Friday, August 26, 2011

Driving in the South

Philadelphia, PA

I tend to shy away from making generalizations about the places I've visited on this trip. I know I'm only spending a few days in each place, and my experiences are not likely to be representative. When people ask me my favorite place I've visited, I usually say Seattle, but I'm quick to point out that my enjoyment was mainly based on a series of happy accidents, and really could have happened in almost any city. I only see a small slice of each place I go, and even that slice is highly dependent on who I'm staying with - whether it's a friend or a couchsurfer, or no one if I'm camping.

But having spent some time in the South, and having covered almost the entire rest of the country, I think I'm comfortable in making the generalization that drivers in the South suck at driving around motorcycles.

I've had bad driving experiences in a lot of different places. I almost got run over by a girl in Pocatello, ID who was going 55mph in a 30mph zone, I got cut off on the highway in Seattle.. there have been a few close calls everywhere. But no other region of the country left me feeling like I was in danger every time I got on the road. I had close calls in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In other words, every state except Alabama - which I was only in for about an hour.

  • In Texas, I had someone come up next to me on the highway, and despite there being zero cars behind me, he pulled up right next to me, slowed down, turned on his turn signal, and started changing lanes right into me in order to make his exit (which I was already in).
  • In Oklahoma I got tailgated (closer than I would tailgate a car even if I was pissed at them) by four different cars and a truck on a backroad while I was going 10mph over the speed limit on a curvy, poorly paved, wet road with a drop-off on the edge. Two of them passed me in no-passing zones around curves.
  • In Arkansas a woman pulled out in front of me because she didn't see me. This just after going through a section of road with at least five "pay attention to motorcycles" signs.
  • In Mississippi I had someone try to merge next to me on the highway even though there was plenty of room behind me.
  • Louisiana... well, I ended up in stop and go traffic waiting for an exit, so there were a number of times I got cut off, had people change lanes into me, or got tailgated.
  • In Georgia I had someone honk at me to move my foot over because she "didn't want to run over your foot" as she tried to sneak past me to make a right turn while I was waiting at a red light.

You get the picture. The biggest problem was just a lack of awareness, or perhaps apathy - no one seemed to know or care how to drive around motorcycles. I mean, really, if you have to tell the guy on the motorcycle to move his foot so you don't run over it, you shouldn't be driving right there. A motorcycle is not a bicycle - it deserves its own lane.

After going through Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, I decided that maybe I just ran into the wrong set of drivers. But it kept happening, over and over and over again. I've seen bad drivers in Illinois, but the few weeks I spent in the South has really made me appreciate the awareness that people around the Illinois area have for motorcycles. People may make mistakes sometimes, but if you honk at them after they cut you off, they wave their hand apologetically - unlike the Texas driver who stuck his hand up in a "What's your problem?" gesture.

I don't know if there's other areas that are bad like that, but I had almost no problems on the California coastline, in the Southwest, and in the mountain states. People there at least seemed to generally care, even if they weren't the best informed about how to drive around motorcycles. Not so in the South.

It still may just be my experience - it's possible I just ran into a statistical hurricane of bad experiences that wouldn't ever happen again. But after that kind of consistency, it's hard to believe that there's not something going on there.


  1. Eric, you are hilarious even though your stories are maddening. Who tells a person on a motorcycle to move their foot?! Seriously? It must be a souther thing. Seriously, it's a different world down there. Every time Nick and I go visit his family in North Carolina I come back relieved to be a Yankee!

  2. I still maintain that Michigan drivers are the worst in general.