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Why are people so impatient when driving?

Reader Jon sent along this letter:

Every day I hear constant honking and impatience from drivers in DC.

Photo by roger jones on Flickr.

A construction project is happening on E and 20th Streets NW, where they are tearing down a parking garage to make room for a new hotel next to a GW dorm. Due to limited road and sidewalk space, they have to block traffic for about 5 minutes roughly once or twice an hour.

It's just incredible how impatient and intolerant the drivers can be when they get blocked. Cars end up blocking the entire intersection because they fail to look ahead and notice they can't clear the intersection.

It's both funny and disappointing to see people so disgruntled simply because they're in a rush. It's just so ridiculous how aggressive people can get.

And it's almost as if they think that honking makes any difference. A string of honks just passes from one car to the next like an incredible sociological test of patience. Apparently some of these people think something will change if they keep their hand on the horn for more than 1 minute too.

Everyone's day would be better off if we could all just take a deep breath and relax. We all have to share this city, and a little respect and patience will go a long way.

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I have developed the worst road rage from living in this town. Before I moved here, I had patience and was calm behind the wheel. Now, I find myself stuck behind people who aren't paying attention (usually texting or on the phone ILLEGALLY!), or a lost tourist. Driving in DC is enough to give me a stroke. You cannot get anywhere in a REASONABLE amount of time. Also, too many people drive into the city for work when a perfectly respectable mass transit system is available!!!

by B. Christin on Jan 18, 2011 3:30 pm • linkreport

There's a funny disney video just about this subject from the 1950's I found which explains more than it knows, but we as a nation just plow ahead, because civility is for suckers. Demand civility.

by Thayer-D on Jan 18, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

I admit, I am tempted (and sometimes fall) to honk at people "blocking the box" just to let them know they're an asshole.

Also, I love when I get honked at from behind for stopping properly when the light is still green so as to NOT block the box.

This is why I don't drive very often.

by Alex on Jan 18, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

I firmly believe that driving cars makes everyone a selfish asshole, to one degree or another. Basically, everytime you see someone behind the wheel, they are at their most selfish and impatient state possible.

The problem stems from the fact that marketing promises them that cars=freedom, but they don't. They are a transportation device that has an absolute ceiling to upscaling, and for cities, we hit that ceiling a long time ago. So people buy cars with these fatastical commercials where people drive through a car-free city and pull up to a restaurant and park out front. When that doesn't happen, the cognitive dissonance and the realization that they're completely caught and utterly dependent on others in a way that Madison Ave. ignores, builds up and expresses itself in blind stupid rage.

Cars are simply not well suited to urban travel. The sooner we realize that and stop catering to the myth of automobile freedom, the better.

by TM on Jan 18, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

I work right next to this building and am actually utterly amazed as to how stupid people are. I frequently travel to and from Starbucks when they have the road closed. The other day I actually yelled at a woman in a car who was incessantly honking. She could very clearly see the construction workers blocking the road with stop signs, and could also see a dump truck maneuvering its way into the site. - I'm not certain why she felt it was prudent to honk.

by Tim on Jan 18, 2011 3:54 pm • linkreport

If you, as a pedestrian, find a person caught in gridlock irrationally blaring their horn, I think the best thing to do is to walk up to them, give them a big thumbs up and shout "You're helping! You're really helping!"

by Lucre on Jan 18, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

This reality is, this actually has nothing to do with drivers - but with simple human behaviour. This is no different than the pedestrian crossing the street before the walk symbol flashes, or the cyclist doing a California stop at a stop sign or light - neither of which wants to wait even a brief second to stop, or perhaps a minute or two. Both of which are just as common as drivers being impatient. The only difference being that neither drivers nor pedestrians have large horns they can honk. A little shout or ding doesn't mean much compared to a horn.

by RM on Jan 18, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

Another piece of evidence that universities are clearly destroying the fabric of the city. Ban them!

by Jasper on Jan 18, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

There should be fines for all honking outside of emergency circumstances. I would love to see a statistic about how often a honk is warranted vs some asshole just using it to vent their anger. The noise pollution from horns in this town rivals cites much bigger in size. I am sure for many it is cause to pack up their children and move to the burbs. I think pedestrians should carry around airhorns and blare them in the faces of drivers who lay on the horn.

by John on Jan 18, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

"I firmly believe that driving cars makes everyone a selfish asshole, to one degree or another."

@TM I couldn't agree more. Your comment also applies to online discussion boards and every other aspect of ours lives where a short term gain (or reward) is possible, anonymity is certain, and there is little prospect for social or official sanction.

I think it is also fair to point out there is copious biker-rage out there. A wise man once told me: if you take the asshole out of the car, and put him on a bike, then he's still going to be an asshole. For the record: I do bike, I occasionally drive, and I try not to be an asshole while engaging in either activity.

by Mark P on Jan 18, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

The honk is effective or useful only as a method of getting the attention of another driver so that they will take notice of some phenomenon (they are blocking the box, they are driving head on into your car, etc.) and take some corrective action.

The honk conveys no intrinsic meaning - not like a right turn signal for example which tells other drivers that you intend to turn right.

As such, the honk can in most circumstances be replaced by a much less annoying attention grabbing device - the "high beam flash." Flashing someone your high beams will get their attention and could prompt some reflection that will result in a driver ceasing to drive in a bike lane or engaging in some other undesirable or illegal activity - but flashing your high beams has almost no negative side effects - or at least it does not cause massive sonic disruption.

