Delegates give green light to menacing Md. tailgaters

March 08, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

THE NIGHT OF Feb. 11 found me driving east on Northern Parkway, heading from Bishop Robinson's gala celebration dinner to Little Italy.

There had been a freak snowstorm about an hour before, a product of the nastiest and most unrelenting winter we've had in ages. As I traveled in the center lane of a three-lane stretch -- doing voluntarily exactly what the House of Delegates now wants all of us to do by legislative edict -- a black car came up on the left. The driver was speeding, trying to get by on a street that had become slippery.

The driver of the black car skidded into the left rear door of my car, sending my Honda Civic over the median that divides Northern Parkway's eastbound and westbound traffic. Had any traffic been on the westbound side at that moment, you probably wouldn't be reading this column. My Honda ended up going through a chain-link fence, clipping two vehicles parked in the yard and crashing into the side of a house.

The Honda was totaled, but they say any accident you can walk away from is not really bad. The driver in the black car? He -- or she, since I never got a look at the driver -- kept speeding along Northern Parkway without so much as a backward glance.

So you can understand if my reaction to the House of Delegates passing a bill that would penalize drivers who linger in the passing lane instead of moving right is less than enthusiastic. To coin a phrase from today's youth, I "ain't feelin' it."

By a vote of 90-49, the House passed a bill that will fine those drivers who cruise in the far left lane and refuse to let other drivers pass. Some have claimed it's a safety issue, but it smacks of a governmental endorsement of petulance to me.

Yes, I've driven along highways where some drivers all but homestead in the passing lane. Yes, one of those highways is the New Jersey Turnpike, where most of the drivers guilty of this have license tags from Maryland or Virginia. But I have a coping mechanism. It's called "growing up and learning to live with it." I figure if a slowpoke who refuses to leave the passing lane is the worst thing I have to deal with in life, then I'm truly blessed.

Some 90 members of the House find the matter grave enough to pass a law. They assume that once drivers are compelled to abandon the passing lane for the folks behind them who want to put warp engines in their cars, all will be well. Tailgating and aggressive driving will stop. Nirvana will reign on the nation's highways.

Those of us who spend a lot more time in the real world know better. I've been tailgated in the center lane doing at least 10 mph over the legal speed limit. I have to do at least 10 mph over the speed limit because the wacko 90 House delegates just gave a symbolic high-five to menacingly tailgate my car.

I remember the guy who tailgated me in the center lane on the Beltway one day. He eventually shot me a dirty look as he passed me on the right, so peeved he neglected to check out the empty passing lane to our left. Then there was the time I was driving from Detroit back to Baltimore in 1996.

I was in Detroit to attend the funeral of a dear friend's mother when I learned my brother had been stabbed to death in Easton. Thus it was I found myself on the Ohio Turnpike about 2 in the morning, just miles from the Pennsylvania line, when I caught a flat. The only spare I had was a doughnut, so I figured it was prudent to do 50 on a two-lane stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the speed limit was 55.

I was in the right lane. A tractor-trailer pulled up behind me. I figured, since there were no other cars on the road, the driver would simply move into the left lane and pass.

I figured wrong. For a good 10 to 15 miles, this idiot tailgated me, flashing his high beams, which is the signal to move right. But the only thing to my right was the shoulder of the road, and I wasn't moving there.

The mental case finally moved left and passed, but not before honking his horn to show his disdain for my driving. So much for folks only getting upset if you're not driving "fast enough" in the passing lane. The news- flash some 90 folks in the House of Delegates haven't read yet is that chronic speeders and psycho drivers get upset if you're driving "too slow," no matter what lane you're in.

Those delegates, far from making our roads safer, have given aid and comfort to reckless drivers and threatened to turn Maryland's roads into Cowboy City. It just proves, once again, that no one's safe when the legislature is in session.

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