Some drivers are sociopaths, others are psychopaths. Few are normal people, it seems.
Driving in traffic takes some getting used to. After you've lived on an island for a decade, where the speed limit is 25-35 and you drive a golf cart, the actions of "normal everyday drivers" in traffic seem, well, somewhat bizarre. Considering that some 40,000-odd people die in traffic accidents every year - and far more are injured - you'd think people would drive carefully and courteously. And considering that everyone gets into at least one car accident about every eleven years, you'd think people would learn to drive with caution. You'd be wrong about that.
People have horrible driving habits, as I have noted before. They will pass you in traffic, only to "beat" you to a red light that they should have seen, even as they had their foot to the floor. People will speed up and cut off an 18-wheeler, just to get to an exit ahead of it. It makes no sense - risking life and limb to save maybe 5-10 seconds of time, and often not even saving that.
It struck me that drivers fall into two categories, Sociopaths and Psychopaths. Now, granted, these are layman's terms for mental illnesses, which doctors don't often use:
You won’t find the definitions in mental health’s official handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Doctors don’t officially diagnose people as psychopaths or sociopaths. They use a different term instead: antisocial personality disorder.
To me, the terms have a specific definition, particularly with regard to driving. The Sociopath is someone who views other people as objects - the background wallpaper in life. They have no empathy or feeling for other people, but view them as objects to be used as well as barriers to their goals.
This type of driver views the road as an obstacle course, and the other "cars" (not "people") are in the way. You know this kind of driver - they talk about the car blocking their path, not the person. So when they are in traffic, they say, "That Lexus is going too slow in the left lane!" instead of "that old lady in the Lexus is driving too slowly!"
The Sociopath driver, in my mind, is the guy weaving in and out of traffic, as though the other cars were cones in an obstacle course. He wants to get where he's going! And all these other cars are merely blocking the way! This is the guy who passes you on the right - or passes you on the on-ramp, or the shoulder, or whatever. He weaves from the far left to the far right, crossing many lanes of traffic - without signalling - to get "ahead" of the other traffic.
And an hour later, on the Interstate, you see him again, as he pulls off to get gas and a fast-food meal, and now has to "catch up" again and pass all the same cars.
The Sociopath driver is evil, no doubt, and a danger to himself and others. The problem is, of course, that he is not as good a driver as he thinks he is, and he takes scary risks just to shave a half-second off his travel time. He thinks he is in NASCAR, I guess. He tailgates other cars, weaves dramatically, and cuts off trucks (often slamming on his brakes to make an exit). To him, these other cars are objects and he doesn't see them as having people inside. In a way, it is just a video game to him.
The Sociopath needs to get where he is going, but he doesn't recognize that other people have places to go as well, and are just as intent on getting there - because he doesn't recognize the other "cars" as having people in them. To him, they are just objects in his path - and not people with needs.
While the Sociopath driver is evil and dangerous, the Psychopath driver is even worse. He doesn't view the other cars around him as "cars" like the Sociopath driver does. No, no, he definitely sees them as people. And these are people he needs to punish. This kind of driver is a sadist - the kind who tortures small animals and maybe eventually becomes a serial killer. He takes delight in hurting others and inflicting pain.
The Psychopath driver can be fast and reckless like the Sociopath, but he can also be very passive-aggressive. He will slow down when passing, so as to cause a line of cars to form behind him. He wants to control other people's actions - make them "slow down" because he's in charge. Sometimes, he will drag out a passing move on a two-line highway for miles and miles, until a dozen or more cars are behind him, jockeying for position. He likes that power and control.
When he talks about the other cars on the road, unlike the Sociopath, he identifies the people inside. He doesn't say "that Lexus is going too slow!" he says, "that dumb blonde is going too slow!" or "that little old lady can't drive worth beans!" He identifies the other cars as people - people he needs to punish for being bad.
The Psychopath needs to get where he is going, but he doesn't recognize that other people have places to go as well, and are just as intent on getting there. To him, they are people he must beat in this task - he must "win" at the driving game at all costs, even life and limb. Unlike the Sociopath who sees other cars as only objects in his way, the Psychopath wants to "win" over the people in those cars.
The Sociopath just wants to get where he is going a few seconds faster - and is willing to risk your life to do it. The Psychopath wants to cut in front of you and jam on his brakes to "teach you a lesson" or some such nonsense. The behavior of the two is very distinct and different. Both are annoying and both lead to traffic problems.
For example, take the merge. Two lanes go into one, possibly because of construction. Normal drivers take turns merging - first left, then right. The Sociopath wants to "cut" to the head of the line to get ahead "of all those cars." The Psychopath merges, but then isn't going to let anyone else in because he doesn't want another person to "win" at the "game" of merging.
When you get into heavy traffic, it often is like a super-saturated solution. You may remember that experiment in Jr. High School chemistry. The teacher had a glass of sugar water that was a super-saturated solution. He taps the glass, and like magic, sugar crystals fall out of solution.
Heavy traffic is the same way. A highway can support a large number of cars traveling at speed. But all it takes is one brake light to go on, and the whole thing turns into a parking lot in short order. All it takes is one Psychopath or Sociopath to swerve in and out of lanes trying to "get ahead" or cut someone off, and the whole thing grinds to a halt.
Thousands of people, all trying to get where they are going, and all stopped by one person being selfish and inconsiderate. And now you know why the Federal Government has been funding self-driving car research since the 1970's.