the lessons were definitely appreciated in the long run. Among other things, he taught me how to read the road (the hazards, the drivers, the pedestrians) and basic techniques on how to minimize risk based on how they’re probably going to react. RIP Daddy.

  • OP July 27, 2012, 4:01 am

    OP here! Thanks everyone for your advice and stories! I have always felt somewhat lucky in driving in Washington that we tend very strongly toward the “seethe under your breath” type of road rage rather than the bats n’ guns kind, but you are all absolutely correct that I shouldn’t have said anything back to him.
    Honestly, I surprised myself – I am REALLY non-confrontational as a rule, and I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve successfully managed a snappy comeback. It was just that the crack about courtesy seemed so monstrously unjust, my wounded pride must have taken over my mouth for a moment.
    But trust me, I have no intention of doing it again – a 24-year-old girl in an elderly truck that complains about going over 70 mph wouldn’t stand a chance against real road rage. My only defense would be my aging collie that goes everywhere with me, and he’s only good for barking and, I don’t know, falling asleep on bad guys maybe?
    I was lucky – lucky that he was only interested in shouting and lucky that what he shouted was so hilariously hypocritical that it makes for a funny story instead of a scary one.

  • Green123 July 27, 2012, 6:13 am

    Regardless of the situation, anyone who calls me ‘Lady’ in that tone of voice gets ignored completely.

  • Kelley Mesiti July 27, 2012, 6:25 am

    oh yes, the Very Special Snowflake Drivers! Love them. Had one of my own, and also where karma exhibited its sense of humor. I was in a very similar setup as the OP (I was in NH). The SS was behind me at a light to turn on the highway and was apparently maddened that I hadn’t run the yellow turning red light, how dare I stop! So he proceeds to just lay on the horn for a full 5 seconds at a time (which is a long time to honk a horn) He continues to do this, thinking it will solve…. I don’t know? He is much too important to have to wait behind others. So finally our light changes, he immediately honks again. I ignore him and start to go onto the highway. He goes *around* me onto the highway. He decides that he is not done showing me his wrath and now tailgates to the point I cannot even see his headlights. On the highway. At highway speed. So I move into the middle lane, he moves over and continues to tailgate me. I slow down a little to get him to move over. He swerves around me to ride up alongside and starts flailing and gesticulating and screaming out his window at me. I ignore him, looking straight ahead, which seems to incense him further. He swerves in front of me to cut me off, flashing the finger wave at me in his rearview. I ignore him and slow down a bit. Determined to get a rise out of me, he slams on his brakes, and luckily I avoid him because I had slowed down some. He gets up next to me again to scream some more and finally speeds off in his very special sports car. He showed me! Right? So about a half mile up, I move to the right lane to prepare to exit, and on the side of the road there is VSS Driver pulled over by two very angry looking state police. 🙂 NH has no tolerance for road rage, and right on the sign welcoming you to NH it states “please drive with courtesy”. 😉 In my joyous state, (I admit in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have done) since I was in the right lane, next to him, I gave a very light and short toot and waved. He saw me. I smiled. He scowled. I chuckled the whole way home, reveling in karma.

  • Angela July 27, 2012, 7:37 am

    It’s not just cities. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountain area. One night it was very rainy and I slowed down considerably for the last 3 miles of my drive home. The road was pretty “twisty” and not lit at all, and I had my toddler daughter in the car. The driver behind me started riding my bumper with the bright lights on! When I turned into my driveway he or she hit the horn loudly. God forbid someone drive safely under adverse conditions.
    I have seen it from another perspective though (which doesn’t apply to the OP). This is a very scenic area and people often drive very slowly on these curvy, no-passing-zone roads to enjoy it. That’s fine, but it’s local etiquette to pull over if traffic is starting to slow down behind you. They pass you and then you can go on your leisurely way. Some people don’t apparently think of it. Visit and look all you like, we are happy to have you, but be mindful that there are people who live here who have to go to work and school.

  • Jen a. July 27, 2012, 7:54 am

    Oh, road rage. It’s never sensical. I mean, if the rager in the OP’s story was in such a rush he wanted to the OP to risk their life, why did he have time to follow them into the wrong lane? There really is no such thing as accidents. If everyone followed the rules of the road there wouldn’t be many crashes at all.


    Your father-in-law would probably blow a gasket if he ever came to my home town. We just got roundabouts, and you would think it was the most complex thing every introduced. There are no words to describe the stupidity. We’re a polite place, so people will slam on their brakes in the middle of them to let other people merge (or paradoxically speed up when they see another car waiting to go in), go the wrong way through, and merge suddenly in front of other vehicles because they don’t understand who has right of way. Astonishingly, there has only been one accident so far, and it was a minor fender bender.

