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Good drivers pay toll for others' irresponsibility

Bill Cosby used to have a comedy routine in which he said that we think that all drivers who drive slower than us are idiots and those who drive faster than us are maniacs. That is pretty much how we tend to view others as they slow us down or zoom by us.

I have lived in many states, and in every state I have heard the phrase, "Florida (or California or Indiana or Maryland, etc., etc.) has the worst drivers in the U.S." This is always said with absolute authority even if the person has lived in one state all of his or her life.

But what may be closer to the truth is that every state has a hard core of idiot drivers, and they are absolutely immune to any sort of attempt to change their ways through education or enforcement of the law.

You will often notice, for instance, that the same driver who cut you off in the last block also changes lanes without indicating his intentions, is going about 20 miles over the speed limit and has his lights off even in dark and stormy conditions.

I once happened to drop in on a court in the Midwest when a man influential in our community, a furniture store owner, was in court for a serious traffic violation. I sat fascinated as his list of past traffic offenses was read. Naturally, he had a lawyer with him and, also naturally, he got off with what I considered to be a very light punishment.

This was the same state, by the way, in which I lost my younger brother, my brother-in-law and my niece to traffic accidents. When this chronic traffic offender got off with only a couple of months suspension of his license, I shuddered to think who would have to pay the price in tragedy before this idiot lost his license for good.

It seems that no matter how much we warn people about driving drunk or not driving in anger, there are people for whom those words mean absolutely nothing. This is true because even though driving is one of the most important responsibilities we have, there is no true and sure way to teach intelligence and responsibility behind the wheel.

So we have a hefty percentage of drivers who pull into and out of parking lots as if they were driving an emergency vehicle. We see people driving a foot away from the car in front of them to "hurry" the other driver. We see people driving at full speed through stop signs and passing on double and quadruple yellow lines just because they feel like it.

Some people want to put generational labels on terrible drivers. This or that age group is responsible, they say, and we should come down on them. But here is the bottom line to all of this that has nothing to do with the age of drivers: More bad things happen to stupid people.

People who drive stupidly have more things happen to them than people who drive smart. However, if they would only hurt themselves, perhaps we could look the other way and wish them well, wherever they were going.

But smart drivers pay the price as well. My brother-in-law was a solid family man whom I knew to be a very good driver. But he had no chance one night when he was driving home from work and two teenagers raced each other on both sides of a two-lane road.

It is this toll good drivers must pay that makes most of us think all drivers are inept. For those who try to do the right thing and try to obey the laws, there is the hope that their number will not come up one day when a stupid and careless driver feels like violating three or four different traffic laws within a couple of blocks.

I once took a driver's test in another state because my license was not legible after going through the washing machine. To my surprise, the officer riding with me complimented me on my driving after the test. But I was wise enough to know that perhaps it wasn't that I was such a great driver but that so many others he rode with were poor drivers.

Even if one considers himself or herself a good and smart driver who tries to concentrate on the vital task of driving, sometimes mistakes are made. But I am not talking about the driver who has an occasional lapse in judgment or concentration; I am talking about the people who think they are born to be wild when they get behind the wheel and who figure they are the only ones on the road.

Until we figure out how to get the chronic offenders off the road, I can only admonish all the responsible drivers with the words the sergeant in Hill Street Blues used to say: "Let's be careful out there."

_ Douglas Spangler lives in New Port Richey. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.