As we discussed previously ( “Us and Them” ), there are many factions in Politics and the Press who’d prefer to dwell on the ‘differences’ between people, and try to inflate, leverage, and exploit any of the contentious issues that arise in order to further their own immediate agendas. In an effort to try and close the various rifts that can form between Motorists and Cyclists, perhaps we could all take a wider perspective, and look for the common values that will benefit all Commuters and Travelers alike, regardless of their chosen mode of transport.
In terms of how we use our roadways, we could all stand to learn and apply better protocols, and learn to appreciate traffic flow from a more socially functional point of view. In an effort to develop values that can be applied evenly across the road, and thus help smooth out traffic flow patterns and problems for everyone, let’s look at some cultures that have embraced both Cycling and Automobiles. Not surprisingly, we can look to European culture for examples of this duality, and although the French, British, and of course the Germans have all been instrumental in the development of both 4 and two-wheeled transport, it’s clear that Italian automotive history and bicycle technology have played an undeniable role in forming a worldwide Culture that has advanced both of these pursuits to an Artform, with their panache, passion, and an undeniable sense of style…
The earliest pioneers of combustion powered vehicles were scattered among the French and British, and all spurred ahead by the renowned German breakthroughs and benchmarks established by Daimler and Benz. Yet, throughout history, it’s in the Italians with their profoundly passionate and historic connection to Racing sports, design and elite automobile and bicycles engineering and construction, where we see enthusiasm for all things on wheels so deeply etched into the collective and persistently socialist psyche of a people. These social values offer us all some key reminders of what’s required to manage the chaos of the road for everyone’s greater benefit, and yes…Even our shared pleasure!
With that in mind, let’s consider this annotated version of the 10 Commandments Of Italian Car Ownership by skimming them for any principals that might resonate with you personally. Since this is an initial overview of a rather large subject, feel free to add your own annotations in the Comments, as we all look for added value that can apply Drivers of the most exotic automobile, right down to the most humble Pedestrian, and all the forms of Cycling interspersed in between. Values that can be expanded upon as we all learn to safely and effectively share our collective roadways by updating our often ‘selfish’ North American views on both Car Culture and Urban Cycling. So without further ado, here are:
The 10 Commandments of Italian Automotive Operation
1. Thou shalt respect lane discipline!
With the glaring exception of Southern Ontario, and parts of California, most North-American drivers seem to at least understand the regulating principle of lane discipline. Theoretically, the slowest traffic should be in the right-hand lane, with traffic moving faster as you progress to the left. The leftmost lane, however, should be for passing only and otherwise left clear. It still amazes good drivers to see traffic queued up in the leftmost lane, that was once reserved for passing only. Usually the result of people entering the freeway and then veering across three lanes of traffic only to plop their inattentive, cell phone-holding butts in the fast lane. This mindset also manifests itself in bike lqanes and paths as well, where it’s exacerbated by lane-hogging rollerbladers, adn even babystrollers!
The first thing NorthAmerican drivers need to do collectively is wake up. We’re so used to the traffic-induced coma that sucks every amount of joy from driving that it can render us dangerous in situations that require more involvement. Though many North Americans’ will stereotype Italian drivers as aggressive maniacs, they miss the point that most are also extremely attentive and sentient, or aware at all times, and that moving swiftly through this supposed chaos actually yields much better efficiencies…If driving skills have been honed to do so.
2. Thou shalt pass in the minimum distance necessary.
In order to pass on a two-lane road, the overtaking car gains speed in the aero-draft of the passable car while checking mirrors for faster traffic, then pulls out halfway into the other lane while shoulder checking blindspot, overtakes, and immediately returns to the proper side. This style of passing is immensely more efficient and safer in that it allows cars with small speed differentials to overtake each other, while leaving the passing lane free for faster traffic. Cars, Cyclists, and even Pedestrians should never be cruising side by side on a busy road/path, where they effectively bottle up ALL traffic, and create disorder behind them, and force riskier passes around them.
