The Universal Notebook: Dear reckless driver …

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So, while passing a line of cars on the right, you pulled back into the passing lane and sideswiped a car carrying a family of four, hitting it so hard that it flipped over onto the Interstate 295 median strip.

And you just kept right on going your merry way, explaining later you didn’t realize you had hit another car? Sorry, lady, no one is buying your crock o’ baloney.

To hit another car at high speed on the highway and not be aware of it suggests someone who is drunk, stoned or otherwise out of their ever-lovin’ mind. And it’s not like this is atypical behavior for a driver who has twice before sideswiped other vehicles and been ticketed repeatedly for speeding, operating an unregistered vehicle, failing to carry insurance and operating after suspension. The fact that the state police did not clamp you in handcuffs and take you off to jail immediately is a mystery to everyone who has heard about your latest reckless disregard for human life.

My advice, dear reckless driver, would be to get yourself some good legal representation. Then, if your lawyer does not advise you to 1) plead guilty, 2) turn in your license, 3) sell you car, 4) apologize and make financial restitution to your victims and 5) never get behind the wheel of another vehicle as long as you live, I’d advise you to get yourself a better lawyer. Your behavior is indefensible. You are a menace to yourself and to society. Get off the road before you kill somebody.

Unfortunately, you are not the only reckless driver on the Maine roads these days. Some days it seems as though the stars and moon must have aligned to make raving lunatics out of half the drivers in greater Portland. Last week I had a yahoo actually drive up onto the traffic island in order to pass me at a red light rather than wait for me to move over. That kind of impatience is criminal, but it is also increasingly prevalent.

It used to be that people with valid driver’s licenses understood that when a traffic light turns yellow, it means slow down and prepare to stop. In these days of inexplicable road rage, far too many drivers seem to think that a yellow light means floor it and try to beat the red light. I see this almost everyday in my travels about town. Worse, if one car tries to beat the red light, there’s a good chance the knucklehead in the next car will figure, “If he can make it, I can, too.” I have seen several motorists tear through lights that were already red in the past few months. One of these days, they are going to T-bone someone.

There also seems to be such a deficit of patience lately that if a motorist has been sitting at a side street or parking lot waiting to get out into traffic, they will eventually and suddenly decide, “Time’s up. It’s my turn,” and proceed to pull out in front of other cars.

And then there are the wrongheaded right-turn renegades who think the flashing pedestrian walk light does not apply to them. I usually honk at these public safety scofflaws just to let them know that a law-abiding citizen has seen them turn while the light is still flashing and the bell ringing.

I’m not sure what we are to make of all this motorized malice, dear reckless driver, but I have a hunch that we are witnessing a manifest breakdown of the social contract, a pathological assertion of self interest over public interest that has its apotheosis in the tea party, people who feel such an intense personal entitlement that they don’t care who gets hurt as long as they get their own way.

Bet you didn’t see that U-turn coming, did you, crappy driver? But that really is what I think, that your out-of-control driving is a symptom of a social dysfunction that threatens to make this once great country ungovernable. Must of us are courteous, careful drivers, but it only takes a handful of reckless individuals charging to the front to put us all in danger.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.