Yes, the roads are crowded. Yes, there’s a lot more traffic than during the height of the pandemic. And yes, you may be finding drivers less cooperative than they were before the world shut down in March 2020.
None of these statements should come as a great surprise, save perhaps the last one. But, as traffic volumes increase, drivers need to use equal parts caution, courtesy and patience as we all squeeze back onto the open roads.
Traffic volumes plunged during the pandemic. But, while there were fewer cars on the road, the severity of the crashes we reported on in the WTOP Traffic Center was far greater. (“Vicious” would not be a misplaced descriptor.) Last summer’s slow thaw brought more people back onto the roads, but that was nothing like this summer.
This summer, it’s been “Full steam ahead,” “Let’s go,” “Let’s move,” “Let’s get going,” “Let’s go somewhere!” That morphed into “C’mon! Will you move?” or “Did you see how fast/slow/impatient/reckless that person up there is?” That is generally followed by coarser language and gestures that good taste don’t permit us to pursue here.
When we were spending all our time at home, we didn’t have to wait on strangers moving to their own, seemingly arcane, beat. Our pace was our own, and no one would — or could — have a problem with that. Our view of the practical world didn’t get past the end of the driveway, and sometimes not even past the end of our noses.
Now take that particular attitude and multiply it by however many drivers we have in the D.C. area. Then let that attitude steep over however many months many weren’t driving much farther than to the store. Then — as if someone said “one, two, three, GO” — put all those people back behind the wheel and turn ‘em loose. Then mix those with others who have been driving this entire time and have seen commute times balloon from pleasant to manageable to “where-did-these-other-cars-come-from?” to “I’m-gonna-be-late-now-and-IT’S-ALL-YOUR-FAULT.”
It’s like we forgot others would be on the road. It’s like we didn’t realize they’d been as shut in and moving to their own beat as we once were. “They” didn’t exist. There was only “us,” or in many cases, “me.”
It’s as if we became so siloed and so myopic during the pandemic that we forgot how to work, play and drive well with others.
Many have had their otherwise good driving habits fall into some pretty bad manners that might embarrass both parents and long-forgotten high school driving instructors. This runs the gamut from unsafe lane changes to tailgating, to the ever-popular going way too fast, to drivers distracted by their phones, their coffee, or whatever. I’ve seen it more than I care to. You’ve seen it, and it’s probably made you see red a time or two already.
Basic rules apply here: We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to get someplace. We all want to do it in the most expedient manner possible, because it’s hot, or it’s late, or it’s too early, or it’s my first day back in the office in 15 months, or whatever.
Treat other drivers the way you’d like to be treated. Cut others some slack, and they’ll probably cut you some. Moreover, most of the traffic laws you dealt with pre-shutdown are still in force. Good sense, good graces and good driving habits aren’t just a good idea; they’re also still the law.
The few who still insist on being unsafe and unpleasant were probably going to be that way anyway, because some people just are. They were there before the pandemic. They were there during the pandemic. They’ll be there long after this pandemic.
We still have to remember that drivers are human, and that humans are imperfect. Even the best of us has our moments. We hope that people will forgive us for being a momentary moron, as we should be affording them that same understanding.
We in the WTOP Traffic Center love what we do, and we work very hard to make sure the information we give you is accurate, timely, and useful, so you can get on your way safely. It’s why we’re here. And when there are crashes, you give us great information that’s timely, useful and of great value to us and the other drivers on the road at that time. What we’re hoping for is more road kindness, which may lead to fewer road incidents to report.
Because, let’s face it: We’re all trying to get somewhere.