Despite having only lived here for one summer, I have come to the conclusion that the motorists of Suburban Chicago are perhaps the worst sort of drivers I have ever encountered. And I have lived in places with some of the worst drivers in the United States. I have lived in New York, where everyone gets cut off, honked at, and flipped off an average of 7 times a minute. I've lived outside of Philly, where I can witness the reckless "Jersey Slide" in all its glory first hand on the NJ Turnpike. Currently I live in California, where the people behind the wheel are the flakiest ever. ("I'll let you go. You were here first." "No you should go. You don't even have a stop sign. I do." "No you go." "No, really, you have the right-of-way. Well, OK then." *CRASH.*)
First, I'll comment on New York, which gets a much worse reputation than it deserves. The reality is, people have to be "bad" drivers in order to get around the city efficiently. They have to cut slower drivers off, honk when someone is in their way, and don't always have time to use their turn signals when making a last-minute route decision. Despite all of this supposed sloppiness, the average NYC driver has an extraordinary reaction time, is nearly always aware of his multiple surroundings, and is able to keep the flow of traffic moving, for however "moving" can be defined for such a congested city.
In contrast, New Jersey drivers are really just assholes, as their reputation suggests. They drive like one should in New York City-- with the cutting off and the honking-- but they do so inappropriately on the highway and in the suburbs, as anyone who has ever witnessed the Jersey Slide can attest to. The Jersey Slide is defined as an abrupt and highly illegal lane change whereby a driver in either the leftmost or rightmost lane of a multi-lane highway "slides" over to the opposite side. This manoeuvre must be made in one continuous motion, and sans turn signal for it to be considered an official Jersey Slide. I have classified various forms of the Jersey Slide as follows:
Class A (a.k.a. The Real Thing): Driver makes one continuous motion across a highway with out the use of a turn signal. If said highway is the New Jersey Turnpike, any observation of such an act is akin to watching one's favorite sports hero break a record in his home stadium.
Class B: Driver makes one continuous motion across a highway, but uses his turn signal.
Class C: Driver stays in each lane for a fraction of a second longer than usual, making his motion slightly choppy. No turn signal is used.
Class D: Driver exhibits the same choppy motion, but with the use of a signal.
As aforementioned, California drivers are simply flaky. The way they drive is the same way questions are answered on a typical Celebrity Jeopardy: very erratically, always with a large degree of hesitation, and with the eerie feeling that they don't quite understand the rules. My boyfriend and I play a game in CA called Asian, Old, or Stoned? (I hate to negatively stereotype, but there is a clearly a reason thousands of people have made the same observations independent of one another. Understand that it doesn't apply to every member of a particular group.) The rules of the game can easily be inferred by its title, and I'll just say that by noting a few basic trends and observations, we can usually guess quite accurately just who is behind the wheel.
The drivers of Suburban Chicago-- specifically Schaumburg-- exemplify the worst characteristics of the three regions I mentioned above, and add a few highlights of their own. Rampant impatience is one such trait which seems to be common to this area. Because they live in the suburbs-- albeit a rather busy suburban area-- these people somehow developed the mentality that they should never have to stop in traffic for any reason. Whenever they are required to stop at stop signs or traffic lights, they are positively enraged, as evident by their angry stops (yes, the way they stop is angry) and-- if I can see them-- their facial expressions. At traffic lights, even in very busy intersections, many drivers will "inch up", sometimes as far as 1.5 car lengths past the stop line! WHY do they think this is going to allow them to reach their destination quicker? I have never seen anything like this in my life. Having lived in many cities, I am used to people stopping AT the stop line, where one is legally required to stop, because there are usually pedestrians, and no one wants to block the box. Even when I drive in Suburban Philly, for comparison, people only ever pass the stop line due to lack of distance judgment or because they are making a right hand turn on red.
Another Schaumburg driver enigma is that of waiting in long lines of traffic. There is a double left hand turning lane at a major intersection in the town which frequently has many more cars on the right side than on the left. Often the discrepancy will be something like 8 cars-- as in, there will be 10 cars in the right lane and 2 in the left. I am in no way exaggerating. I logically assumed that most of the cars in the right lane needed to make an immediate right after turning left, and thus didn't want to be in the wrong lane initially. But after turning several times at this light, I found that this is simply not the case. Only about 1/3 maximum of the people in the right actually have to make an immediate right hand turn. Why then, do they all wait in the longer line, sometimes missing the green arrow? The only conclusion which makes sense is that they are idiots.
In addition to being impatient and often total idiots, Suburban Chicagoans have a bad case of road rage. There have been multiple examples of drivers-- who were themselves in error-- following us for 5 or so miles down the highway to give us the finger and cut us off. One notable incident happened during a lane merge while exiting a toll booth area. Our car was by far ahead of the other couple of cars in the vicinity, which means that when the lanes merge and it is not specified which one is "ending", that we-- the car in front-- get to go first. However, Jackass in his SUV tries to speed up to cut us off, nearly sideswipes us, and then pulls up next to us to curse us off. He followed us for miles down the highway before we finally slammed on the brakes and caused him to be blocked by several cars ahead of us. Seriously, what the fuck?
I am very much looking forward to returning to California in one week, where I can fight with hippies over who gets to go first at a four-way-stop. Because clearly-- in California at least-- it's not always the car which arrived first.