- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

Whatever happened to the Sunday drive, the musing sort of amble that let people ponder big and little things at ease, drifting along in tolerable traffic?

Highway statistics and some grisly recent incidents imply that, from Washington to California, we have yet to outgrow our “road rage” problem. Angry drivers, late to work on jammed roads, riled by poor cell phone reception, high gas prices, summer heat or mouthy bumper stickers — never mind the stresses of terrorism, war and no outlet in a nonelection year — are getting crazy. The upshot is a noticeable absence of down-home civility in the galloping, cantering and trotting lanes. Something must be done.

Our Beltways have adopted, it seems, a brutal hybrid of congressional and beer hall manners. We watch as drivers filibuster by lane blocking, suspend old rules like not passing on the right, using blinkers for lane changes, allowing a fellow driver into one’s lane — all in favor of becoming part of a high-stakes videogame. Points for passing, no concern for crashes.

Too often, we have graduated from feeling guilty about the depersonalization of fellow drivers, and burst into the realm of frolicking in the freeway free-for-all. The results are never good.

Ratcheting up of this form of Russian roulette is bound to end poorly. Accordingly, perhaps it is time for the counter-rage campaign — road love.

We could start with a “smile, don’t curse” line of bumper stickers, add finger puppets for those prone to be digitally active, install random speed bumps on emotional stretches and issue a set of window signs that consciously tame tensions, you know, like “Have a Nice Rush Hour,” “Follow Me, I’m Listening to Classical,” “Whatever Your View, That’s Mine,” “I Brake For Everything,” and “Who Painted These Lines Anyhow?”

We might even get Congress to pass legislation establishing a “National Road Love Week,” inducing us to think harder about the lost art of thinking — and making us remember that “cars” are just metal boxes carrying other people, like us.

Or we could go Orwellian, getting cameras on every other tree and street light. Heck, we could re-introduce Sunday driving habits, insist on them and legislate that every day be a Sunday.

The sky is the limit, and “road love” could just catch on. We could fight craziness with craziness, get our highways and byways back in some kind of civil shape again… bring back “flower power,” politeness and the long-defunct Friendly Wave.

Or we could do something simpler: slow down and behave better. In the end, that might be easier. And we wouldn’t lose Monday through Saturday, have to worry about speed bumps and cameras, end up scattering the dash with finger puppets or get those uncomfortable stretch marks from over-used smile muscles. We could just do as we used to, and drive in peace. Novel concept, but what do you say?

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group, Gaithersburg, Md.

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