Dave Barry

Bad driving: It's not just for old people


The other day, The Miami Herald ran a story concerning a 73-year-old motorist who was stopped by police.

This in itself is not remarkable. The streets of Miami-Dade County are teeming with motorists who should be stopped by police.

But this man was not driving on the streets.

He was driving on a runway at Miami International Airport.

Really. According to the story, the man ''burst through the southeast gate'' in his Chevrolet Cobalt and ''drove down runway 9.''

You will be relieved to learn that the police don't think he was a terrorist. Apparently he was just a driver who, like so many older drivers down here, got confused. Chances are that, even if the police hadn't stopped him, once he saw a 757 taxiing toward him, it would have dawned on him that he wasn't on Le Jeune Road.

Although not necessarily.

You have to wonder about the security at Miami International. I, personally, have had my shampoo and my toothpaste confiscated at MIA because they were in containers larger than three ounces. If I can't get near an airplane with personal hygiene products, how did this guy get through with a CAR?

But this incident raises a larger question in my mind, one that has been nagging at me lately: Are the drivers down here getting worse?

You're thinking, ''They can't get any worse!'' I used to think that, but lately I'm not so sure. For example, the other night I was driving on the Palmetto Expressway. (I know, I know.) Normally, on the Palmetto, traffic moves at an average speed of 53 miles per hour, calculated as follows:

 49 percent of the drivers are going 80 miles per hour.

 49 percent of the drivers are going 30 miles per hour.

 2 percent of the drivers are, for a variety of reasons, backing up.

But the other night, there was a fourth group of drivers out there: Young male idiots racing each other in cars traveling at -- this is a very conservative estimate -- the speed of light. It was terrifying. You're flowing along with the traffic, going either 80 or 30 miles an hour, and suddenly you see lights in your rearview mirror and, ZIPPPPPP, this weaving blur hurtles past and cuts you off, and while the swear word is still forming in your brain, ZIPPPPPP, another one cuts you off, and then ZIPPPPPP ZIPPPPPP ZIPPPPPP, more of them, using the Palmetto Expressway as their own personal video game, with you playing the role of Annoying Obstacle. It's no use honking your horn at the idiots because the sound waves can't catch them.

If you're wondering how I could tell, at night, that these particular blurs were young males, the answer is: because that's who drives that way. That's how I would have driven when I was a young male idiot, except that I was driving my mom's 1961 Plymouth Valiant, which had basically the same top speed as the Lincoln Memorial.

But today's young male idiots are equipped with much better automotive technology, and they're out there on the same streets as the confused older drivers (of which I am rapidly becoming one). To make matters worse, a new driving hazard is popping up all around Miami-Dade: the traffic circle.

Traffic circles are a good thing, if drivers understand the rules. But this is Miami, where drivers find the concept of ''yield'' to be more baffling than quantum physics. Some drivers barge into the circle regardless of whether there are cars already in it. Other drivers come to a full stop, even when the circle is empty, eyeing it warily, as if it were a space/time warp that might suck them into another dimension. Still others barge into the circle and THEN stop. (It goes without saying that these same drivers would never dream of stopping at, for example, a stop sign.)

Anyway, my opinion, as a person who has been driving down here for more than 20 years, is that the roads are getting worse. What can we do about this? Several solutions come to mind:

 Young males should be issued restricted licenses that allow them to drive only during certain times, namely, the distant future. If that's illegal, we should require them to drive 1961 Valiants.

 Likewise, older motorists unable to pass a simple test (''Where are you?'') would be restricted to driving in the past.

 Miami International Airport should take some security people off Shampoo Patrol and have them guard the gates.

 Just in case, they should also put signs at the ends of the runways saying ''NOT LE JEUNE ROAD.''

I don't have a solution for the traffic circles. Your best bet is to avoid them. If you find yourself in one, close your eyes. That's what everybody else is doing.

I realize this rant has been pretty negative, so I want to end with this thought: I truly believe that we, the drivers of Miami, can do better. I believe that our streets could be safe -- even pleasant -- if we were willing to take our responsibilities as drivers seriously, and to show each other a little basic courtesy.

In other words, we're doomed.

©2008 Dave Barry

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