The problem is that the "high beam flash" is not read as meaning "hey buddy, pay attention" by drivers in the U.S. (in the Balkans it does). To most drivers it means "watch out for cops ahead." Of course this doesn't stop me from high-beaming people texting while stopped in a right turn lane at an abandoned intersection - most times they will look up, notice what's going on and make the turn - all without a honk.

by Devoe on Jan 18, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

Driving is about the illusion of control. When people lose that control, even for a few minutes, they get very angry. It's the same reason it's hard to get some drivers to see the benefit of taking transit.

by Anonymous on Jan 18, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

Ah, my favorite discussion topic.

I'm not a honker unless the person is an imminent threat (i.e. driving in my lane head-on or something like that). I loathe people that honk at the very notion of me stopping at a stop sign or at a red light prior to turning right (if I choose to take advantage of this optional perk). Which, side note, this reminds me. Anyone know where I can get one of those bumper stickers that you see on buses that says "This vehicle does not turn right on red"?

Anyway, back to DC-area drivers (because, come on, it's not just DC), relax. As soon as you get to your place of employment, your life is going to be 2000 times more stressful (usually) and you'll wish that you had the chance to step back and take a breath. So, use your time in your car to just relax for 10 minutes. There's no need to honk because I my foot can't break the sound barrier to move from the brake to gas pedal when the light turns green. I have quick reflexes, but I'm not The Flash. Chill.

by Sam on Jan 18, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

I guess I am fortunate - in my day-to-day driving I very rarely encounter enough traffic to slow me down.

I see the difference in my wife however - she is far more impatient behind the wheel.

by JackRussell on Jan 18, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

@JOHN: "There should be fines for all honking outside of emergency circumstances. I would love to see a statistic about how often a honk is warranted vs some asshole just using it to vent their anger"

I don't have a reference, but I believe this is already the case in DC, just unenforced.

If I were king (ahm, mayor), there would be a horn honk the horn, you pay a tax

by wr on Jan 18, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

The only difference being that neither drivers nor pedestrians have large horns they can honk.

Respectfully, I disagree:

by oboe on Jan 18, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

Driving in a city requires a level of attention much higher than most people exercise on a regular basis. It's on par with the level of attention reserved for table saws and high wire acts. Most suburban/highway drivers don't apply a higher level of attention when they hit urban boundaries and adjust expectations accordingly. Construction detours, accident delays and unexpected delays are rarely accounted for in assessing the amount of time required to arrive composed at one's destination. It's human nature. The worse the density and road infrastructure, the worse the stress level. It's tough because it creeps up on you if you let your mind wander.

Acknowledging that driving in a city is stressful and is likely to go differently than planned is the first step...

by Honey pot on Jan 18, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

I think it is also fair to point out there is copious biker-rage out there. A wise man once told me: if you take the asshole out of the car, and put him on a bike, then he's still going to be an asshole. For the record: I do bike, I occasionally drive, and I try not to be an asshole while engaging in either activity.

This kind of false-equivalence is just silly. There aren't a massive number of cyclists out there who are enraged by feelings of impotence at their lack of being able to drive free-and-easy. The *only* time I as a cyclist get angry is when some dipshit in a motorized vehicle is threatening my life.

The phenomenon of pedestrians and cyclists jay- walking and biking is the exact opposite of angrily and fecklessly honking your horn. Is casual pedestrian "jay-walking" really an expression of outrage? I thought it was just something we casually do. In fact, the only time I get pissed off as a pedestrian is when I'm at a crossing that is obviously tailored as much as possible to automobile traffic, and I'm sitting looking at another 90 seconds before I'll be given right-of-way, and there's no way to jaywalk.

by oboe on Jan 18, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

It's both funny and disappointing to see people so disgruntled simply because they're in a rush. It's just so ridiculous how aggressive people can get.

I had the great pleasure of witnessing a National Walk To School Day event in Lincoln Park at the beginning of the school year. Various luminaries at the federal and District level were there, in addition to a couple of police officers to provide traffic control. After a few brief words, at the allotted time, everyone proceeded across one of the crosswalks out of the park towards the school. The officers held up traffic so that the schoolchildren could get across.

After about thirty seconds, folks in cars within sight of the kids crossing the street started laying on the horns. It was truly both a shocking--and hilarious--sight to behold

Getting behind the wheel truly does turn you into a sociopath. The more difficult we make it to drive in DC, the better off we are as a community.

by oboe on Jan 18, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

It's part of a larger erosion of manners and greater tolerance for selfish, indulgent behavior, especially in public, which pervades our society. I think many of us are just becoming harder and less civilized.

by Mike on Jan 18, 2011 6:00 pm • linkreport


You hear this sort of thing a lot, but I'm not sure how much to believe it, what with our history of this kind of thing:

by oboe on Jan 18, 2011 6:06 pm • linkreport

Between this and the "Georgetown Ghetto" post I think we really see the dangers of City Planner mentality. Or a priori reasoning.

Why are drivers in DC uptight? Well, they do live in DC -- which is hope of a lot of uptight little assholes.

The real question is HONKING a sign of impatience, or should it be an accepted part of city driving. The ones that complain most about the honking are suburban drivers who aren't used to multiple things in the road. Once you introduce that mix, is the horn an acceptable response?

by charlie on Jan 18, 2011 6:15 pm • linkreport

@wr A horn tax would make a ton of money just from the taxi drivers who do the quick "toot toot". Living on 17th Street, that's all you hear. I vote for a horn tax.

by Bebe on Jan 18, 2011 6:33 pm • linkreport

Honking is a disease that can be destroyed.

I've been living in california, and havent heard honking in months. Honking is only used to signal 'OH MY GOD WE'RE ABOUT TO DIE IF YOU DON'T STOP"

Back on the east coast? It's a constant assault on my sanity.

$500 fees for honking. Destroy the disease.

by JJJJJ on Jan 18, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Try that comment on jaywalking to California Stops if it was physically impossible to do them. Let's say every street was fenced off, and there were rolling barriers at the open points which allowed you to move only when the walk light was set...or if biking a motion detector based barrier wouldn't let you pass until you made a complete stop.

