Ethical Realism

April 19, 2010

Reckless Driving

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:36 pm
Tags: ,

Reckless driving is becoming so common place that I can’t drive for 10 miles without expecting to personally experience reckless driving that endangers my safety. We can use philosophy to correct our own behavior, but some sort of change in culture may be required to correct the behavior of others. There are three forms of reckless driving that I have noticed to be on the rise, and I will consider why they happen:

  1. Tailgating
  2. Blocking paths
  3. Lane sharing

If the Stoic philosophers are correct, then each of these forms of reckless driving are based on our evaluative assumptions and emotions, which tend to be based on the fact that we are in a hurry to get somewhere.


Tailgating is  driving too close to the car in front of you.  A common group of assumptions by people who tailgate are the following:

  1. I need to get somewhere as fast as possible.
  2. Someone is driving too slow.
  3. Tailgating will speed them up.
  4. The benefit involved outweighs the risks.
  5. The other people’s lives involved don’t count.

If these assumptions were correct, then tailgating would be perfectly rational. I think it’s pretty obvious that tailgating is too dangerous to allow and some of these assumptions are wrong.

One, the benefit does not outweigh the risks. Getting somewhere a bit faster could be necessary in a life or death situation (e.g. someone needs to get to the hospital before bleeding to death), but this is not why most people are tailgating. The risks to tailgating involve car accidents and offending other drivers. Tailgating is disrespectful to others and does not treat them as human beings.

The benefit of tailgating does not outweigh the risk, so tailgating will no longer be a rational activity. People need to stop doing it.

Two, it is false that other people’s lives don’t count. Other human beings are real and their lives have a great deal of value. The fact that we feel disconnected from others (or don’t feel like they are real) could be some sort of cultural phenomenon.

“Tailgating should be illegal” is something just about everyone agrees with. They don’t want other people to tailgate them. The assumption that “I count, but you don’t” is required for anyone to decide to tailgate, but couldn’t possibly be a true assumption. Even if I really was the only person of value in the world, I couldn’t expect anyone else to know that.

Blocking paths

When someone needs to merge lanes, you are supposed to let them get in front of you. You aren’t supposed to try to “block their path” by speeding up to make sure they have no room. I have had cars speed up to try to block my path while I was merging into another lane. There isn’t a lot of time to decide if it is no longer safe to merge lanes while you are merging into a lane, but blocking someone’s path will always involve that risk. You might not block their path fast enough. Even if you did block their path fast enough, they might still not notice and merge right into your car. You are supposed to keep your distance to cars, even if they are in the lane next to you because you never know when someone will want to merge into your lane without warning.

Common assumptions people have when they want to block your path are the following:

  1. I need to get somewhere as fast as possible.
  2. A car wants to merge in front of me, but that would slow me down.
  3. If I speed up and block their path, then they will merge in front of someone else behind me.
  4. The benefit involved with blocking a path outweighs the risks.
  5. The other person (who wants to change lands) doesn’t count.
  6. The other person doesn’t deserve to get to change lanes.

Blocking the path of others who need to merge lanes is obviously wrong and some of the common assumptions are false. Some of these false assumptions are the same as those tailgaters have (The benefit attained does not outweigh the risks, and the other person does count.) Moreover, the other person does deserve to get to change lanes. People need to change lanes to get out of an “exit lane” on the freeway, to get to turn left onto a street, and so forth.

If any of these assumptions are false, then blocking the path of cars that need to merge lanes is no longer rational. People should stop doing it.

Additionally, almost everyone would agree that there should be a rule against blocking paths. We don’t want anyone to be allowed to bock our path, so we shouldn’t be allowed to block the path of others.

I have read that some people want you to thank them when you allow them to merge lanes. This is ridiculous. It isn’t “good of you” to allow someone to merge lanes, it’s required. It shouldn’t be allowed to disallow them from merging lanes. Moreover, it could be dangerous to expect someone to wave at you while driving, which is just one more distraction.

Lane sharing

One of the most common problems I have encountered when driving is another car driving in the same lane I am in. This is especially common after two lanes become one. The other person either miscalculates the fact that one lane will become two, or they just don’t want you to be in front of them, so they drive around you while in the same lane as you. I have even seen cars drive off-road to drive around me, and I don’t even drive slowly. Lane sharing is so outrageous that I couldn’t find any information about it online. It is pretty obvious that there is a law against driving side-by-side with another car on the same lane. Each lane is meant to only have one car on it at a time.

Common assumptions of people who share lanes are the following:

  1. I need to get somewhere as fast as possible.
  2. A car in front of me will slow me down.
  3. I can drive around the car in front of me while sharing the same lane in order to have one less car in front of me.
  4. The benefit involved with sharing lanes outweighs the risks.
  5. The person in front of me doesn’t count.
  6. The person in front of me doesn’t deserve to be in front of me.

These assumptions parallel those of people who block paths and some of them are false for the same reasons. The benefit does not outweigh the risks, the person in front of you does count, and the person in front of you does deserve to be in front of you. All three assumptions are required to justify lane sharing. If the benefit doesn’t outweigh the risk, then we shouldn’t share lanes. If the person in front of you counts, then we shouldn’t risk their life or show disrespect towards him or her. If the people in front of you deserves to be there just as much as you do, then there is no reason to take that way from them.

Additionally, everyone would agree that sharing lanes should be illegal. If it shouldn’t be allowed for others, then it shouldn’t be allowed for ourselves. Even if we are personally more important than anyone else, we couldn’t expect anyone else on the road to know that.


There are many forms of reckless driving and they all have similar assumptions. It is very common to disregard the interest of others and to disregard the risks involved with our actions. If we can change our assumptions, then we can change how we think and feel while driving, which will modify our actions for the better.

Although it might be occasionally difficult to change our personal behavior, it is even harder to change the behavior of anyone else. The stupidity of people at large could be caused by our culture, poor education, and alienation.

1 Comment »

  1. I cannot go anywhere, anymore, without being bullied on the road. Tailgating is my biggest pet peeve, and it happens from the moment I leave my driveway until I get to my destination. I do not drive slow. I’ve even been pulled over for going above the speed limit and given a verbal warning. Ironic that the very reason I was pulled over, was to try to avoid being tailgated in the first place. However, now, I just drive the speed limit and if someone wants to ram their car into the rear of mine, the insurance companies can battle it out. It’s beyond me.

    Comment by Mike Agnesia — March 31, 2013 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

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