When I was a child, I developed an ongoing theory relating poor driving observed on the road to two major factors:
q The model of car being driven, and
q Certain identifiable characteristics of the driver.
Typically, the second factor was subservient to the first, with the exception of the global categories of nuns, Asian people and drop-outs, who could technically be driving any car.
Back in the 60s and 70s, the main culprits in terms of car being driven were:
q Chrysler Corp. sedans with straight-six engines, e.g., Plymouth Duster, Valiant, Dodge Dart. Inevitably driven by little old ladies on their way to have their hair re-blued, they hunched themselves over the wheel, which they tightly gripped with both hands, and drove approximately 26 miles per hour where everyone else was driving 30 to 35. Occasionally accented with the eternally-on turn signal to increase the anxiety causing effect.
q Volkswagen Beetles – Young people not familiar on a first-hand basis with the original Beetle can’t remember that this was, in fact, a car that could barely get out of its own way. With an air-cooled rear-mounted engine that I still believe had a secret latch which, when engaged, would reveal the hamster wheel, carrot and two rodents actually powering this vehicle, the Bug sprung away from stop lights with the enthusiasm of a dad getting up at 2 AM for a screaming baby feeding. Typically driven by self-described “individualists” (read “ultra-cheapskates”) attracted to the car’s admittedly clever advertising. They then sold these crapmobiles to unsuspecting college students and other hippies who would buy anything that moved for under $50.00. As a result, as the 60s gave way to the 70s, these anemic roaches of the byways puttered their way even more erratically as their drivers partook of increasing amounts of reefer and Richard’s Wild Irish Rose before and during their journey.
q Ramblers of any type – Similar in spirit to the Chrysler Corp. cars cited above, the Ramblers were even more suspect as their owners bought them despite their horrible style, build quality and the looming demise of their parent company, American Motors Corp. You just knew that if you were behind a Rambler, you were in for at least two miles of tentative, uncertain navigation well below the speed limit, in areas where passing was just not possible, followed by sudden acceleration through a changing yellow light leaving you at the red, too far away to speed up and get through yourself.
Changes with Time
As the Seventies turned into the Eighties and later into the Nineties, the Chryslers turned into K-cars with no discernable effect on driver competence. The Beetles faded into oblivion as the old cars were either destroyed in minor fender benders with real cars, or fell apart as the last of the crazy glue, duct tape and wire coat hangers holding them together finally gave way. Both these cars and the Ramblers ceased production.
To keep the legions of incompetent drivers moving too slowly in front of the rest of us, carelessly turning left directly into our paths, or just generally driving like idiots without regard to the laws of physics, new models emerged. These were:
q Volvo Station Wagon – Long positioned as “the safe car”, the wagon variant of the boxy Swedish export inevitably served as the protective cage of choice of the insecure housewife and/or leftist ex-hippie who, subconsciously aware of their poor driving skills, elected to enhance their own chances of survival when inevitably causing an accident. Degree of heinousness related directly to number of and/or clichéd leftishness of bumper stickers which inevitably occupied the substantial rear area of these driveable shipping containers. Yeah, I know, “War is not healthy for children and other living things” – and neither is your driving, bimbo.
These vehicles flourished in the late 70s through the early 90s, at which point two critical developments converged: the de-boxification of Volvos, and the emergence of the SUV as the preferred passive-aggressive tool of the insecure woman driver. More on that later.
q Toyota Corolla – For some reason, this particular plain vanilla cheap-ass econo-box is the weapon of choice of today’s driving incompetent. It’s not about economics. Hordes of Honda Civic owners seem to convey themselves quite well as a group, as do those who’ve chosen Nissan Altimas, Ford Focii, and most of the other entry-level sedans. No, for some reason Toyotas seem to have inherited the legacy of the K-car or VW Beetle-driving ultra cheapskate – the person who might read Consumer Reports just for the gas mileage and MSRP figures, while gleefully disregarding the performance and driving experience as a purchase decision factor. Note that this applies in particular to the lowest-end, most stripped-down trim variant available. “But they’re dependable!” Yeah, you can depend on one of them to cut in front of you from a side street and immediately assume a cruising speed of eight miles per hour on their skinny, Aurora Model Motoring HO-scale looking tires.
q Ford Mustang / Pontiac TransAm / GM ‘SS’ model sedans (NB: for ‘SS’, for full effect must be black car with black bumper and wheel treatment, at least 6 years old with aftermarket tinted windows) – The tool of choice for the loutish youth at your high school (or young adult ne’er-do-well several years older); one of these overpowered but underengineered beauties will be observed screaming away from stop lights, tailgating you or the person in front of them, and/or performing ill-advised lane changes on the interstate at over 80 MPH even in a freezing rain. Mullets and wispy moustaches adorn the driver, even when female. Frequently seen on the 11 PM news having been unwrapped from a telephone pole in an accident where “excessive speed may have been a factor”.
Into the Present Day
In our next installment: from the 90s to today – how my theory has changed with technology.