  • The Elf July 27, 2012, 8:09 am

    I’m with the “don’t engage” crowd, even though I’ve succumbed more than once. I’m trying harder to not respond these days.

    One time, on the bike, someone tried to merge into my lane on the highway. This happens a lot – less frequently since I got louder pipes. People just don’t see “one headlight” as a vehicle, if they see a motorcycle at all. As usual, I swerved to the far side of my lane and honked. Typically, the driver jerks back into their own lane. This one jerked back, then came over again. I guess they just felt entitled to my little peice of pavement. With my right hand I rolled on the gas (to get ahead of him) and with my left hand I flipped him off. Big mistake. Now he’s behind me, pissed off, and totally tailgating. In addition, I’m tailgating the car ahead of me, since I had to accelerate to avoid the collision. This is a very dangerous situation for me – if I have to brake, he will be unable to stop in time and will crush me between the two cars. That’s just basic physics. I had to do some pretty fancy riding – and awkward lane changing of my own – to get enough ahead of him that I felt safe.

  • Justin July 27, 2012, 8:27 am

    Probably worse than the confrontational drivers though are the cheerful ones. I had another day where do to construction a two lane road was merging to one and the left lane was ending. A woman drove all the way up the left lane passing several people trying to cut ahead. As there were several large traffic gaps behind me to merge in to I opted to maintain my speed instead of slowing to let her in. Woman decides to merge in anyway forcing me to swerve on to the shoulder to avoid an accident. When I laid on the horn she cheerfully waived.

  • Cher630 July 27, 2012, 10:43 am

    I’m learning how to drive (as a NYC native, I never felt the need, but moving upstate, you have to!). I DESPISE agressive drivers and in NY, there are SO MANY! I drive the speed limit, use my signal, obey all the traffic signs, etc…others cars feel the need to lay on the horn and swerve around me. It’s hard to stay one car length behind the car in front of you when the car behind you is tailgating and trying to get you to speed up. What if the guy in front of me stops? I refuse to risk my life. I would rather get to my destination 5 minutes late than in a body bag.

  • Goldie July 27, 2012, 11:21 am

    Um, Justin, the woman was actually doing the right thing — by going all the way to end of her lane, she avoids unnecessarily blocking the traffic in her left lane. You on the other hand, blocked her from merging when she had nowhere else to go, laid on the horn when she had the nerve to merge anyway, and are now complaining about her, on an etiquette forum of all places. Hate to break it, she did nothing wrong — can’t say the same about you though. The reason she cheerfully waved was probably because she chose not to argue with a road rager, which is how you must’ve come across to her. Also, she was thanking you for letting(?) her merge. Good etiquette in my book.

    Anyway I’m posting back on here with two tales of caution that I have…

    1. My elderly dad, was once driving in a 25 MPH zone, trying to change lanes and (knowing dad) possibly being overly cautious about it. So the driver behind Dad honks at him. That spooked Dad, he promptly changed lanes, and got hit by another car. Luckily no one was hurt. Moral of the story, like other commenters said, no one gets to tell me how to drive my car. I’ll change lanes when I’m good and ready. And for crying out loud people, go easy on your horn. No matter how late you’re running, an accident in your lane will make you even later, so don’t try and cause one!

    2. I once had a coworker with anger issues. Apparently one day, as he was driving with his wife and three young children in the car, someone had cut him off or otherwise offended his sensibilities on the freeway. So my coworker starts following the guy, down the freeway, off the freeway, down side streets, until the guy finally stopped and so did the coworker. Well my coworker was a big boy, but the guy apparently was stronger, seeing as he gave my coworker a thorough beating in front of his wife and three kids. How do I know the story? — he told it to people in the office when they asked why he had a black eye. Moral of the story, don’t go all road ragey on people you don’t know, you may lose this battle.

  • Amanda H. July 27, 2012, 2:05 pm

    @Cher630: interesting how perceptions are. I learned to drive in Upstate NY, and currently live in a different part of Upstate, and have had very little trouble with agressive drivers. Southern CT, on the other hand…. Yikes. It’s refreshing to be back in an area where people actually pay attention to the “don’t block side streets” rule. Gridlock was horrible in New Haven, and if you were sensible and didn’t cross the intersection (on a green) when there wasn’t room to get all the way across, you had no fewer than three impatient people behind you honking up a storm. And that was just one driving etiquette problem of many in that area.

  • nk July 27, 2012, 6:53 pm

    @ Goldie – The woman in Justin’s story did do something wrong: she merged into traffic when there wasn’t enough room for her, almost causing an accident and forcing a driver to pull over just so he wouldn’t hit her, instead of waiting for a safe time to merge. This is exactly what the boor in the original post wanted the OP to do, so how is that woman any less wrong than he is?