On every block. Your entire commute. So now you have to double or triple the commute time to account for all the time standing in place. And if a mechanism goes wonky, you are late.

That's more of a parallel. You will note how a couple years ago when Metro systematically melted down before they added cars, transit passengers openly mutinied and refused to exit trains they anted to take out of service.

by John on Jan 18, 2011 6:47 pm • linkreport

"This kind of false-equivalence is just silly. There aren't a massive number of cyclists out there who are enraged by feelings of impotence at their lack of being able to drive free-and-easy."

Now where in my post do you see me asserting that drivers rage because of feelings of impotence? And that large numbers of cyclists rage for the same reason?

It's not a massive number of both groups; it's a small number. But the phenomenon afflicts BOTH groups, and that is my point.

There's a tendency in the cycling community to think that jumping on a bike turns a person into a unicorn. I'm here to say that, in spite of my best effort, it hasn't happened... yet... to me.

by Mark P on Jan 18, 2011 7:25 pm • linkreport

I blame Sarah Palin.

by spookiness on Jan 18, 2011 9:31 pm • linkreport

I live in Logan Circle but work in an outer Virginia suburb. Each and every day I see drivers do incredibly stupid and dangerous things -- at high speeds. Not to downplay similar things that are done in the city, but you don't know fear until you've driven the Dulles Toll Road during ice/rain/snow.

I have a theory about why so many of these drivers regularly drive at high speeds, even during dangerous conditions: They are constantly in their cars. They have to drive long distances (or at least it takes them a long time) between work, home, kids' schools, doctors' offices, grocery stores, etc. These people are constantly in a hurry. In other words, the horrible suburban-exurban layout and non-planning is part of the equation for their dangerous driving behavior.

These people (my co-workers) are constantly stressed because they are constantly trying to get somewhere -- in a car in horrible traffic.

Thank heaven I live in a neighborhood where I can park my car when I get home and rarely have to move it to do anything or get anything done.

by Matty on Jan 19, 2011 6:59 am • linkreport

Not surprising that so many people complain about drivers in DC, but what many fail to realize is that most of the poorly trained and offensive drivers are from somewhere else. There are too many people here that learned their terrible driving habits elsewhere.

@ oboe- you wrote:"This kind of false-equivalence is just silly. There aren't a massive number of cyclists out there who are enraged by feelings of impotence at their lack of being able to drive free-and-easy." WRONG!!! I see the same rage on the faces of bicyclists every day, and btw, I read about their rage and frustration right here every time this type of issue is discussed. A great many cyclists are fed up, and it shows every time they zoom through a stop sign, or speed down a sidewalk terrorizing pedestrians; locally, at least, cyclists dream of a cycling utopia where bikes are the preferred and most favored mode of transportation, but it ain't necessarily so, and that bothers so many of them. The sociopaths are the great percentage of bikers that are not willing to obey any rules of the road whatsoever and don't except that motorized vehicles are still "large and in charge".

@ oboe- Just because you found someplace that sells loud horns that might be used by bicyclists does not refute what you surely understand RM to mean- most bicyclists don't have such horns, regardless of whether they are actually available.

by KevinM on Jan 19, 2011 7:43 am • linkreport

Well, people being rude, selfish, crude is simply the fruition of the right-wing adgenda thats been in place since '80. Furthermore the lack of spending on infrastrucure that creates the huge traffic jams, and terribly underfunds public transit does stress commuters out. Again its fruition of the right-wing adgenda. Duh, no respect for the commonwealth, selfishness, ignorance ... what did you expect? You can't push a regressive adgenda for thiry years and not see it affect the society.

by Rene D. on Jan 19, 2011 8:19 am • linkreport

Poor drivers ed is also part of the problem. It used to be a full-semester course in high school, but then schools went back to basics. Alot of people just don't understand basic principles of traffic flow. For all the time most people spend behind the wheel compared to other things they do, too little training is required.

by JimT on Jan 19, 2011 8:47 am • linkreport

I couldn't disagree more. People in this town don't honk enough. Honking lets other people know when they're screwing up. If anything people in this town don't honk enough and put up with the numskulls that think it's OK to block traffic, put up with cabs that drive too slow while looking for fares, put up with crazy pedestrians who think it's OK to cross wherever they please. Honkers of the world, UNITE!

by AJ on Jan 19, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

@ AJ - Completely agreed... people need to know when they're doing something stupid - it's how drivers learn what NOT to do.

Also, as a DC transplant, I would say the top reason is the driving environment of the city. Whenever you get drivers from all over the country (and world for that matter), with different customs and habits, folks are likely to get peeved when, say someone doesn't know how to use a circle, or makes an illegal turn, for example. Combine that with taxis that basically coast down the road at 10 mph, poorly timed traffic signals, and balls-to-the-wall pedestrians who cross whenever they see fit and you have DC driving.

by John on Jan 19, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

Driving and on-line discussion boards bring out the worst in people.

by Fred on Jan 19, 2011 9:32 am • linkreport

I always thought that cars needed a horn for when something serious may be about to happen ("oh my god you're going to run into me"), but a more polite noise to use when a driver just isn't paying attention at a red light or staying put when they have the right of way (like a little *cough* or *throat clearing* sound that says "excuse me, but it's your turn to go")
As a pedestrian, I've started to carry a stick with me everywhere I walk and have used it to smack two cars (thus far) that have failed to yield ROW to me. If you're going to put my life in danger, I'm going to ding up your car. If that makes me an angry pedestrian (and I suspect it does), so be it.

by thump on Jan 19, 2011 9:43 am • linkreport

I'm in the Red Cross building right next to this and I hear the drivers laying on their horns every time the truck pulls in to switch out the dumpsters and I think the exact same thing. Incredibly impatient!

