Last week, a young woman was “driving while texting” behind my husband, Paul, as he traversed Memorial Bridge in Augusta. He could see her in the rearview mirror as her eyes darted back and forth from the road to her phone screen. Luckily, he reported, she nearly rear-ended him only once.

Incidents like these are making me afraid to drive.

People are talking on their phones while driving, texting while driving, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of booze, pot, heroin, OxyContin … you name it.

My fear factor rose into the stratosphere when I learned of the PUFFiT, a diabolical device that looks like an inhaler for asthma sufferers but really is a way to discreetly get some marijuana into your system. As one enthusiastic blogger wrote: “What insensitive jerk is gonna question your inhaler use in public?”

Ironically, this writer feels that marijuana makes it possible for him to deal with all the ignorant and uncivil people he encounters daily. These same people are contributing to my anxiety about being on the road. Besides the distracted drivers, there seem to be more and more rude and stupid ones out there every day.

Does this make me eligible for a medical marijuana prescription?

Just kidding — although it’s amazing that I still have even a shred of a sense of humor about this subject.

The drivers I take issue with usually are going too fast for me to notice whether they are clutching a phone or toting a brewski. For example, I was making a right from West River Road in Augusta to Route 3 the other day. The light was red, but the cars approaching on the highway still were far off in the distance. I turned onto Route 3, and was nearly run off the road by a driver who suddenly appeared behind me. He must have been going 80. I literally had to pull into the breakdown lane to avoid him.

This incident, coupled with one that happened on Cony Circle — surprise, surprise — has made me very cautious about pulling out into traffic. After 44 years of relatively accident-free driving, I am suddenly underestimating how fast people are going, because they are speeding.

So I have to be very patient and wait until the coast is clear. This proved agonizing when I had a medical appointment on Civic Center Drive. I bypassed the building and had to turn around. It was almost impossible to get back into traffic in a timely manner. In the end, it took me an entire half hour to get from Cony High School to North Augusta.

That was just annoying, not scary, like my near miss on dreaded Cony Circle. I spend a lot of time there, and I firmly believe if people drove at a normal speed and yielded appropriately, far fewer accidents would occur. Since I frequently enter the rotary from the east end of Cony Street, I know how frustrating that experience can be. So when I turn onto Cony Street heading east from the rotary, I always go exquisitely slowly. That gives anyone exiting Cony Street from the east a chance to get out into the roundabout, because my slow exit slows the rotary traffic behind me.

But I digress. I was in the circle, going a moderate speed, and had just reached the credit union, which is near the intersection with the west end of Cony Street. An SUV nosed into the rotary, far enough to come within several feet of the passenger side of my car. I leaned on the horn. The SUV hesitated, then proceeded, narrowly passing in back of me.

Holy smokes! I honked again, not that I expected to achieve anything at that point. I just had to express my fear and dismay.

My husband, Paul, gets so disgusted by tailgaters that he frequently stops and lets them pass. As we crossed the bridge from Randolph to Gardiner during rush hour one day, a truck followed us too closely. Paul asked: “What do they look like?” I took a quick glance and was horrified to see the driver bore a striking resemblance to Charles Manson. We did not engage.

Not all driving menaces look like murderous cult leaders. I recently saw several of my students at my local Hannaford supermarket, and we exchanged pleasantries. I left on foot, as I live in the neighborhood, and the students’ car passed me as I walked home. Of the three girls, the one who was at the wheel, was a middle schooler.

Holy smokes redux! I’d ask, “What’s next?” but I’m too scared to hear the answer.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]


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