The Long Island Driver

The hubris and entitlement of bad driving.

Image: montauk-online.com

It’s probably happened to you, too: you’re driving on the Long Island Expressway, say, east-bound, with a consistent but moderate flow of traffic at about 60-65 MPH.  You’re driving in the left-hand lane, and in your rear view mirror, you notice the flash of a car in the distance: speeding up, swerving, switching lanes.  The driver quickly shoots around several cars and pulls up along your right, trying maniacally to swerve in front of you into your lane, but finds that he can’t due to a cluster of cars in front of him.  So he swerves away into the right-hand lane to pick his way through traffic, which takes him 20 to 30 seconds.  Finally, after the cluster of traffic subsides and the road clears a bit (likely in response to his actions), the driver speeds up to pass you again, only this time, in a gesture of apparent frustration and rage, he waits until his car is squarely in front of yours and applies his breaks, such that his rate of speed instantly decreases to less than 30 MPH, his car fish-tails from side to side, and dirt, rocks, and other debris are kicked up off the surface of the road in a steady stream.  Your choices within that split second include squarely rear-ending his car, or applying your own brakes in a panicked fashion, in hopes that you don’t lose control of your vehicle and that you’re not rear-ended yourself by the oncoming traffic.  You apply your brakes quickly, to the point of a rolling stop, and avoid the car in front of you, at which point the other driver changes lanes to the right, pulls up next to you, and flips you the “Long Island Salute” with his middle finger.  Charming.

Or perhaps you’ve experienced a similar on-road ambiance while exiting the Expressway and merging from an exit ramp onto another road: these ramps often serve a dual purpose for those both entering and exiting a roadway. So as you approach the oncoming road to your left, you increase your speed slightly in order to adjust to existing traffic, engage your left-turn signal, and begin looking for an opening in which to merge into the lane to your left.  Unfortunately, there’s a car speeding up in that lane, and they’re apparently not about to permit you to merge into their current lane until they’ve sped past you and merged into yours.  Of course, the car they’re driving isn’t equipped with the necessary horsepower to achieve this stunt, so instead of speeding past you into your current lane, the driver speeds up just slightly and begins merging into your lane — and directly into your car.  Again, your only split-second choices are to slam on your brakes and come to a sudden stop, again hoping you’re not rear-ended in the process, or to endure a certain collision from your left.  So you slam on your brakes, come to a stop, and the other driver swerves into your lane, speeding away as if this was the outcome the universe had in mind all along.

There are bad drivers everywhere; I’ve experienced them first-hand. And I am acutely aware that just about every driver on the road feels that they are a “better” driver than they are in reality, myself not excluded.  But I also feel that I’m responsible for my own actions, especially in situations where they can have a direct impact on the lives of others, such as when driving in a populated area.

A unique trait of the “bad” Long Island driver seems to be a false sense of entitlement: the driver “owns” the road and is superior to the other drivers, and therefore deserves to drive at any rate they choose, and on any piece of the roadway at any time, regardless of whoever may currently occupy that space.  I am not necessarily against the use of speed in particular: I think speed is not directly correlated to recklessness and can be maintained responsibly without endangering anyone, in moderation and in appropriate environments.  So I’m not saying everyone on the road should slow down.  It’s the reckless abandon and oblivion of entitlement of some drivers that seems to be the key here: this is what endangers and infuriates other drivers.

And it’s not “in your blood” or the way everyone drives: I was born and raised on Long Island, and I know plenty of people who don’t drive like a-holes.

I just don’t get it.

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9 thoughts on “The Long Island Driver

  1. I believe your article is right on the spot. I completely share your same view. I think that a false sense of entitlement as you wisely mentioned, is at the heart of the matter. Local law enforcement is mainly to blame in my opinion. They seem to allow all of this behaviour to occur. Whatever we learned in driver’s ed. is now out the window, and it’s officially a free for all; everyman for himself. The average Long Islander is programmed to feel they have the right to be arrogant, selfish, and display extreme impatience whenever they like. I give law enforcement an F- grade with regard to protecting drivers who are courteous, and follow the laws. I mainly travel the Southern State, Wantagh,and Meadowbrook Parkways. I am sickened with outrage to the point where commuting to work is no longer even barely tollerable, and so I am planning on reshaping my life so that I may work from home where it’s safe. This might seem tragic to some, but the odds are in my favor of having a longer life span.

    • I’m sorry to hear this has had such a negative and drastic impact on your quality of life. My commute, though not long in comparison to some, is often one of the most stressful elements of my day, if not _the_ most stressful, and that’s saying something, as my life is not without stress.

      As bad as 495 can be, I agree that some of the roads you frequently travel, especially those that go north-south, include some difficult merge spots even without the additional factor of other drivers.

      I hope your life grants and affords you the opportunity to work from home as you wish, and if not, I hope instead that you develop the ability to cope with this unfortunate aspect of our working class life and abstract away the stress that you surely don’t need.

  2. It seems to me that no matter what lane I’m in or at what speed I go, there is always someone on my ass. There is no such thing as leaving room between you and the car in front of you. Apparently people are afraid a car may get in front of them. Driving home on the Northern SP, the worst offenders are those that are in a hurry to go south on the Sagtikos. I’ve seen people drive around on the shoulder and pretend to get off at an exit just to go around. Everything can be going fine and then an asshole comes along to cause trouble. Then inevitably other assholes follow him in an attempt to get in on his attempt at domination. There is no such thing as a speed limit, apparently its just a suggestion. I’m not even saying i drive slow, but it doesn’t matter. You do 70, guy behind wants to do 80. Driving on Long Island has become so stressful that I don’t even feel like leaving the house on weekends. There’s no such thing as a leisurely drive anymore. The worst offenders in my experience are women in large SUVs. I had one woman on my ass so close that if i would have braked she would have hit me. Signalling is apparently a suggestion as well. God forbid you signal to change lanes, because it just tells people tio speed up or you may actually get in front of them. There is no enforcement of any laws that I can see.

    • I’m sorry for your frustration, and sorry to say I don’t think this situation has gotten any better in the five years since I created this post; indeed, it seems instead to have gotten worse as the area becomes even more populated, as people feel more crowded, as living costs continue to rise, and as general frustration grows.

    • I’m not sure where being selfish comes in here, or how it applies to the concept of a fast lane, but if you mean to suggest that people shouldn’t drive at or below the legal minimum speed in the left lane of a highway, I agree.

  3. The author is also the same guy at the green left arrow that hesitates then takes off stupid slow cause his selfish ass doesn’t care about the people behind him that would rather not wait another cycle.

    • Fortunately, it’s clear that you’re completely ignorant of the way I drive, despite your compulsion to comment on it. I would hope instead that what you’ve described here was an isolated incident that you’ve experienced, but I’m curious to know how being “stupid slow” makes one “selfish”.

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