3. Due to thine own incompetence or that of thy vehicle, thou shalt not hold up other drivers.
In relation to the first two commandments, the self-righteous “I’m going fast enough and they don’t need to go any faster” attitude prevalent in NorthAmerica is simply not acceptable in Italy. If you are slower, for whatever reason, you remain alert to others, and allow them to pass without creating barriers to flow. Always.
4. Thou shalt know thy vehicle’s capabilities and be able to control it in all situations.
Most American cars, and most foreign cars destined for U.S. soil, are designed with the understanding that they will likely not see many miles at speeds more than 75 mph, with the majority of those driven on lazy highways and suburban, squarely laid roads. Cars for the European market, however, are conceived and constructed with appreciation for the fact that any car, from the cheapest Fiat 600 on through to a MB 600SL, may likely see its top speed tested on a daily basis, and has brakes and suspension systems tuned accordingly. Case in point is the Opel Omega, sold in the United States as the Cadillac Catera, Saturn SL and Saab 9-5, whose suspensions are quite softened for the U.S. market. Another brilliant example of this is the Ford Focus, where the stock European-spec suspension,allows it to come alive, and its wonderful tuned chassis is finally challenged.
American highway engineers seem to take great pride in making any and every road they build or rebuild as straight as possible, removing those scary and dangerous curves. In Europe, however, a great road is celebrated, and allowed to wind its way down a mountain or parallel God’s own racecourse…The river. A side benefit of the prevalence of challenging roads is that for those who negotiate these roads daily, their level of driving competence is raised, whether consciously or not.
Urban traffic patterns demand a level of attention to timing and flow that can develop a unique skillset fro those who are willing to actively participate in becoming better drivers. This requires us all to understand the breaking distances required by our respective vehicles, and the ability to accelerate smoothly and promptly to assure optimal flow for everyone. This requires self-awareness AND focused attention to the road!
5. Thou shalt keep thine eyes open at all times for other forms of transport.
Though this is fairly self-explanatory, cars are barely a majority on Italian roads, with bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, Apes (three and four-wheeled mini-pickups), delivery trucks, semis, etc. ever-present in daily life. It’s essentially to factor in the flow of all these modes, and not simply presume that you can rigidly hold and occupy your full lane width regardless of what’s going on around you. This is especially important for Pedestrians on Multi-use paths, especially those who presume to walk 2 and 3 abreast of each other to demonstrate how oblivious they are to Others around them.
6. Thou shalt keep thine eyes open for traffic obstructions, and share your views with others.
Whether it’s tapping your brakes to warn others behind you, or flicking your highbeams to warn those ahead, the concept of shared roadways and safety is a constant act of collective vigilance.
7. Thou shalt develop a firm one-handed driving style, in case the other hand is needed for bell/horn-ringing, or gesticulating to other drivers.
What can we say? Non-verbal communication is a lost art for most, and remains a highly effective means of personal expression, whether it’s to demonstrate positive or negative feedback. It’s also about as Italian as it get’s 😉
8. Thou shalt regard speed limits, traffic signals and road signs as open to interpretation.
Popular Italian reasoning dictates that the further south you drive, the more lawless the driving style becomes, and that it would be naively dangerous to simply expect everyone to stay below the speed limit around you. Extending this philosophy to all of Italy is that all stop signs indicate a yield. Supposedly in the South, red lights are merely a suggestion. With this approach in mind, you should always be ready to yield to faster traffic, and therefore become automatically more attentive around merging lanes, and safe in your conservative use of the faster outside lanes.
9. Thou shalt appreciate grace and beauty in all it’s forms.
Whether it’s a demonstration of attentive headsup driving by a soccer-mom in a nicely detailed minivan, or the smooth flow of a fixed gear Cyclists threading through heavy traffic, there are all sorts of examples of aesthetic beauty, conscientious driving, and vehicular pride should be applauded and encouraged. The open appreciation for the fine and attractive details of Life, create a sense of shared value that can only raise the general average for everyone!
10. Thou shalt appreciate thy vehicle as not just transportation, but as a statement of self, and therefore honor it, and maintain it to the utmost level as though it was part of your very Mortal Being…