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

I generally honk at someone who blatantly does the wrong thing... i.e. - turning left from the right lane (taxi assholes, I'm looking at you), blocking the box, skirting "around" traffic in a lane which you KNOW quickly ends and therefore must purposely cut someone off (again, you waste of life cab drivers here know what I'm talking about).

I think if more people made it known that these sorts of acts are unacceptable, there'd be fewer occurrences of them... but it has to be en masse.

But mostly, I'm of the belief that the roads are for the purpose of MOVING people - be they motorists, cyclists, motorcyclists, etc. - not for hanging out. I honestly wish the MPD would strictly enforce double parking, bike lane blocking, and other non-official road hindrances in the way the NYPD mercilessly tickets and tows vehicles in New York. Blocking traffic in a city already past the tipping point can't possibly lead to any good.

Whether I'm on my bike or in my car - do not block our public road for your private purposes. Get the hell out of the way.

by Josh C. on Jan 19, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport


I see the same rage on the faces of bicyclists every day, and btw, I read about their rage and frustration right here every time this type of issue is discussed.

That's just strange. Of course cyclists complain here about institutional biases against alternate forms of transportation. But we're talking about day-to-day frustration and road-rage. When I'm using my bike for transportation, I'd say I have a single frustrating moment about once every 5-10 rides. 90% of the time, it's because of some bone-headed maneuver by a driver that endangers me. There's simply no way to drive a *car* around this region, much less the urban environment without turning into a frustrated mess--which is one of the reasons that cycling is such an attractive alternative to many folks.

@thump hit it on the head with a hammer--drivers get pissed off when they don't get exactly what they want, when they want it. Cyclists and pedestrians get pissed off when drivers (and cyclists, in the case of peds) nearly kill them. Happens a lot less frequently, but to my mind, when someone's endangering your life, you've got a bit more justification for anger than you do when the driver in front of you takes an extra fraction of a second to pull away from a green light.

A great many cyclists are fed up, and it shows every time they zoom through a stop sign, or speed down a sidewalk terrorizing pedestrians; locally, at least, cyclists dream of a cycling utopia where bikes are the preferred and most favored mode of transportation, but it ain't necessarily so, and that bothers so many of them. The sociopaths are the great percentage of bikers that are not willing to obey any rules of the road whatsoever and don't except that motorized vehicles are still "large and in charge".

I say this with all due respect, but I believe you may be projecting here. :)

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

Can we please get a decent sign in system here so people can't use the same screen name?

by John on Jan 19, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

I'll admit it, I am an impatient driver. But I also happen to be an impatient walker (and if I biked I'd presume to be one of those). I power walk places and will jaywalk if my location is directly across the street. I suppose the mere act of putting on my shoes transforms me into an entitled jerk! Hyperbole aside, I may be impatient but I still drive (and walk) safe and only honk to prevent accidents or immediately after someone did something incredibly stupid (unsafely merge in front of me, etc).

In another posting I read people suggesting that if they had to get off their bike once to avoid an obstacle they would instead find a different route (because they couldn't be bothered with such a minor time delay). How is the frustration they would be feel any different from the drivers who get such treatment at just about every turn downtown during rush hour?

I think the previous poster who said that everyone gets frustrated and impatient when slowed down is right.

by DC Driver on Jan 19, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

WRONG!!! I see the same rage on the faces of bicyclists every day, and btw, I read about their rage and frustration right here every time this type of issue is discussed. A great many cyclists are fed up, and it shows every time they zoom through a stop sign, or speed down a sidewalk terrorizing pedestrians

Actually, I'm pretty sure that biking greatly reduces frustration and anger, and that this could be scientifically proven. It's a mentally healthy activity - you're outside, moving your body, which is conducive to a sort of meditative state. I very rarely see angry bikers, unless they've just gotten cut off by a cab or something.

by M on Jan 19, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport


Oh please, bicyclists are no different than drivers. Case in point: One day I'm stopped behind two cars at a red light on New Hampshire Ave just outside of Dupont Circle. Im in the Right lane and then move to the Left lane. About 10 secons later a bicyclist pulls up and begins to yell at me asking if I was a "fuckin idiot" because I "almost killed him." I apologized because I did not see him. He continued to stew and insult me but I remained calm and stayed in my vehicle.

About 5 seconds later I wondered how was it possible for me to almost hit him when I was moving from a right lane to a left lane? I was under the impression that bicyclists were supposed to ride to the right! At this point I begin to question him but he rides off in a huff not realizing he was the one in the wrong.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Hey look! @NPGMBR just proved M's point. Thanks for that.

I was under the impression that bicyclists were supposed to ride to the right!

That may be your impression, but your impression is wrong. See, this sort of widespread ignorance on the part of folks who are supposed to be licensed drivers is just the sort of thing that frustrates other road users. Not that some jerk jumped the queue, or didn't hit the gas quickly enough when the light turned green, but that someone in a 6000 lb vehicle nearly killed them cause they couldn't be bothered to check their left-hand mirror before changing lanes.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Oh please, bicyclists are no different than drivers.

Try it yourself. I'm almost certain that medical tests would reveal aggression and blood pressure decrease on a bike. I found at least one clinical trial suggesting that biking relieves depression:

But yes, bikers may get pissed at you if you almost kill them. That is true. The biker may have been in the left lane because he was planning to turn left.

by M on Jan 19, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

Here's something I've noticed myself doing. When driving a car, if I come to a red light, and a red-turn-on-red is legal, I usually do when I can safely execute it. But if the person in the car behind me honks... forget about it. I'm waiting until the next green.

