Yesterday I drove my wife to the nearest decent international airport, Venice’s Marco Polo. It’s a drive of 172 kilometres, just under two hours if you have the luck of fools and the speed of a zephyr.
It’s better to assume three, because Traffic is a god that loves no man. And loves man less in Italy than many other places.
Not far from Venice we spotted the column stretching from horizon to horizon. A thick-packed mass of trucks, camper vans, cars, and pacing, sweating, gesticulating men (drivers, but all those publicly sharing their frustration in the last gasps of the Mediterranean summer were men).
Our way was clear, but I knew what waited for me on the return journey.
“Heavy traffic expected,” intoned the asexual female voice of Google’s map AI, “Congestion. One hour delay. This is still the fastest route.” Sure enough, less than half an hour out of Venice, back towards the limestone ridges of Slovenia, I was no longer moving.
I turned up the music, got myself something to read, and set about waiting.
Sure enough, slowly, Traffic teased with an opening. The car ahead trundled forward ten metres. Stopped. Then it trundled another five. Stopped.
You know the stop and go script.
I let the cars ahead stop and go their way until there was a couple hundred metres of space, and then started rolling slowly. A nice, solid, droning 15 kph pace that kept me moving without ever reaching the stop and go arse of the car ahead.
Slowly, as the traffic lessened, the pace picked up.
And this is where I dedicate this story to the howling, gesticulating driver in the white BMW 1 class stuck behind me. I suspect you want to feel like a racing car driver. I guess that little blue and white Bavaria propeller in the middle of your steering wheel makes you feel sharp, edgy, cool, and like a sports man. I know that you would have preferred a BMW 3 class, an M3, because that’s where the sport really starts, doesn’t it? But here you are. In your little BMW 1. It’s over-priced for what you get, and you can’t fit adults in your back seat, but it feels like a little whiff of rally.
You couldn’t handle it, could you?
The fact that I had opened up two hundred metres of space before me and that all of us were rolling along at a pace that kept us moving instead of stuck.
It infuriated you.
“The space!” you said, “The fool! Why won’t he close the space? It’s fools like him that cause these traffic jams! Stupid foreigners who don’t know how to drive!”
Soon you spotted a space between two trucks on the right and raced past me while giving me a rude gesture.
You were not alone, frustrated child in your BMW 1 class car.
A stream of angry drivers gnashed their teeth and howled at my stupidity as they raced past me, accelerated to the car at the end of the open space ahead of me, hit their breaks, and stopped.
It’s almost like all those signs along the road mean nothing to you. Mantere la distanza. Keep your distance.
In that one hour full stop traffic jam I must have driven a fair dozen drivers half mad with rage. Perhaps some of them pulled out their hair, certainly I suspect one broke his horn.
But you see, steering wheel banging driver of the basic white BMW 1 class car, I was trying to teach you a lesson. To show you the way. To illuminate you.
After all, it’s exhaust-snorting drivers like you, who can’t drive slowly or keep their distance, who have to edge into the bumper ahead of them to show their racing chops, that feed the laughter of Traffic, god of congestions.
There’s something called reaction time.
From the moment you see the red lights of a car breaking ahead of you, to the moment when you push down on that break pedal, your chemical brain takes a few hundred precious milliseconds. In those milliseconds you move closer to the car ahead of you, so if you don’t have enough space, you have to break a little bit harder to avoid running into their rear fender. So you slow down a little bit more than them.
And the next car does the same. And the next. And the one after that.
And after a fair dozen bumper-sniffers have each reacted a little bit to late, and all breaked a little harder, the thirteenth one stops completely.
And then there’s no go, there’s stop.
Then you can howl at the river of steel all you like, but you’ve just made it worse. Well done. I’m sure Traffic is happy with you.