“Turn signals are a sign of weakness”
That was the advice I received from my boss about driving on the freeways of Los Angeles when I first moved there. Driving in Los Angeles is a psychological, and sometimes, physical war game. Turn signals aren’t used, but occasionally firearms are employed. The object of driving in LA is to get to where you are going as fast as possible…which usually isn’t very fast. I always called it “driving with a sense of urgency”.
In comparison, whatever sense of driver urgency may have existed in NWA, it got lost somewhere in the Ozarks. The local driving mantra would probably be closer to “get there as politely and lawfully as possible.” It is the only area I have ever lived where motorists regularly drive 5-10 miles below the speed limit. It is not just the indigenous population either.
This tendency will quickly send the city driver into road rage if expectations aren’t recalibrated. To be honest, as passengers in my vehicle can attest, this is still one area of “opportunity” for me to which I have not yet adapted.
This more mindful motoring also has it’s benefits. I have never been in area where people so frequently let you merge, let you pass, and let you go first at four way stop. This courteousness is rather contagious and before you know it you are conforming to the new social norms of politeness. Oh no…I insist…you go FIRST! It’s very refreshing compared to the freeway Darwinism of most major metros.
The other benefit is that if you are to get into a bit of a pickle, your fellow NWA motorists are very quick to lend a hand. When accidents happen there is not typically screaming and pointing. People don’t rubber neck as they pass by at 65 mph….they stop and help. You will never see a stranded motorist alone looking at their cell phone, people stop and try and help.
When I first moved here I had a hard time determining why this molasses polite driving behavior existed.
At first I thought it was because of some kind of maniacal police department administered by an Arkansan version of Boss Hogg and Roscoe P Coltrane. Not so. In fact, I find the surrounding municipalities to be fair and even lenient in traffic enforcement.
Looking further into it, I have concluded there are a few drivers of this behavior.
First, local infrastructure hasn’t quiet caught up with the massive population growth in the area. Benton county alone has doubled its population in the last 15 years. Twisty country roads with no shoulders tend to mitigate high speed driving. In fact, there is even quiet a few dirt roads around here…much to my childrens’ delight.
Second, although the area is rapidly growing, it is still a just a network of small towns. Of the four major towns in the area, only Faytetteville broaches the 100,000 population mark with a population of about 73,000. The population also has a notoriously dense network, with only a few degrees of separation. That means the odds that the BMW driver you just flipped off might be your co-worker, your doctor, or your boss’s wife is higher than usual. Open wide and say “ahhh!”
Fundamentally, I believe it is a cultural phenomena. It is part of the agrarian ethos of being self-sufficient but knowing that your are part of a community, and as such, you have certain responsibilities to your neighbors. You help your neighbors out when they need help because you never know when your cattle may stray off your own property and you need a hand. It is also about slowing down and not always rushing toward the goal, but literally enjoying the ride there.
I am doing my best to adapt. I do let people merge and wave people ahead at the four way stop. I sometimes talk to myself. I oftentimes rant and swear. I have to always remind myself that driving under speed limit isn’t always a sign of mental or physical impairment; it is just people enjoying the ride. I will try to enjoy mine a bit more and I hope you enjoy yours.