How often does honking have the exact opposite of the desired effect?

by Rob P on Jan 19, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

You are absolutly wrong. I did check my mirror. What I said was that I did not see him, and I didn't. That does not in any way mean that he was in my line of view as he approached my vehicle.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport


If that biker has been in the left lane to make a left turn the he'd be committing a moving violation because there is no left turn into Dupont Circle.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport


You have no idea what you're talking about. Judging by the tone you've taken with me you obviously have a bone to pick.

So that you and others know. I pulled the following from MPD's Road Tips for Cyclists:

Tips for Cyclists
When travelling on city streets, cyclists should follow the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles. This means stopping at stop signs; obeying traffic signals and lane markings; and using hand signals to let others know your intention to stop or turn.

Furthermore, cyclists are advised to be aware of their surroundings:

Don’t wear headphones; you need to be able to hear if a car is approaching.

Slow down and check for oncoming traffic before entering any street or intersection

Do your best to anticipate hazards and adjust your position in traffic accordingly.

Be predictable: ride with the flow of traffic, on the right, and in a straight line – not in and out of parked cars on the side of the street.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

You seem to be laboring under the false impression that somewhere in that list "tips" there's some support for your assertion that "bicyclists are supposed to ride on the right." All things being equal, slower traffic (including bicycles) is supposed to stay right. There are many exceptions to the rule, as M touched on.

And, yes, the number one excuse (if you can call it that) given by motorists who kill cyclists and pedestrians is "Oh, Jeeze! I didn't see them! Clearly they were doing something wrong!" So when you hear that given as an excuse it tends to grate.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport


Wow you are clearly delusional! Just as I figured, you red right through it without understanding anything!

So, as a slower vehicle the bicyclist that accosted me should have been to the right. If that is the case what the hell was he doing on the left?

Lets give that bicyclist the benefit of the doubt and say he was on the right (meaning he was to the right of the right lane) before I moved from the right lane to the left. How was I supposed to see him? While it would be exceptionally easy to identify a vehicle behind me it would be almost impossible to see a bicyclist coming from behind me from the right into the left lane where hes not supposed to be in the first place.

You're under some false impression that motorists can see each and every object around them that that is simply not true.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Again, what you are quoting doesn't support your position--nor do the traffic laws of DC. You were stopped in the right-hand lane. It was completely appropriate for a moving cyclist to pass you in the left-hand lane. It was *your* responsibility to verify that there was no oncoming traffic in the left-lane before pulling out. By your admission, you failed to do so. It sounds very much like the cyclist was riding--legally--in the left lane, and that you looked left, didn't see a 6000 lb motor vehicle, so you pulled out, nearly killing the cyclist. The fact that you, as a licensed driver, can't even understand that you were in the wrong is symptomatic of a larger problem on our city's roadways.

The cyclist--again--has no responsibility to keep in the right-hand lane at all times, as you seem to believe.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

Looking at Dupont Circle, it strikes me that one needs to get in the left-hand lane in order to proceed either Eastbound on Mass Ave (for example) if you're heading north on NH Ave, or Westbound if you're heading south on NH Ave. This is because of all of the right-turning traffic in the right-most lane. Staying in the right-hand lane invites a right-hook as cars exit the circle.

Just want to add that yelling at strangers--even those who nearly kill you through inattention--is rude and inappropriate. I was just pointing out that there's a qualitative difference between someone losing their cool over a double-parked delivery van or someone turning left without signaling on the one hand, and nearly being killed on the other. The two aren't comparable.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport


It does not matter what he intended to do...its what he did before he entered the circle that matters because that’s where the incident took place.

Anywho, you have a massive chip on your shoulder and I’ve said what I needed to say so I’ll leave you alone.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

Honey pot has it right. 'Driving in a city (especially this city) requires a level of attention much higher than most people exercise on a regular basis. ' I have noticed (during my 30 years here), that beside the tourists, who were told that it is a nightmare to drive their own cars here, and the occasional very slow-reflexed person who probably should stop driving, most of the 'bad', I mean, 'dangerous' drivers are so disconnected from the driving activity because of phone or other distractors, or they simply have a very nasty, overinflated sense of self-importance. Take the guy who speeds through the turning of the light, the stupid person who sits on your tail, going 60 mph, the incredibly selfish driver who makes you wait while they do a massive u-turn at an intersection or flat out in the middle of a roadway, or puts you out while slowly looking for a parking place in Georgetown, or the monstrous SUV driver, who comes barreling head-on toward you on a street too narrow for this kind of vehicle, running you off the road or into a parked car. Since I live on the DC side of Western, every day I see the commuters from adjacent jurisdictions entering the city, refusing to modulate their driving style for the city from high speed highway mindset. They don't stop at stop signs. They fly past pedestrians or bicycles on the roadway, showing no caution for humans, inches away! It is amazing how many cannot even negotiate an orderly 4-way stop sign situation, because their brains are wired only for stoplights.

I realize that horn noise is noxious. But there is NO way I will stop using mine in an environment this dangerous. The drivers out there who think they are invincible, or too damned important to show caution behind the wheel are going to hear me (and hopefully think about it) when they drive like this. My children and I are not going to be victims to this kind of road abuse.

