Drivers Have an Internal Timer; Watch Out When It Expires

Road Rage - photo by S G

Have you ever noticed when driving a car that all drivers have an internal timer? What do I mean? For example, you come to a 4-way intersection with a  STOP sign with cars lined up in each direction. The general practice in this situation is to yield to the driver who has been at the intersection the longest, and it seems most people are able to keep track of this. If there is a conflict it would usually mean yielding the right-of-way to the driver on the right. This usually works fine, but when something disrupts the normal flow, that’s when all bets are off. That is when the internal timer in each driver’s head expires and this sometimes results in crazy shit. We’ve all experienced it. In fact, many of us are guilty as charged.

This can happen because one or more drivers at the intersection pause for a longer than expected time frame, or it can happen when one direction of traffic has a much longer line then the other directions. By the time each driver in that long line reaches the intersection their internal timer is already in negative territory, so they feel entitled to plow through the intersection immediately.

We all have an expectation of how long something should take when on the road which varies from person to person. Whether it’s at an intersection, or waiting for someone to pull into a parking space. Sometimes earlier events cause a driver to enter a scenario where their internal timer has long since expired.

Let’s say there is a line of 3 or 4 cars waiting to make a left (across oncoming traffic) into parking lot. And let’s also say it took a long time before any cars were able to make this left because of a high volume of oncoming traffic. But now there is a break in the traffic and all the cars are able to make the left one after the other. By the time each of these cars is able to enter the parking lot, the internal timer in each driver’s brain has expired and that’s when some interesting shit can happen, like the driver of car #2 or #3 thinking they are entitled and it doesn’t matter that car #1 was the first in the parking lot. I don’t think I need to spell out the exact way this could play out, I think you already know what I’m talking about. We’ve all witnessed it, or been a part of it.

The funny (or scary) thing is, our internal timer while driving expires much sooner than it would in just about any other social situation. I don’t know what it is about driving a car, and I’m sure there’s plenty of studies, but our personalities change.

So I think it’s a good idea to think of this “internal timer” or “internal stop watch” analogy the next time you feel your stress level rising while behind the wheel. Are you really in a hurry? Why is it that you are so mad at another driver that you might be willing to do something behind the wheel that you would never do if you met face to face? Just something to think about. / photo by S G

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