Humans are unique in their ability to drive cars, largely because we’re unique in our ability to conceptualise and create something as complex as a motor vehicle. Fish would be rubbish at designing cars.
It also involves the kind of multitasking that would be completely beyond the kind of lower primates who enjoy throwing, and occasionally eating, their own poo.
When you think about it, changing gears in a manual while merging onto a busy thoroughfare at 80km/h involves such high levels of coordination and mental acuity that it’s hardly surprising it’s completely beyond a lot of human beings as well.
There’s something about driving, though, that makes a lot of us act like animals - dumb animals; vicious, angry animals; dopey, half-asleep sloth-like animals, or, in the case of accomplished, racing-car drivers, very cool-cat-like animals with seemingly extra-sensory skills and super-human reactions.
In short, there are many, many different kinds of drivers out there on the roads, just as there are many different kinds of people, but we’ve tried to narrow them down to the five basic types of road user you’re likely to meet, from Angelic Kitten to Rabid Dog Devil Beast.
See if you can spot yourself, or someone you know.
Let’s start with a genuinely surprising member of the road-going community; the genuinely nice person. These strange, almost Buddhist-like drivers are easy to spot because they’re always waving; to let people in, to apologise for some real or imagined slight they might have caused, to thank you for letting them in, or because you’ve just driven past in the opposite direction and they’re feeling chipper.
Even the Queen doesn’t roll her wrist over and flay her fingers as much as The Waver.
I once worked for a Waver, a man of such benevolent road manners that I found following him anywhere on the road both intriguing and interminable.
He would never, ever cut in front of someone, he cared not for taking that free space at the traffic lights that would allow him to be first off the red. He made minimal effort to get anywhere quickly and seemed to feel genuinely sorry for anyone who was in a hurry, going out of his way to let them out of intersections, or in front of him in traffic.
Sure, he was often late for things, but he also always arrived looking like a picture of calm. Even living in Sydney, with its riotously rubbish traffic, couldn’t get him down.
He explained that he’d used to worry and stress about driving, but he was simply too old for that now and had found his inner calm.
And there are other people like him, other Wavers, it’s just that you don’t see them very often, perhaps because it’s only possible to achieve that level of Zen just before you get too old to drive at all.
On the plus side, they’re so nice that they don’t want to annoy you, either, so they tend to sit on the speed limit rather than under it, meaning that it really is hard to hate them.
Mystifyingly, there are people out there who celebrate, and applaud, when the authorities lower the speed limits on some previously enjoyable and curvy bits of road, because it gives them an excuse to drive even slower.
We’ve all been stuck behind a Snail, and they seem to really enjoy coming out in peak periods - like long weekends or the Christmas holidays - unknowingly causing chaos, and sometimes carnage, as the eventually infuriated people behind them go to great lengths to overtake.
These are the drivers who think that 80km/h is simply too fast, and that 110km/h is tantamount to chewing raw onions.
They will sit at what they’ve decided is a safe speed, some 10, 20 or even 30km/h under the posted limit, and nothing on this Earth will speed them up.
Being stuck behind them can actually cause steam to pour out your pores, and profanity from your mouth, because their complete lack of concern for the fact that other people might want to drive at the limit our authorities have suggested is so mind-bending.
A Snail also seems to have eyes that can only stare straight ahead, because they are utterly incapable of seeing you gesticulating at them in their rear-view mirrors. Funnily enough, they’re also terrible at changing lanes, because they can’t seem to turn their heads to either side to see if it’s safe.
It would be unfair to suggest that all Snails are old, because it’s not the case, but a lot of them are. In fact, as they become older they seem to turn into tortoises.
The Bum Sniffer
You’ve seen this guy - and the stats show it is usually a bloke - and you’ve seen him a lot, either so close behind you that his feverish eyes are glowing in your rear-view mirror, or cutting in front of you, so that he can be right up the exhaust pipe of the next car in the line.
