I’m generally not an aggressive driver. I try to be aware of other vehicles around me, and always let others merge into my lane, provided it’s safe to do so. There’s a certain point on the freeway on the way to work where a lot of lane changing occurs. As we approach the CBD, there is a tributary of traffic flowing steadily in on the left, and then, up ahead, there are exiting lanes on the right and left (depending on which street of the CBD you’re headed to).
This means that there are almost always people in one of the righthand-side lanes that need to move all the way left, and people in one of the lefthand-side lanes who want to get across to the right. It’s at this juncture that I’m on high alert, and will generally leave enough space between me and the car in front to allow someone else to merge/pass by if needed.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you about a car accident.
A few months ago, the state government ran some sort of campaign to encourage safe and polite driving. Via the internet, radio and TV, they told us things like speeding usually only saves about a minute off a drive, so it’s not worth the risk; using various techniques to stay present will help improve awareness of your surroundings, and stop you from going into “auto-pilot” mode; and acknowledging other drivers with “courtesy waves” will reduce road rage and improve safety.
For anyone not familiar with the courtesy wave (or thank-you wave? I’m not entirely sure what it’s officially called), it’s basically a quick wave you give to another driver to signal your appreciation for them letting you merge into or cross their lane. I suppose it feeds into a positive feedback loop or something, so that people feel good about doing a nice thing.
Going back to my freeway story, and how I usually let people merge into my lane, I actually never really looked for this thank-you wave from other drivers. To me it always seemed logical that if I don’t let other people merge, it’s going to hold up their lanes, potentially bringing things to a standstill because they’re desperately trying to merge before they’re forced to take the wrong exit and/or they miss the one they need.
Conversely, if I just slow down enough to leave some space between me and the car in front, even though this might slow my own lane, traffic just flows better overall, and hopefully people are less stressed about how they’re going to switch lanes. After all, everyone is trying to get somewhere, and the difference it makes to my drive, time-wise, is negligible.
So I never really cared about this wave thing until I read the government’s list of tips. Then I started looking out for it, to see if people actually did this (I usually wave if I’m the one merging, unless I very obviously had enough space to merge without inconveniencing anyone).
And you know what? I discovered that not many people do wave. It’s maybe about 50-50.
And you know what else? It doesn’t matter.
I like when the other driver waves — it feels good to see even this small show of gratitude, and it makes me hopeful that there are nice people in this place — but if they don’t wave, I’m not going to resent them for it.
This reminds of something I saw on social media once. It basically said something along the lines of “I don’t care what race, religion, sexuality, etc you are. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you”. It sounds like a really kind and pleasant sentiment, right? But to me it sounded like “If you’re not nice to me, I won’t be nice to you”, which does not sound kind at all.
Why should my thoughtfulness as a driver be influenced by whether or not other drivers acknowledge my kindness? Why should my kindness to others be determined by whether or not they are kind to me first? Why do people always want something before they give anything?