by C Richardson on Jan 19, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

@NPGMBR: First..chill. You're being hostile ("clearly delusional", "you have no idea what you're talking about", "bone to pick"). Second, you were "stopped behind two cars at a red light". Apparently, you decide, while stopped, you will move to the left lane (Presumably to not be behind two cars? Maybe the lane to your left was open or there was only 1 car in front of you there? Either way, you basically prove the authors' point that motorist are impatient). Perhaps you should have been planning ahead as you approached the intersection and moved over before you got there. Also, I wonder, did you signal your intention to move to a different lane? You didn't say (that would be an important factor) If you moved to the left lane after traffic began to move, is it possible that YOU were actually the slower vehicle in this case? Is it possible that the biker just caught the light at the right time and moved from his right lane position to an overtaking position in the left hand lane?
I'm not trying to be accusatory. I'm really not. However, when you say things like it would be "almost impossible" to see a bicyclist coming behind you, I have to think that you WERE the at-fault party. It's not "almost impossible" to see cyclist IF you're paying attention. If you're not constantly checking your mirrors and blind spots and peripheral as a motorist in an urban setting, you're not living up to your responsibility.
As oboe has pointed out, the cyclist has NO obligation to ride on the right hand side of the right lane. If (s)he wants to take up a position in the middle of the left lane, so be it. It's probably not a great idea, but it's perfectly legitimate. That being said, sometimes it's more prudent to be in the middle of the left lane. It's what most motorcyclists are told to do when they are learning to ride as it makes them more visible and deters left-hooks.
Finally, if as a pedestrian or cyclist, you are almost hit by a 2,000+ lb machine, it's pretty hard to not flip out...there is a massive surge of adrenaline. I'm guessing the cyclists was "in a huff" because, instead of just offering an apology, you ignored how serious the incident could have been. I guarantee you that the cyclist was perfectly aware of his surroundings. Cyclists have to be, or they die. You were in a sound-dampening glass and steel inclosure and (apparently) not paying as much attention as you should have been.

by thump on Jan 19, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport


Maybe NPGMBR "was under the impression that bicyclists were supposed to ride to the right!" because they generally are.

"Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall travel as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." - 18 DCMR 1201.2(b)

by Jacob on Jan 19, 2011 3:22 pm • linkreport

Look at the Google Street View image of that block of NH. The bike lane goes between the two lanes for several car lengths. Most likely, the biker was in the bike lane, or positioning himself towards the left to avoid a right-hook at the intersection. None of this would violate the law, obviously. In any event, that block is so narrow and so heavily trafficked by bikes & pedestrians that cars should not be quickly changing lanes at stop lights, for sure.,+Washington+D.C.,+DC&gl=us&ei=X0o3TYTaLcL38AaP85GVBA&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CBgQ8gEwAA

by M on Jan 19, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

@Jacob: Based on NPFMBR's statement, he "normal speed of traffic at the time" was 0 mph. The other option is that traffic had just begun to move again, in which case it's entirely possible that the cyclists was the fastest vehicle "at the time and place".

by thump on Jan 19, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport


Exactly, and it's the "as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" that usually gets erased by whatever cognitive filter motorists have erected for themselves. When you're avoiding right-hand turning autos, it is not "practicable" to keep close to the "curb or edge of the roadway." As you say "they generally are". It's the specific cases where attention needs to be paid.

Generally drivers kill people because they're not expecting things to be other than the way they "generally" are.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

Thank you for trying Jacob but it’s a losing battle with these two. That’s not the part of New Hampshire where it occurred.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

One day I'm stopped behind two cars at a red light on New Hampshire Ave just outside of Dupont Circle.

Obviously the argument doesn't hinge on what your exact position was, but rather, whether cyclists are required to stay in the right lane at all times.

They don't.

It's too bad some folks are simply incapable of admitting their error, learning from it, and moving on. I suppose if we wanted to close the circle, we could argue that this sort of behavior contributes to the general air of frustration that holds sway on our streets. But that might belabor the point.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

"Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall travel as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." - 18 DCMR 1201.2(b)

"Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing" - well, the cars were going 0mph, and the bike was moving, so it was going faster, so this doesn't apply.

Secondly, it says, "as closely as practicable," practicable meaning "able to be done or put into practice successfully." This is usually taken to mean that you should travel as far right as it is safe to do. Perhaps this cyclist in question was doing something that required being in the left lane? Perhaps they simply wanted to move around those cars?

It's interesting though that you toss out this law and then say that it means "BIKES SHOULD ALWAYS RIDE TO THE RIGHT ALWAYS!" because that's not even remotely what that says.

@NPGMBR - accept the facts; the bicyclist WAS NOT in the wrong. Regardless of their reaction (which may have been overblown), they were absolutely not in the wrong.

by MLD on Jan 19, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

I think part of people's impatience, and the use of the horn, comes from two things: (a) the constant build-up of continual rudeness that causes people to lose their tempers; (b) the "me-first" attitude that causes people to do things that come across as "fuck all of you, I'm going to do what I want."

Let me give an example of (b) first. The correct thing to do when you're driving and you realize that you're in the wrong lane and can't get over (say, you're in a left-turn only lane but you wanted to go straight and the straight-thru lane is jammed) or if you realize that you cannot go the way you wanted to (say, you're a tourist and you planned on going left only to find that left turns at that point are illegal during rush hour) is to go the way you're required to go in that lane and to go around the block. For example, the guy in the left-turn lane should make a left turn and go around the block and come back from a different direction. The guy expecting to go left should go straight ahead and use a different route.

That's not what happens in DC these days. The guy who finds himself in the left-turn lane will come to a stop and try to get over (maybe using a signal, maybe not). He won't care how much left-turn traffic is stacking up behind him--HE wants to go straight, damn you, and he's going to do it. The guy who sees the no left turn sign will often just sit there until the light turns red and then cut an illegal left. Again, he doesn't care how many people got stuck at the light--HE got to turn left. I think it's perfectly acceptable, justifiable, and expectable (is that a word?) to blow your horn at either of these sorts of drivers.

