How do you rate yourself as a driver?
No, that's a stupid question. You rate yourself above average. It's a well-known fact that all humans consider themselves to be above-average drivers, including primitive Amazonian mud people who have not yet discovered the wheel.
No amount of physical evidence will convince a bad driver that he or she is a bad driver. You take a motorist who, while attempting to pull out of a parking space, mistakes "forward" for "reverse," then, in an effort to correct this error, mistakes the accelerator for the brake and sends his car (an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme) lunging across a sidewalk and into a restaurant, attaining a speed of 37 mph by the time it rams the salad bar and is engulfed by a wave of the house dressing (a creamy Italian).
Even as the paramedics are tweezing chickpeas from the ears of this motorist, he will loudly insist that (a) the restaurant was not there before; and (b) there are plenty of people on the road who do not drive as well as he does.
And the scary thing is: He's right! There are lots of worse drivers out there! In fact, a whopping 93 percent of all drivers are below average. And if you believe this is statistically impossible, you have not spent much time watching motorists whopping around on our nation's highways. Certainly you have never driven in my state, Florida, which automatically issues a driver's license to every new arrival, including stranded whales.
We have so many motorists driving into buildings down here that in some areas you're safer standing in the middle of the street, where they're less likely to hit you.
But getting back to your driving ability: I can tell from the perceptive way you're reading this article that you truly are above average. So am I, of course.
I took driver's education at Pleasantville (N.Y.) High School; we did our road training in a 1962 Plymouth Inertia, creeping around greater Pleasantville at minus-2 mph, signaling our turns and always maintaining a Safe Following Distance. This class taught me many important driving lessons, the main one being that if you ever find yourself stuck behind a driver's-ed car, you must get past it, no matter how many innocent lives you endanger.
Anyway, since you and I are such superior drivers, I wanted to share with you an excellent idea that was sent in to me by Florida motorist Damara Hutchins, who is also above average. She begins by noting the annoying behavior of certain motorists, especially the ones who drift along in the left (or "passing") lane, mile after clueless mile, never passing anybody, and also never noticing the line of motorists behind them flashing their lights, honking their horns, making explicit hand gestures, firing marine flares, etc.
This is not a problem in Europe. If you get into the left lane in Europe, you'd better pass immediately and get back over, because otherwise you will need surgery to have Ferrari grill shards removed from your buttocks.
So anyway, here is Damara Hutchins's idea: powerful bumper-mounted sucker-dart guns. You would shoot these at other motorists when they did something stupid.
Ideally, you could fire several different colors of darts, to indicate the type of infraction. This would be a big help to the police, who could use the darts as evidence:
Officer: Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?
Motorist: No, why?
Officer: I count 17 red sucker darts on your rear bumper, which means you've been blocking the left lane.
Motorist: But I'm going the speed limit!
Officer (sighing): Sir, we only pretend that's the speed limit. In good weather and light traffic, the real speed limit is about 10 mph faster, which is the speed 80 percent of the other drivers are going. If you don't want to go that fast, you need to get over, okay? Also, I count five yellow darts, indicating you swerved between lanes while dialing your cell phone; and one brown dart you got for driving a Pontiac Aztek, a vehicle ugly enough to cause retina damage.
Motorist: Will I get a ticket?
Officer: I'm giving you a warning on those infractions, sir. But I'm afraid I have to cite you for the green dart.
Motorist: What's that for?
Officer: Flagrant nose-picking.
Of course only good drivers would be allowed to participate in the car-dart program; otherwise, we'd wind up with darts all over pedestrians, salad bars, etc. But assuming we can work out the details, I think this is a terrific idea. If you agree, get out of my way.
(FOOTNOTE: After I wrote this column, I was informed that a similar concept was proposed by the comedian Gallagher, who also invented the idea of smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer, without which we would never have won the Cold War. So I want to give Gallagher credit here, and point out that he is an above-average driver.)