Remember the book, “Rules of the Road”? It was a handy little paperback that was filled with the rules and regulations for safe driving.
I especially liked the pictures of the signs. My favorite was the yellow, five-sided one shaped like home plate, although I got that answer wrong on the driver’s test because I thought it indicated the location of a baseball field.
But something has happened to the “Rules of the Road.” It seems that they have evolved from being rules to simply becoming suggestions. It’s kind of like when your mom said, “I suggest you eat your Brussels sprouts.” First of all, I don’t know where Brussels is. Secondly, I’m not a scientist, but I do know that a sprout is the vascular endothelial growth proceeding from the seed coat of a plant. Thanks for the suggestion, Mom, but I ain’t putting nothing that is germinating in Brussels into my mouth.
So I chose not to eat my Brussels sprouts. Why? Because it was only a suggestion, not a rule. A rule is like when my dad told me that I could never build any more flamethrowers because they can burn down the garage. From that time onward, “No Flamethrowers” was the rule, and not a suggestion. Of course, that didn’t rule out mini-cannons (See future column titled, “Dad, I Think the Garage Roof Got Hit by a Meteorite”).
But let’s get back to the subject of driving. It would appear that the “Rules of the Road” have become the “Suggestions of the Street.” We no longer have rules, we now have options. There are no laws, there are just guidelines. And the exercising of free choice trumps any concept of courtesy or right of way or safety.
Take, for example, stop signs. In the olden days, “stop” meant that you actually stopped moving. The wheels stood still and the car just sat there motionless. It was kind of like you were, well, stopped.
But nowadays, according to the “Suggestions of the Street,” we really don’t have to stop. We can exercise the option of pausing. We can make the choice to hesitate. We can even dilly-dally if we want. But nothing prevents us from selecting the “No See Cop, No Me Stop” preference.
The colors of the stoplights also have taken on new meanings: Green means “Go,” yellow means “Go really fast,” and red offers an implied meaning of stopping, but only subject to the driver’s interpretation. And left-hand-turn arrows? Simply stoplight candy.
It would appear that the old “drive defensively” strategy has been replaced by the “drive offensively” approach. What used to be “watch out for the other guy” is now “the other guy had better watch out for me.” A smile and a wave have turned into a glare and the flip of a finger. Aggression and entitlement have become the new yield.
Turn signals dangle from the steering column as simply another car accessory option. Come on, why use a signal when you already know where you’re going? That’s like having to tell your wife ahead of time that you’ve invited your hockey buddies over for supper and maybe a sleep-over. Geesh.
Now, it’s not that I’m complaining. Not having to stop or yield or obey was something I dreamed about when I was a kid. It’s not like I made bad choices, except for maybe the burned-down garage and the rebuilt one with the hole in the roof.
So I guess maybe the “Suggestions of the Street” may work out after all. If not, we can always move to Brussels. Maybe the traffic is better there. But watch out for the sprouts.
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He currently is reviewing traffic reports in Belgium. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.