Before moving down here, I assumed that driving was the same no matter where you went in the U.S. Traffic would change, but the act of driving should stay the same. You pay attention, give the driver in front of you plenty of space, used your turn signal, and just generally be aware of what is going on around you. Simple, right?
It is very different down here. For me, driving is a verb, an action. When I go someplace, I am driving. Driving should not be a byproduct of needing to go some place. It should not be something you do while drinking alcohol, eating, putting on make up, brushing your hair, or blogging. In Maine, I occasionally saw a woman putting lipstick on at a red light, and I often saw the same man drive by me while shaving when I was waiting for the bus. Down here, I once saw a man driving forward while rummaging around in his back seat.
The rules are different here. I took driver's education to get my permit, then drove with an adult over 25, usually my one of my parents. I had my permit for nearly 9 months before I received my license. Here, anyone can take the license test without any training, as long as they are at least 16. Most people don't take driver's education, so they have had no formal driver training. It really shows in the driving abilities of most people. Driving down here feels like I'm taking my life in my hands whenever I leave the house. Simple things like red lights, restraining lines, one way signs, and speed limits seem to be foreign concepts to many people here. I've never seen a local stop behind the restraining line. Even green lights seem to be a foreign concept. Often I'm stuck sitting behind some doofus at a green light for 3, 5, or even 10 seconds while he composes an opus on his cell phone. When I honk to prompt him to go, he often looks around like someone just called his name. It is so frustrating. This really also might just be an issue of not paying attention, which is a pandemic down here, too.
This lack of knowledge is absolutely visible on a specific road down here. That road is called 280. It's a U.S. route that's 6 to 8 lanes wide, 3 or 4 in either direction. It has traffic lights every few hundred yards and the speed limit is 55 mph. The road is so horrendous that it is frequently an election platform for the local politicians. I used to have to drive out it for work. It once took me an hour and a half to go 10 miles. There are dozens of accidents on 280 everyday, often with severe injury. This presents additional problems. Since most drivers were never taught how to drive, no one knows to pull to the right for emergency vehicles. It is nearly impossible to get an ambulance or fire truck to the scene of a really bad accident.
Although the lack of knowledge is a big problem, the biggest problem is inattention. No one down here pays attention to anything. Everyone just seems to be careening through life with their eyes fixed on some distant goal, instead of enjoying every day. I wonder if it has anything to do with their faith. To my understanding, a very large number of Alabamians are southern baptist. Everyone here seems to be fixated on heaven and the afterlife, and it seems like they forget to enjoy the beauty of each day. I'm not very good at living in the moment, myself, but I hardly think this is a dry run. Even if there is something after this, I hardly think we are supposed to waste this one fixated on something that may or may not happen. I know it's cliché, but remember to smells the roses, to watch the sun rise, and tell the people who matter to you that you love them. We've got this life now, let's make the most of it.