14 March 2008

Omahans Are Bad Drivers

Omahans are terrible drivers. I realized this shortly after I moved here many years ago, and because I have to drive at least five days a week, I still notice it. For those who have never been to Omaha, everyone has to drive because the city is so spread out and has lousy public transportation. What I wouldn’t give for good public transportation.

Since we have to drive everywhere, you would think Omahans would be good at it. Alas, they have no regard for the rules of the road and make up their own. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t know the actual rules of the road.

A prime example of this is a six-way stop. If you visit Omaha, find out where these are and avoid them at all costs during rush hour. Omaha drivers have enough trouble with four-way stops: Either everyone just sits there, or two cars go at the same time and it turns into a game of chicken, with the vehicles bound to collide unless one stops. So you can imagine how much trouble they have with a six-way stop. I feel like I must have a death wish every time I encounter one.

If Omaha drivers would remember that the first car that stopped goes first, and the other drivers’ turns move clockwise from that point, then everyone would be fine. This is also called yielding to the right of way, which most Omahans have never heard of. They often remember the first part of the rule — the car that stopped first goes first. Then, however, they believe that the other cars go in the order that they stopped. So if you’re stopped to the left of the first car that went, it should be your turn; however, you’ll probably be hit by the person to your left because they stopped second and think it’s their turn. Essentially, you have to do it their way or your car will be sporting a dent.

Merging or changing lanes in Omaha is a little like playing Frogger, and you’re the frog. If you’re exiting the interstate onto a street, good luck merging into traffic. If you need to move to the left lane for an upcoming turn, fat chance. The reason Omaha drivers won’t let you merge or change lanes is — and I only know this from riding with Omaha drivers — they think you are trying to “cut them off.” That’s right. I have been in cars many times when a driver is trying to merge or change lanes and the person I’m riding with says, “Oh, no, buddy. You’re not cutting me off.” That’s right, he’s not cutting you off; he’s trying to get to his destination. And these drivers become angry when they think you’ve cut them off. They change lanes, zoom around you and cut dangerously close in front of you just to let you know how wrong you were for merging or changing lanes.

The old “faster traffic drives in the left lane, slower traffic in the right” does not apply in Omaha. Granny will drive that car in any lane she wants, and she doesn’t care if cars in the right lane pass her. It’s particularly frustrating when there’s a slow car in the left lane and another slow car in the right lane, both driving under the speed limit, neck and neck so you can’t pass. (This is especially popular in the Benson area.)

Speaking of lanes, Omahans have no idea which one to turn into when they make a turn. They make right turns into the left lane and vice versa, and smash right into your car because they don’t know any better. Coincidentally, I have to take some 18-year-old jerk to small claims court because she did this very thing and told the insurance company that I turned into the wrong lane. She didn’t even know there was a rule until I mentioned it at the scene, which was my big mistake.

Anyway, if you turn left into the left lane while another driver turns right because you assume that they will turn into the right lane, your car will have a nice scrape and dent on it as a result of that assumption.

Determining when to use headlights is a problem for Omaha drivers. Most of them know to use the headlights at night, but that’s about the only time you’ll find everyone using them. Most drivers don’t use their headlights when it’s raining, snowing or foggy, though, which is dangerous because visibility is reduced. Obviously they’ve never heard the rule that if your windshield wipers are on, then your headlights should be, too.

Omaha drivers do, however, know of some mysterious rule about driving with their parking lights on. They’re called parking lights for a reason; you use them when you’re parked. But in Omaha you use your parking lights during that hour before sunset and after sunrise (when you should be using your headlights). Omaha drivers seem to figure that parking lights are meant to be used when it’s not quite dark but not quite light.

Most Omaha drivers either don’t use turn signals at all, and the others leave them on all the time. This keeps the drivers around them guessing when — or if — they might be planning to turn. When complaining to my sister the other day about how Omaha drivers don’t use turn signals, she pointed out that it’s because if you do signal, drivers in the other lane speed up and block you because they think you’re trying to cut them off. Thus, to avoid this rudeness, Omaha drivers just don’t signal at all. We couldn’t come up with a reason why oncoming cars speed up if you’re waiting at a light to turn left. I think they just do it to be jerks.

And it wouldn’t be a day if I didn’t bash people who talk on their cell phones in the car, even though it’s not a problem endemic to Omaha. Omaha drivers, hang up and focus on the road, for godsakes. Maybe if you weren’t gossiping on the phone or texting your pals, you would remember to use your turn signal and pay attention to whose turn it is at the stop sign.

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