Opinion: North Idaho drivers head wrong way on kindness

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With family in several countries “across the pond,” as the Brits say, I’ve learned that all drivers aren’t created equal. There is a certain driving culture unique to each place — a set of expectations, habits, and unspoken rules you don’t find in manuals.

As longtime local driver Sarah Gates pointed out recently, that culture is shifting in Kootenai County.

What do I mean by “driving culture”? Let’s take it by example.

In Switzerland and Germany, the big freeways are called the autobahn. And on the autobahn, I quickly learned the left lane is for passing — period. You’d better be driving faster than everyone else or keep right. They brook no violators on this point. They all — and I do mean all — obey it.

In England, drivers are exceedingly polite. It’s hard enough remembering to drive on the left side of the street, and the right side of the car. What they call a “roundabout” on U.K. highways is rarely actually round. They come in odd shapes and sizes, so finding the right exit (especially at 70 mph) can be challenging for an American.

I screwed up — more than once — with lines of traffic behind me, changing lanes fast to make a turn. In the U.S., that typically results in blared horns and rude gestures. Not so in England. Even when someone had to slam on the brakes due to my ineptness, there was nothing but patience. They silently waited for me to figure it out, then drove calmly on their way.

That sort of consideration might have been more likely in North Idaho until recently. It’s changing; that old local friendliness is getting less common — generally and among drivers.

A casualty of explosive growth?

Gates told me she’s always waved hello at other drivers, who — strangers or not — nearly always waved back with a smile. These days, she says, it’s more often a distracted phone-user, a certain finger or some other angry gesture. She realizes halfway through her friendly wave she is not getting waved at, at all.

That’s depressing her. And I get it. It’s so “Idaho” to say hi to strangers, in or out of the car. Could that be changing because of the subcultures of those moving here, and the differences in driving cultures in their former states?

You don’t see much waving in LA, Denver, or Seattle. Fewer strangers greet one another with a smile, or if they do, it’s considered creepy.

Here’s hoping we can keep our best feature — on the roads and everywhere else: Keep North Idaho friendly.

Sarah, I’m still going to wave, no matter what others do.

•••

Today’s weird word: Interlocutory (not the legal term) — having the nature of dialogue.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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