Boston Globe Online:

Honk if you drive like us

By Diane White, Globe Staff

People from out of town are always complaining about the way we drive in Boston. It's a cliche, and like many cliches it's rooted in the truth. Bostonians drive like maniacs. We're famous for it.

I'd like to say something to all you whiners: If you don't like it, leave. Go home. If you must stay here, don't drive, please, because you're the problem, you people who stubbornly refuse to drive like Bostonians.

Visitors should know by now what they're in for when they drive around here, but they persist in acting surprised by our local customs. They complain that Boston drivers speed up on yellow. We make left turns from the right lane. We ignore Yield signs. We intimidate pedestrians. So what else is new? Get used to it. We're not going to change. Learn to drive the way we do, or take a bus.

It's a question of observing the local customs. You don't go to a foreign country and expect everybody to speak English. When people come to Boston they shouldn't expect us to drive the way they do in Buffalo or Salt Lake City or Minneapolis. When in Boston, do as Bostonians do. Drive like a maniac or get off the road.

The other morning I was driving down Boylston Street when the car right in front of mine came to a halt in the middle of the block. The driver was looking around trying to figure out what to do next. Half-a-dozen cars were lined up behind her, people were honking their horns. She just sat there, looking right, looking left, looking everywhere but in her rearview mirror. I checked her plates. New Jersey. Of course.

Any Boston driver knows that once you get behind the wheel you never stop to think about where you're going. You just keep moving, as fast as possible, even if you have no idea where you are or where you're headed. Given the weird street patterns around here you probably won't end up where you want to be no matter what you do, so you might as well step on the gas and get out of the way.

The rules for driving in Boston bear only the vaguest resemblance to the standard rules of the road. Nevertheless, they're rules. Some of us who've lived here all our lives don't like the rules, but we follow them because we know that if we don't we're liable to be killed. The rules were unwritten until a few years ago, when Ira Gershkoff and Richard Trachtman put together "The Boston Driver's Handbook."

Local colleges and universities should send incoming students copies of this book and insist they read it before they get here. Each fall a fresh crop of out-of-town students moves here and wreaks havoc on the roads by driving the way they do at home. Some of them are careful drivers who cause pileups when they brake for pedestrians, unheard of behavior in these parts. Others come from places where driving maniacally is de rigueur but, unfortunately, the crazy driving habits they've learned at home don't correspond to our own.

Gershkoff and Trachtman provide a useful introduction to the local driving scene and explain both the basics and the finer points of the offensive driving skills motorists need to master in order to survive here. How to block two lanes of traffic. How to pull U turns on major arteries during rush hour. Why you should always look both ways before running a red light. The Boston left turn. Advanced tailgating. Kamikaze merging techniques. They've also compiled the Ten Commandments of Boston driving. No.1: Thou shalt reach thy destination as quickly as possible. Everyone and everything else be damned.

"The Boston Driver's Handbook" is a useful little volume. Local bookstores stock it in their "humor" sections, which is curious because there's nothing funny about driving in Boston - unless you live someplace else and only have to read about it.

This story ran in the Boston Globe Magazine on 4/11/1996.
© Copyright 1996 Globe Newspaper Company.