I got my driver’s license in November of 1999. I got my permit before that, in May. And my father taught me to drive, in the old blue Toyota in the elementary school parking lot, just like he did with my sister and my brothers before me. And I learned to drive. In Page, Arizona, where there are maybe five intersections with stoplights. The speed limit is 25mph on the main roads around town, unless you head off the mesa, where you can speed up to 45.
Then I moved to the Valley in September of 2002 and suddenly I was driving on 6-lane roads where the speed limit was 45 but everyone was driving 60, and I realized that I didn’t know how to drive at all. Well, I’ve learned. And I’ve learned a number of other things as well – most drivers in Maricopa County are morons. Period. How do I know this? Let me count the ways.
Here’s one. Each upper corner of an Arizona license plate is supposed to bear one – ONE – sticker. A month sticker in the left corner and a year sticker in the right. When you get your new year sticker in the mail, the accompanying instructions clearly state that you are to cover the old year sticker with the new. Yet every day I’m on the road I see at least four drivers who feel it’s very important for the world to know that their plates were paid up for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 in addition to 2009. The stickers will be in a neat little row on the license plate, sometimes overlapping, sometimes edging the plate. Although I suppose I should be glad that those people bothered to renew. I see an alarming number of cars driving around with plates that expired in 2005 and 2006.
Not that the cops are going to pull them over for it. In fact, I’m not sure what you have to do to get pulled over around here. Running a red light doesn’t seem to do it. The prevailing thought here is, it’s not red if you go fast enough. So the light will change and six or seven cars will go on through the intersection, even ones that were stopped behind the crosswalk when the light changed. This, by the way, is how people get killed. But quite often it’s eight cars that go through, and the eighth is a black-and-white driven by one of Gilbert’s finest.
You won’t get pulled over for speeding, either. I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: no matter how fast I drive, someone always has to go faster than me. I’ve tried flooring it and still, some intrepid little Jeep or Acura is always speeding by me in the next lane. I got up to 65 in a 45 zone once before I gave up and let the impatient H2 driver fly past me. I tried the same thing on the freeway and realized I was going 85 in a 65 zone and I was still being tailgated by a semi truck.
Speaking of the freeways, if you’re on the 101, you might as well go 101mph, because most people can’t tell the difference between the highway number and the speed limit. I think this is why ADOT was so reluctant to finish the 202. I-10 looks a lot like 110, doesn’t it? You might as well accelerate when you go from the 101 to the 10; always assuming of course that traffic is actually moving. Quite frequently the average speed is … well, 10, if one is lucky.
Other offenses that will NOT get you pulled over include illegal U-turns, failing to signal one’s intent to turn (one would think that cars sold in Arizona don’t come equipped with turning signals), jacking your pickup truck up about three extra feet, tailgating a car so closely that the bugs on your grill scrape off on their bumper, driving around at night with no headlights, covering up your license plate, not having a license plate, not stopping at a stop sign, text-messaging while driving, making a bad pass, and in most cases, driving drunk.
The only thing I’ve seen people stopped for, actually, is driving in the HOV lane illegally. That’s Arizona for you. You can endanger the lives of everyone on the road if you want, but we’ll be *damned* if you’re going to drive in the HOV lane without a passenger in your car. That’s a smiting offense.
I’ve often thought that the majority of Arizona drivers ought to have their licenses revoked. But it occurred to me a while ago that I’m just assuming all these drivers are actually licensed, which is foolish of me. You don’t have to have a license to get behind the wheel of a car, do you? The only time you need one is if you’re pulled over, and I think we’ve established that that almost never happens. You can buy a car without a license, can’t you? There’s nothing to stop you from driving it off the lot without one, either. And therein lies the problem. Well, one of them, anyway.
I wish there was some way to get all of these lunatics off the road. But I’m at a loss. So in the meantime, I’ve become one of them. I shout at people who can’t hear me, I cut people off, I speed, and I change lanes with the speed and precision of a Frogger (although I do at least use my signal). I have become as bad as everyone else. With one notable exception: my driving record is unblemished. I’ve never even been pulled over.
I thought for sure I was going to be, once. I was looking for an address and I accidentally ran a yellow that changed to red. A cop followed me through. I thought I was done for, but instead of turning his lights on, he tailed me impatiently for 30 yards, then sped around me, going 55 in a 40 zone. Then he made a right turn on another red without stopping or signaling, and pulled into the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts. No joke.
I love the valley.