  • Sarah July 27, 2012, 8:01 pm

    I have a rather odd driveway off a one way street. It’s one wide lane just big enough for two Small cars. Any time I have to pull in, I put on my blinker, make sure I’m in the middle of the lane so nobody can go around me (someone once tried to go past me and almost killed us both) and turn quickly into the driveway. I don’t actually brake until the car is 80% into the driveway and it doesn’t affect traffic flow at all.

    I was once driving home with my brother and sister in the car, and pulled into the driveway by doing this. The guy behind me decided that although I had my blinker on, two children in the car, and hadn’t slowed him down at all, he was going to speed up, honk his horn repeatedly, swear, flip the bird and drive up the gutter on the far side of the street to go around me. Unfortunately for him, my stepdad saw the whole thing. Even worse, he got stuck at the red light at the intersection two doors down from my place. My stepdad decided to have a little ‘talk’ with him. He saw my stepdad walking down to him and ran the red light, almost hitting another car.

    What a moron.

  • WeekendDriver July 27, 2012, 11:35 pm

    Favorite, I lived in Front Range City known for being under-laned and a swervy curvy mess (and not the capitol) and… there was a fellow with a light goldish tanish beemer who loved to zip and zap and joggle for every half a car length he could get with a phone (the generation between bricks and real phones) in his ear; and he was very much honkfodder plus an accident waiting to happen, and he’d take the shoulders if he could manage to or split lanes which is illegal there… and he could swear and gesticulate at you too. His goal in life was to make it to wherever he needed to go, get there before he left, and tell everything and everyone off as he went. Highway patrol NEVER seemed to see him.

    I met him a few times as I tried to run interstate heading south, and I assumed he was heading for the next burg in the sprawl to do whatever was so allfire important.

    I’m behind a semi doing the speedlimit on the right. Another semi slides up on us because of speed we are all going, and Mr. Beemer is back there doing all his maneuvers and he’s painted onto my tail because he thinks I just MIGHT get going faster, then as he’s back there the other semi shows up. the guy is starting to literally rip his hair out and jockey back and forth behind me in right lane and the other semi in left lane looking for his way OUT and the shoulders are too narrow to run up…

    The semi driver does the gesture for CB , I shake my head slightly for no, and in front of my chest I use one hand to thumb point BACK. He apparently called the semi ahead of me.

    I see my exit, I signal, and Mr. Beemer is giving me sign language like good riddance, and the two semis lockstep at 55, and head merrily down the interstate. With Mr. Beemer ripping his hair out, having a real dance in his seat, screaming all sorts of stuff at them and into his phone… and.

    They finally did get him. Another friend who also knew Mr. Beemer said down by the certain exit about four miles down the highway patrol finally caught him. And he made the mistake of roadraging at the HP, and this was about a month after some fellow had shot another (at that time this didn’t happen) about 5 miles north of where the semi’s had ganged up on this dude. Poetic, hope he finally learned to chill out after that jail sentence and all those fines.

  • AS July 28, 2012, 2:30 pm

    @Goldie’s response to Justin’s story – when you are merging into a lane, the person merging yeilds to any other car who is already in the lane. Period.
    The woman did not yeild to Justin’s car. And given that the road is blocked due to construction, it is safe to assume that there were broken white lines for some time before the end of the lane, and she should have tried to merge earlier when she had the chance to do so (which Justin says that she did have enough space behind her).This woman obviously wanted to go as far in front as possible before she has to slow down like the other “not so clever” drivers who were driving carefully and trying to not to inconvenience other drivers and avoid any mishaps.

  • whatever July 29, 2012, 2:10 am

    one time i was sitting in my car at a red traffic light on my way out of a big company parking lot. there was one car in front of me, the driver happily chatting away with her phone on her ear (which is against the law where i live, you have to use a hands free set while driving). so, after a while, the traffic light turned green. the car in front of me didn’t move.
    i thought that she maybe missed the turning of the light, so i honked briefly. she did not move. so i honked again, a bit longer.
    she angrily turned around in her car, angrily gesticulating to her phone, basically accusing me of disturbing her conversation. HELLO?! this is not a parking lot, this is an intersection!

    since the intersection is with a very major road of the city, the green light is very short and usually allows 3-5 cars to get out before turning again. so it was red again.

    since no one was behind me, i backed up a bit to be able to swerve around her should she not move again at the next green light, and waited.

    the green light came, and she stood fixed, still chatting away on her phone. i honked one last time, to let her know the light was green again, and then proceeded to swerve around her. while i was going past her, she had the nerve to give me the finger.

    as the light turned red again, i saw her in my rearview mirror, still standing at the traffic light and chatting away on her phone.

  • Jade July 29, 2012, 6:46 am

    I’m with everyone who said the OP shouldn’t have shouted at the honker, it’s never a good idea to engage with these people.

    In the city I’m from we have trams running as transport through large parts of the city. The rules for these are the same as for school buses – when the lights are flashing and the doors are open all motorists must come to a stop behind the tram until the doors are closed and all the passengers are off the road.

