Just about every morning on my way to work, I get stuck behind the Stop-and-Go Guy.
You know who I mean. There's one in every city, perhaps there's one on every street. Maybe you live with one. Stop-and-Go Guy, aka Mr. Jerky, is the obsessive-compulsive brake rider. You can easily spot him after dark: the one car in a sea of cars with the brake lights constantly flickering on and off.
How does this happen?
My Stop-and-Go Guy drives a blue and rust-spotted small car. It's an old car, so the excuse that it's a new car with sensitive brakes doesn't really apply here. More likely, there are probably no brakes at all (I'll explain that one in a minute).
On the other hand, the brakes do appear to work as traffic hiccups with the machine-gun-like tapping of his right foot on the pedal. He's the kind of person who just likes getting on and off it for no apparent reason. (There must be a 12-step program he could sign up for or a pill he could take.)
If he's afraid of smacking into the car in front of him, he could just stop tailgating and look ahead a block or two for any obvious surprises. But no. Hey, he's not doing anyone any favors by tapping the pedal so often. He's just wearing out his brakes, not to mention the patience of the drivers behind him. He's quite literally treading on thin linings, if you know what I mean.
Now, I understand that this guy has every right to burn out his brakes if he wants to. But, you see, when Mr. Achy Brakey taps his pedal, the natural reaction is to brake, too. Until I figure out that he's just a compulsive braker, I have to assume that he's stopping for something -- anything -- not just because he likes the feel of a dying rotor pulsating beneath his foot.
So, Stop-and-Go Guy isn't just wearing out the brakes on his car, but the brakes on cars owned by other drivers -- especially ones with syndicated columns -- who just want to get to work without having to swallow a handful of Gravol to ease the motion sickness.
But no, this abuse causes our brakes (and tempers) to overheat. That leads to brake fade or failure.
Basically, excessive heat causes reduced friction, thereby making our brakes ineffective if stepped on too long. Still with me? Continued overuse can increase this "fade" until eventually your car might not slow down or stop at all.
Now do you see why it bugs me so much?
And if that's not bad enough, all the stopping and starting or slowing down by using your brakes, instead of just easing off the gas, increases fuel consumption.
So, let's total the damage: Stop-and-Go Guy is wasting our time, our patience and our money.
So, do us all a favor Mr. Jerky ... find that 12-step program, get a prescription, back off from the car in front of you -- do whatever you have to. Your brakes and your fellow drivers will thank you for it.
Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.