What ever happened to road manners?

Drive your floppy-wheeled cart in front of someone at the shopping mall and you’ll likely say, “Oops!” and then sheepishly smile and apologize and maybe even comment on the weather.

So, why do we turn into such discourteous, ahem, creatures when we get behind the wheel of a car and cut someone off. Why is common courtesy being flicked out the window like a lit cigarette butt?

Some would say that a vehicle insulates you from the reality of having to actually deal with a person. You’re actually yelling at the car that cut you off, not the driver.

Others, such as my high school driving instructor way back when, Mr. Gardner, preached the three C’s of responsible driving: care, caution and courtesy. It was his mantra.

I can only imagine him raising a digit — for the sake of a PG-rated column I won’t say which one — at all the street-hogging, sign-dodging lead foots who have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the three C’s.

I hadn’t thought much about Mr. Gardner until a recent school reunion, and far too many aperitifs, brought back a flood of memories. The topic turned to pet peeves, specifically, the kind that get you hot under the hood.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit what gets me going. I’m a relatively simple woman with simple desires. I don’t ask for much. But when I back off to allow a driver into my lane, is it too much to ask for a courtesy wave to say, “Hey, thanks.”

It sounds silly, I know. And in the grand scheme of things, failing to acknowledge a simple act of kindness isn’t as pressing a concern as global warming, depleting natural resources or the outcome of “American Idol.”

And it isn’t exactly cause to call in Miss Manners or rescind someone’s driver’s license. But, it ticks me off, darn it.

You see, ignoring my good deed means I’m more likely to simply hit the gas when another driver tries to change lanes … which only escalates the whole courtesy problem. Call it negative courtesy, if you will.

One of the wives at the reunion says she used to “go straight for ’em.”

“But people are crazy,” she said. “And you’re afraid to raise your hand because you don’t know what kind of nut is driving the other car.”

For her, mild road irritation is brought on by drivers crossing a busy four-lane street who make it to the median only to be stuck there, blocking two lanes of traffic because — you guessed it — no one will let them in.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather be at the mall, smiling and apologizing for cutting someone off with my floppy-wheeled cart.

It only dawned on me while writing this column why people don’t or won’t use turn indicators, for example. I don’t think it’s a failed attempt at responsible driving; no, it’s a survival tactic.

Think about it: The minute some drivers see a blinking light, what’s their knee-jerk (and I stress the second syllable) reaction?

Face it, for some drivers (and you know who you are, Mr. Sassy Blue Pickup with vanity plates) it sparks a primal instinct to protect their territory in whatever way they see fit.

Now, this guy has every right to beat his chest and claim his own section of pavement, I suppose, but his cave man, road-warrior act creates a chain reaction because when the driver who has been patiently waiting to get in the next lane finally does so, they’re so fumed (or late for an appointment) that they don’t let anyone else in.

And they tell two friends … and they tell two friends … Wait, wrong commercial, but you see where I’m going with this.

Eventually we all end up in gridlock, slowly creeping past our designated turns because no one lets anyone else in.

So, how would Mr. Gardner handle drivers like Mr. Blue Pickup? He would probably tell you to smile, nod politely and wave … as you drive right past him to the mall to learn a few lessons with your shopping cart.

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

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