Newsletter 151: Georgia Has the Worst Drivers in the World

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one’s from March 2019, about how truly, profoundly terrible Georgia drivers are. I’ve lived in many places, and there are none worse, and it’s not particularly close. I was speaking with Jon Tattersall, the (British) golf instructor for my GOLF Magazine columns, about this this week and we went on a 20 minute side rant about it. It’s truly staggering how awful drivers here are.

Generally speaking, I am a mild-mannered person. I am not prone to bursts of anger, or bursts of any emotion, really: I am not one of those people who runs particularly hot in any direction. I tend to process my feelings through my fingers and this keyboard than in any outward, forward-facing direction, in a way that I’ll confess can be frustrating to the ones closest to me. I try to keep it cool on the outside.

But we all must get out our aggression somehow. I get mine out in my car.

I went 14 years without a car. My last car before moving to New York was a 1993 Toyota Camry that ostensibly served as my college graduation present. (Or, more accurately, my parents saw my graduation and subsequent move to Los Angeles as a terrific excuse to get themselves a new car and slough off the old one.) I drove the shit out of that car for three years, all the way out to Los Angeles, dozens of miles every day in that car-dependent city, then back to the Midwest for a couple of years in St. Louis to close out the millennium. That was a sturdy car. Camrys are not the most exotic cars, but they’ll get you where you need to go. My year in Los Angeles was a tumultuous one, and I spent most evenings just driving from freeway to freeway listening to music, through my tape deck connected to a Discman sitting on the floor below the passenger seat. That car never failed me. We sold that car to my cousin when I moved to New York and didn’t need one anymore, and as far as I know, it’s still dutifully plowing through the streets of Mattoon.

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When I moved to Athens in June 2013, I was most excited about getting a new car. I was fascinated to learn what they’d done with cars over the last 14 years. (Turns out: All they do is beep at you when they think you’re doing something wrong.) I had some friends in New York ask me if I was going to get a hybrid, patting themselves on the back as they did so, and I know if I were a better person I would have gotten one. But after 13-plus years of navigating the New York City subway system, I felt my carbon footprint was mostly clean. So I got a black 2012 Q37 Infiniti Sedan, because I wanted to feel like Batman flying through the dark streets of Athens and also because it had a roomy trunk, reliable safety features and comfortable space for child seats. But also the Batman thing.

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But I learned quickly the worst part about driving in Georgia: Drivers in Georgia.

I have been fortunate enough to live in many different cities in my life. Mattoon, Illinois. Champaign, Illinois. Los Angeles, California. St. Louis, Missouri. New York, New York. I’ve traveled all across this once-proud country, and I’ve driven through every major city, from Boston to San Francisco to Houston to Honolulu. And I am telling you this: There are no worse drivers than the drivers in the state of Georgia.

Drivers here are not jerks like they are in New York, or, specifically, Boston, a town in which the strategy is, when in doubt, just to drive directly at the person annoying you the most at that moment. Jerks are highly preferable, though, because you can predict what jerks are going to do. New Yorkers are aggressive drivers, but they are drivers with a purpose: You know what their plan is, and if they’re mad at you, it is probably because of something that you did. No, drivers in Georgia are terrible because they are so erratic, because they themselves don’t have any sense of what they’re going to do at any given moment. They are a terrifying mix of laid-back not-really-paying attention and I-have-suddenly-decided-I-am-in-a-hurry that is impossible to prepare for. When you toss in the fact that I live in a college town where student drivers only occasionally remember that you cannot see the road through their phone, it essentially turns every casual drive into Frogger.

There are simple, basic rules of the road that were apparently never taught down here. Right lane is for driving; left lane is for passing. Just because you can turn right on a red light does not mean you do not still have to stop before you do it. To make a left turn on a green light, you have to sneak into the intersection so you aren’t just still sitting there through the next red light as people bang their heads on the steering wheel behind you. When on the freeway or interstate, drive at a consistent speed so other drivers know whether to pass you or settle in behind you. A helpful way to assist your fellow drivers in alerting them to your impending movements is to use to turn signal to indicate where you plan to go next. When you are being passed, do not, upon realizing this, speed up.

People here drive like they are still in their homes, that when the doors are locked and they are inside, they are the only people who exist, that the world outside the car is simply Outside and all that matters is how the personally feel inside that car. They drive like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. I remember seeing my old friend J.E. Skeets right after he moved to Atlanta from Toronto, and I asked him how he was liking it. He smiled and said he and his wife were transitioning wonderfully, except for, now that you mention it, the drivers, my god the drivers, and then each of us rattled off the monstrosities of the average Georgia driver for about an hour. It felt good to get it out.

I could go on and on and on and on and on. Athens is bad, but Atlanta is worse. One of the worst reasons to live in Atlanta, an underrated and underappreciated city nationally, is the traffic, and that’s partly because the city has grown faster than its roads could handle. But that’s also because everyone’s constantly crashing because nobody here knows how to drive. I left Athens at 6:30 this Wednesday for a 10:30 flight, a 75-mile or so drive. I barely made it to the airport on time. Crash in 85. Crash on 285. Multiple crashes on 20. After a while, these crashes stop feeling like accidents. They are the feature, not the bug.

And — this is where the part that I can actually control, but don’t, comes in — this constantly makes me lose my mind in the car. I am careful what I say around my children, about the example I set to them about the person they need to be in this chaotic world. But when I’m in a car, all rules are temporarily suspended: Driving is Daddy’s Purge. I scream, I curse, I punch the dashboard. If you were to call me while I was driving, we would constantly be interrupted by me yelling at the idiots around me; most of my loved ones have learned to just wait to talk to me until I’m out of the car. I don’t think of this as me getting my aggression out, though I suppose it effectively serves as that. I just think I am honestly and sincerely responding to the morons in this state who actually call what they are doing “driving.” Any of you would react the same.

This cannot be healthy, this throbbing blue vein that pops out of my forehead every time I drive in this state, but I have not yet figured out how to react to such vehicular incompetence. I do not know how I will leave this world, whether it will be peaceful or violent, drawn-out or sudden, painless or torturous. But know this: If I am one of the tens of thousands of Americans who died in a car crash each year, take solace in knowing that I died absolutely furious.

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Written by

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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