    One day I was driving behind a tram and it pulled to a stop, so I stopped behind it as required. Behind me and to the left was a driveway and when I had pulled up a man tried to drive out of this driveway and make a left to proceed up the road behind me. There were still people disembarking from the tram and standing on the road, which meant that I couldn’t move forward through the tram stop. This in no way stopped this gentleman from leaning on the horn and cursing out his open window even though he could clearly see the tram and the passengers on the road. When the road cleared and the way was safe I drove forward. At the next intersection I turned right. My friend from the driveway also turned right, came up on my inside and tried to force me off the road and crash me into a parked car. I did not make any reply, any hand gestures, any acknowledgement of his presence so I shudder to imagine what he would have done if I wound down my window and argued back at him. Being in the right wouldn’t have saved me from getting my teeth kicked in.

  • Justin July 29, 2012, 8:23 am

    @Goldie, the left lane closed merge right signs started a mile back and the majority of people merge at the first safe opportunity. Some people including the woman in my story take advantage of the fact that this empties the left lane and they can pass a bunch of people. While she may have been surprised if she was ignoring signs instead of waiting the 5-10 seconds for a gap to open, one of the same gaps she had ignored to get ahead she merged without looking. I rarely use my horn, and of the times I have the majority are when another vehicle tried to occupy the same space I was already in.

    When I see people waiting to merge I look in the rearview and see if traffic is heavy behind me, if it is I will slow opening a gap and let one person in. If there are gaps I maintain speed. Frequently altering speed can also cause accidents.

  • Enna July 29, 2012, 12:27 pm

    That stupid driver is going to get his comupance one day if he hasn’t had it already when he is involved with a crash – driving like that and his attidute could get himself killed one day. I’m amazed that he got out the car and had a go at the OP. I wouldn’t have apologised – would have said “I’m not prepared to risk my life so you save a few seconds. You would have been held up even more if I had crashed.”

    Mum dropped me off at train staion once and on the way at one of the roundabouts it was too busy for mum to go and this idiot was hooting at her. Yes he may have been in a hurry but it was TOO close for mum to get out safely. If she had gone and crashed he would have been held up a lot longer!

  • Lydia July 29, 2012, 5:54 pm

    Ugh, I feel like drivers in general have lost a lot of common sense/courtesy lately. I’ve had two similar experiences.

    1. Stopped at a stop sign, really awkward angled, slightly blind corner, where you can’t quite be sure if people are turning or not. I was going to turn left, and couldn’t be sure what the traffic going either direction was doing, so I waited until there was a safe gap. Van behind me pulls up, sits for a bit then lays on the horn and starts waving out the window. Thankfully a gap came soon after that and I was able to drive away.

    2. About a week and a half after I got rear-ended by a commercial van, I was driving my parents van with my two little brothers in the back. We were waiting to turn right on a very busy street, and the lights were against us. Granted the way was probably clear enough for some people, but I was still dealing with post-accident anxiety, and didn’t want to take any risks. We turn and change lanes to the left, the car behind me races up on my right side, changes lanes to cut me off and slams on the brakes then drove away! I was thankfully paying attention, so I stopped before I hit her, but I was so shaken up, I had to call my parents to come and drive the rest of the way home. 🙁

  • Missiletoe July 29, 2012, 9:42 pm

    One time I was coming through the gate of my apartment complex and I had to stop because there were ducks crossing the road. The car behind me decided he had to honk at me. I know he couldn’t see the ducks but what am I supposed to do, run over the damn ducks? I sat there until I could swerve around them. I hope that guy saw those ducks and felt like an asshole afterwards for honking at me.

  • Enna July 30, 2012, 11:09 am

    P.S it is not courtous to other drivers to drive dangerously to save some impatient idiot a few seconds.

  • Ryn July 31, 2012, 10:09 pm

    Ha, I think I live right next to exactly the intersection described here. Drivers in Seattle are so passive-aggressive, they like to try and make you feel bad because they aren’t good at driving. And don’t get me started on the bicyclists.

  • Goldie August 1, 2012, 9:27 am

    @ Justin & others — to be clear, personally, if I know a lane’s closing, I merge as soon as possible, even though I do realize (and have in fact read and heard that in several places) that merging too early, in essence, doubles the traffic in the lane you’re merging into — ideally people should go as far as they can down the lane that’s closing, and then take turns — that would speed up the traffic in both lanes. However I merge early, because I’m a chicken, and because I know that most people would refuse to let me in just for the fun of it, so I take the first chance I get. That doesn’t make it right, though. Where I live, too many people will speed up as soon as a driver in the next lane puts their blinker on, as though, if they let the person merge in front of them, they somehow lose at life. If that wasn’t your case, I apologize.