Category (a) in my first paragraph is a little harder to define, but I think what I'm getting at there is that it's easy to shrug off the occasional dipshit on the road, especially if you can tell that the person isn't from here and might be lost. (Problem there is that we have so many local residents, such as military personnel, with out-of-state license plates that it can be hard to tell who's genuinely lost and who lives here.) But when you see a constant parade of people continually acting rudely I think it can really cause your temper to fray. Try going over the 14th Street Bridge on a weekday morning and watching how many people cut from the thru lanes into the onramp acceleration lanes, then try to butt back in just to get four car-lengths ahead, or how many people will drive down the shoulder trying to cut, or the like. And there's always someone who's happy to let those people do it, which I think just exacerbates the problem by "enabling" them--they keep doing it because they know there's always a sucker. Eastbound Constitution at 18th NW is another example--the left lane is left-turn only, but I'd wager that 80% of the people in that lane ignore the restriction and go straight simply to bypass the traffic in the other lanes. On southbound 15th at Constitution, there is only one right-turn lane, but lots of people illegally turn right out of the second lane because they know they won't get ticketed.

To those of us who drive legally, these examples are like giving all of us the finger. At some point you start to act rudely back towards those people because you get fed up with the crap.

Of course, all of this is hardly limited to driving. My wife commutes on the Metrorail and gets fed up with the "stand on the left" crowd, the people who spread the newspapers out and hog extra room, the people who won't move into the car such that the center area goes empty, the tourists who come to a complete stop right at the bottom of the escalator, etc. I've seen her yell at people to get out of the way. When she gets mad at me for losing my temper at a stupid driver, I tell her that it's hypocritical to complain when she does the same thing on the subway.

I think in many ways the real problem is that the prevailing attitude among many people around here when it comes to commuting is "me first, screw the rest of you." It just contributes to gridlock. If, for example, the box-blocker would consider the effect his action has on the cross traffic, he might realize that if the box stays clear we ALL get through sooner. But all he cares about is "I got through." When everyone thinks only of himself, the system falls apart. If people cooperate, it works a lot better. And by that, I mean EVERYONE cooperate. If you're a pedestrian, and you get the "Don't Walk" sign, park your ass on that curb and wait. It's the drivers' time to make their turns. By forcing them to stop and wait for you, you're just contributing to the impatience and overall rudeness that causes some drivers to fail to yield when they're supposed to do so. The same is true for cyclists. You want the rights of a motor vehicle? Accept the responsibilities that go with them (recognizing that a few exceptions are in order, such as letting the cyclist move to the curb at a red light so he can more easily put his foot down for balance).

Put differently: How many people do you see at the grocery store walking past everyone on line for the checkout and shoving in at the front? None, of course. Yet the same people don't bat at an eye at turning out of the wrong lane just to get ahead. What makes the road so different? I think it's the perceived anonymity that goes with being encased in a car. (With that said, I did see a situation at a Best Buy store once where one woman decided that the "wait on line for the next available cashier" system was wrong. She tried to start her own line at a register. A fistfight nearly broke out when the cashier refused to serve her and the next customer on line stepped ahead of her and was served. Some people are just unfit for polite society.)

by Rich on Jan 19, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport


You see the same "me first" attitude on the bus - people not moving back while everyone at the front is packed in like sardines.

by MLD on Jan 19, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

I'll take your word for it, MLD. I hardly ever ride the bus, and when I do, it's never crowded and I always get a seat (the Fairfax Connector route between Kingstowne and the Van Dorn Metro, which I occasionally ride if I need to leave the car at the mechanic unexpectedly).

by Rich on Jan 19, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport


Regardless of what you think, I think differently and will continue to believe that the cyclist was wrong.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 6:15 pm • linkreport


If it makes you feel any better, you are not in the minority. That's why public education campaigns are so important in this kind of matter. Everyone assumes the law dovetails with their assumed prejudices.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2011 6:24 pm • linkreport


Well I'm not an unreasonable person! If you could provide absolute proof (aka a professional opinion), that the cyclist was right I'll accept that I was wrong. Otherwise its just your interpretation of what the rules are against mine.

by NPGMBR on Jan 19, 2011 6:30 pm • linkreport

There's some subjectivity that comes in when determining how far right is "practicable". This short piece outlines the issue:

You seem like a reasonable fellow, and it's entirely possible that the cyclist was in the wrong. Since I wasn't there, and you were, I can't say whether the cyclist was mistaken. I was addressing your point that cyclists should always be in the right lane.

We can debate which specific situations it's appropriate for cyclists to stay right--though in all but the most egregious cases, the courts have found that to be up to the discretion of the passed, rather than passing, vehicle. What isn't up for debate is whether cyclists have a requirement to stay right at all times. They simply don't.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

If you could provide absolute proof (aka a professional opinion), that the cyclist was right I'll accept that I was wrong.

Dude, even you don't know where the guy was ... because you didn't see him! So this is all hypothesis and guesswork. But several people in this thread have pointed out that he may have been engaged in several of any reasonable and legal moves causing him to be towards the left. (Bikes are allowed to be in left lanes to make turns, you understand this, yes?) Yes, he could have been in the wrong. But he also could have been completely legal. At any rate, I hope this is a lesson to you not to suddenly switch lanes in crowded areas, where you don't have a clear line of sight for what's in front of you and to your side.

by M on Jan 20, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport


No I don’t know where he came from with the exception of the fact that he did come from behind me. I saw him when he started yelling at me at my driver side window. And I apologized because I initially thought I was at fault but he kept on yelling!

There is no way he could have legally been in the left lane, to make a left turn into a circle that goes to the right.

How did you come to the conclusion that I “suddenly switch lanes in crowded areas”? I didn’t say that in any of my posts and you were not there to make any confirmation to either the actions of myself or the cyclist!

The area was not crowded, this was at 8am. I stated that there were two vehicles in front of me in the right lane. There was one car in the left lane. There was no bike lane at the time and there was one vehicle parked at the curb but I was ahead of that vehicle. As such I had a clear view of the vehicles ahead of me and to my immediate right. You are making assumptions about what happened and the conditions that existed yet you were not there.