Much like rear-end-sniffing dogs, a lot of blokes seem to take a perverse pleasure in being as close to the car in front as mechanically possible, completely ignoring the fact that, if something happens, it’s going to take them at least one second to react, which means that, by the time they hit the brakes, they’re going to be parked in the boot of the motorist they’re tailgating.
A study of 100,0000 insurance claims made in 2015 by the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia showed that men caused nearly two-thirds of all rear-end crashes (the most common prang on our roads, hence the potential wondrousness of AEB.)
People who tailgate are beyond just annoying, they’re genuinely dangerous, but it’s a behaviour that typifies a certain, cretin kind of driver. This motorist is always, always in more of a hurry than you and wants your place on the road, the one in front of him, more than you do.
Aside from magnetising himself to the car in front, he’ll also change lines so erratically it appears he’s warming his tyres up for the start of an F1 race, and will always dive for pole-position at any red traffic light, before accelerating away like a 17-year-old boy.
The defining personality trait of the Bum Sniffer is furious impatience.
This spectacularly spiteful and dangerous creature didn’t even exist a few decades ago, but now they plague our roads and neither the invention of Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto has been able to wipe them out.
You can spot the sort of person who insists on driving with one hand shoving a phone into their ear quite easily from behind, because they drive as if they’ve just ingested an entire beer keg. They go slow, then fast, then they nearly hit the person in front of them, then they brake - several times - as though there’s a scorpion on the pedal.
Wandering between lanes, followed by sharp, panicked corrections is another obvious feature. The only thing worse, of course, is someone who attempts to read, or even send, text messages while driving. Who would have thought that such an ingenious addition to the design of the mobile phone - and to social discourse generally - could prove so deadly on the roads?
Sure, it’s great to not have to actually call someone and apologise for being late/useless/rude, but not turning up at all because you’ve smashed into the rear of a bus while attempting to send a Sad Face Emoticon to someone is just that; Sad!
Once again, the rest of us don’t quite seem to grasp just how important, and time-poor, these people’s lives are, because they absolutely have to take that call, now, even if they are attempting to engage in a complex spatial dance with other vehicles at the same time, using only one hand and a third of their brains.
I’m actually starting to think I can spot people who are driving while talking on Bluetooth/hands-free phones as well. They’re not quite as bad, or as dangerous, but there’s just a sense you get from the way someone wanders on the road that tells you they’re either using part of their minds to do something else, or they’re Uber drivers.
Driving like you’re a fox who’s just seen a wounded rabbit making a dash for the next intersection is the kind of behaviour that many of us used to exhibit, back when we hit 17 and were finally allowed to risk our lives in a car.
It’s the sort of thing you’d expect grown-ups to grow out of, but it isn’t always the case, sadly.
And there’s a difference between the bum-sniffer, who mainly shows off his accursed impatience in traffic, and the truly crazy drivers.
You’ll see the Crazy Foxes at their worst on country roads, or winding mountain passes, where the need to display their superior driving skills, or their ability to break some kind of record for getting from Point A to Point Z, demands they drive as fast as possible, no matter what.
The funny thing about the kind of Crazy drivers who are addicted to speed is that they are always genuinely outraged when the police, or some sneaky camera, catches them in the act. It’s a bit like people who eat a two-cheeseburger entree before their Big Mac and McFlurry combo, and then complain that they’re getting a bit fat.
The feeling that being booked for exceeding the limit by 28km/h is some kind of rank unfairness is bemusing to the rest of us. As if no one put the speed-limit signs up, or taught them the road rules.
Yes, just about everyone - except Snails and Wavers - goes 10km/h over the limit from time to time, perhaps not even on purpose, but the kind of people who drive like their right leg has caught fire and there’s an extinguisher buried under the throttle, really should expect to get busted.
They’re also, for fairly obvious reasons, a direct danger to the rest of us, because they’re the sort of idiots who’ll go to stupefying lengths to overtake anyone who dares slow them down, and also the kind of wankers you’ll occasionally encounter coming towards you around a corner on your side of the road.
If they just killed themselves, it would be doing the world a kind of Darwinian service, but the sad fact is that Crazy Foxes are a danger to the rest of us.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.