Driving in Memphis

Here’s a hypothetical situation. You’re driving down an empty two-lane road in an urban area at 40 miles an hour. Suddenly, another car begins to pull in front of you from a connecting street on your right. If you do nothing, you will collide with the other car. What do you do?

A. Accelerate, so you will pass them before they fully enter your lane.
B. Slow down, to allow them to proceed.
C. Swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid them.
D. Honk your horn so they will back up.
E. Do nothing; maintain speed and direction.

I don’t want to paint all Memphis drivers with too broad a brush, but based on empirical observations from living in Memphis for the last seven years, I think that D and/or E is the preferred course of action for most motorists here.

I used to live in Boston, and I learned most of my driving skills there. For this scenario, I can safely say that A and B, with a slight advantage to B, were the preferred solutions. The reason for this is that in Boston, there is a widespread recognition among drivers that whoever holds the superior position has won. Thus, if a car successfully manages to occupy the space that you were headed for, you do not contest the issue. Given the width of the streets, C is usually impossible, D is a joke, and E is suicide.

Now it is important to realize that this gentlemanly Bostonian assumption exists in an environment where any moving violation short of a collision is allowable and encouraged, and even the ban on collisions is partially waived when parallel parking. Still, Boston drivers know that you never fail to react to other vehicles, or expect them to behave exactly as you wish.

In Memphis, there is a similar lack of concern over moving violations, but there is no skill or honor system mitigating the chaos. Instead, Memphis drivers exhibit a particularly stubborn independence that holds the laws of physics apply only to other drivers. The logical extension of this belief is choice E. Those fiercely independent drivers who have some dim awareness of other fiercely independent drivers may attempt D, but such input is pointless when the default response of the other driver is D and/or E.

I don’t think there was a single event that precipitated this entry. It’s just been a pattern I’ve noticed over the years; Memphis driving is all about refusing to acknowledge the reality of other vehicles. I’ve  begun to think about this in terms of argumentation; namely, reckless driving is tacit refusal to acknowledge the offered presumption of superior positioning. The cold fact that there is a multi-ton vehicle in your immediate path does not prove nearly as convincing to Memphians as the urgent need to proceed with a firm (if insane) grip on free will. This is a wonderful, even ideal attitude to have if debating, because the burden of proof will never rest long on such a person; it makes for a lot of lousy drivers, however.

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