Anywho, this is my last communication on the topic.

by NPGMBR on Jan 20, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

Speaking of noisy cars... After last night I would like to request a post examining the place of car alarms in the city. A car on my street went off 4 or 5 times last night due to the wind. And unlike some car alarms that cycle off after 20-30 seconds of blaring. This one would go on for what felt like a full 5 minutes before shutting off. My qualms with this are pretty obvious. This ONE car, Which wasn't even being broken into, likely woke up over 500 people. That is a literal estimate. The street is all houses on one side and all apartments on the other. It was extremely loud and echoed about.
What gets me is that these alarms really aren't effective in the first place. Any car thief worth their weight is totally undeterred by an alarm. Nobody even looks out to see if someone is actually breaking into the car these days as 98 percent of the time it's a miss fire. Now in the burbs I guess you only piss off a few people with an alarm like this but in the city you ruin countless peoples sleep. And for what? Nobody wants your effin Camry alright! Can we pass some legislation barring these damn things? There. Said my piece. Also. If that car goes off again today the owner will return to see it with a large dent in the door. and probably an egg or two for good measure.

by John on Jan 21, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport


No one wants your Camry.

You are incorrect, sir.


by oboe on Jan 21, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

touche but that study is 4 years old. I doubt the 89 Camry is stolen at quite such alarming rates these days... also I don't care. I could protect my house with an alarm that goes off at the gust of a wind. But I have a feeling I would be sued for disturbing the peace or something. How come no backlash for car alarms? really? Until there is I'll just keep up with the street justice. This won't be the first car I egg and dent and It likely won't be the last.

by John on Jan 21, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

@John- good thing that was not my car alarm. I wonder what makes you think you can destroy property belonging to someone else because you were inconvenienced? Sure, the owner of the offending car needs to have it serviced, but you are cruisin for a bruisin if you take the action you described, and it would serve you right. I know when I hear an alarm that sounds like mine I certainly get up to check, and so do all the car owners I know.

by KevinM on Jan 21, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

KevinM- I wonder what makes car owners think it's ok to have a blaring alarm on their car that 9 times out of 10 goes off for no reason? Again. The misfire rate on these things is obnoxious to the point that NOBODY when hearing them thinks "oh man a car is getting broken into!" They think "great some assholes car alarm is misfiring at 3am". Is your piece of mind more important than my sleep? I suppose if there was a system in place where I could take down the offending license plate and have a ticket issued for an amount that I feel is fitting I wouldn't feel the need to extract my own brand of justice. Til then if you don't want your car door meeting my Louisville. Disconnect the alarm and get The Club.

by John on Jan 21, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

The constant honking in a construction zone is quite annoying. I am ashamed to be part of the human race, can the drivers not recognize the big orange "construction ahead" signs? Can the drivers take an alternate route? Civility and patience are understatements, the honking drivers do not realize they are not only disturbing productivity in the workplace (those who happen to have windows facing 20th and E street) but also the students who happen to occupy the dorms in this intersection. When did ignorance become a norm in society?

by JV on Jan 23, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

@ John- lol. Spoken like someone who doesn't own a car, for sure. The car owners I know who have alarms all do the same thing when they hear an alarm- make note of the type of horn and direction it is coming from to determine the necessity of checking their own cars. Or maybe there is some thrill you derived from suggesting a violent reaction to errant car alarms. BTW, there are anti-noise statutes in most local jurisdictions, if that is what you want your limited police resources to focus on.

@ JV- Obviously I don't know where you are from, but honking in downtown DC is sounds of the city; not going away, always going to be there, and like that. Drivers are likely not honking simply because they have entered a slow-down area in a construction zone, they are likely honking at an act of stupidity up ahead, such as another driver changing lanes without signaling or a bicycle messenger cutting in between cars at high speed causing a panicked application of brakes by one or more cars. Get back to work- focus. Illegitimi non carborundum.

by KevinM on Jan 23, 2011 6:24 pm • linkreport

KevinM - I clearly know the sounds of a city growing up and driving in New York City and having spent a portion of my adult life driving in Los Angeles. I am glad you are in agreement that the typical use of loud obnoxious horn blowing occurs when the mindless drivers engage in stupid acts without cause for the impact on others. The initial thread above references the stupidity which occurs when the bright orange signs (which are clearly visible from two blocks away) cause a standstill and drivers become impatient. In addition, the sadistic behavior of being a habitual horn blowing offender causes embarrassment to the human race. If you know there is construction here, why not take an alternate route? I have no problem focusing on work in the midst of city noise, it’s the human behavior which is bothersome.

by JV on Jan 24, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

I can't believe how ridiculously slow and unaggressive DC / NoVA / MD drivers are in general. I've lived in the area for 3 years, after living in NYC, Boston, and LA. In comparison, DC people can barely accelerate, don't know proper lane discipline, and drive so damn slowly. It's especially laughable on the GW parkway, rte 66, and the 267 Toll Road. Please drive more aggressively so we can all get where we need to go! Everyone is busy, and your slow ways are unappreciated!!

by mark on Jan 29, 2011 9:50 pm • linkreport

I just wnat to say that I was surprised to see such intelligent views on the subject matter. Refreshing, up unti the bike thing, I will say this: bicyclists; you DO NOT belong in the street with cars...nuff said. Stay on the damn sidewalk and avoid walkers by slowing down and letting them know you're there. No sidewalk riding laws are bs. And to the topic of road rage...slow the f down and stop trying to kill each other you'll die someday I promise no need to fast forward to it. Try smiling cause the rest of us are sick of your poopy faces and attitudes.

by Mike on Apr 16, 2015 3:17 am • linkreport

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