3.10 All Drivers are Psychotic

Drivers are psychotic. I have proof. Since acquiring my first vehicle a few months ago, I have seen some pretty questionable decisions made by people behind the wheel. Most of these are just kind of stupid, I need to get there faster my time is more important than yours, kind of decisions. But a few nights ago, another driver actually attempted to purposely cause an accident. Martha Stout, PhD, in her fascinating book, The Myth of Sanity, explores the notion of dissociative states: “A dissociative state that reaches the point of fugue is one of the most dramatic spontaneously occurring examples of the human mind’s ability to divide consciousness into parts. In fugue, the person, or the mind of the person, can be subdivided in a manner that allows certain intellectually driven functions to continue, which the part of consciousness that we usually experience as the ‘self’ has taken flight, or has perhaps just darkened like a room at night when someone is sleeping.”

Is it possible for our ‘self’ to take flight while driving? Driving is somewhat repetitive, and can potentially lure the mind into this fugue state, allowing room for decisions that do not seem rational.

I am not the fastest driver around. I usually hover around the speed limit and this has caused frustration and annoyance from other drivers. But I can’t count the times when I’m going a bit over the speed limit, a driver is riding my tail pushing me to go faster, and we pass a police man standing by the side of the road pulling people over for speeding. The driver behind me probably would have gotten a ticket. And I didn’t even get a thank you.

Stout continues: “Similar is the common experience of the daily commuter by car who realizes that sometimes she or he arrives back at home in the evening without having been aware of the activities of driving. The driving was automatically carried out by some part of the mind, while the ‘self’ part of the mind was worrying, daydreaming, or listening to the radio. The experience is that of arriving at home without remembering the process of the trip. If one reflects upon the minute and complex decisions and maneuvers involved in driving a car, this ordinary event is really quite remarkable.”

My driving habits do not have to do with speeding tickets. I value my life. I will speed up when the situation calls for it, but I want to arrive home safely. The time for stupid, life-threatening maneuvers is over. That style of driving is for the youth. I’m too old for that. And so far, I have no accident on my record (knocking on my wooden desk as I write this).

I live off a main road that has stoplights at every block. The speed limit is 50 km/h and you really can’t go fast because of the lights. I was at the front of the line and the light turned from red to green. The driver behind me instantly started honking his horn. It was night and next he turned on his high beams, which were almost out of view because he was so close to my rear bumper.

Instead of giving in and speeding up, I slowed down, my intention being that he would just pull into the left lane and pass me, but we were boxed in with cars in front and beside us. I watched as he pulled into the left lane, cutting in front of another car and pulling into a space barely big enough for his truck. As he passed, I looked over and did the disappointed head-shake.

What happened next was psychotic.

The truck cut in front of me and I flashed my high beams, communicating to him my feelings that he was being stupid, but this just provoked him. We were driving down a hill and so all the cars were picking up speed. He started to slow down, which I thought was stupid enough. Then he slammed on the brakes. Let me review: we were driving down a hill, surrounded by cars and this guy slammed on the brakes, coming to a complete stop.

I thought he was just slowing down and I didn’t react right away. Reflexes kicked in and I slammed on my brakes. Luckily, we were almost at a stoplight and there was a right turning lane. I swerved into the right lane, came to a stop, barely missed his rear bumper and prepared for the car behind me to slam into my rear bumper. At the last minute, I pulled farther into the right lane and the car behind me sailed past, by this time, the psychotic driver had peeled away.

I let everyone pass by me.

I was a block from my place.

I waited until the road was clear.

“Clinical fugue differs from common human experience,” Stout noted. “Not so much in kind as in degree. Fugue is terror-driven and complete, while the more recognizable condition is the result of distraction, and relatively transparent. As fugue, the car trip example would involve a driver who failed to remember not just the process of the trip, but also the fact that there had been a trip, and from where.”

After the fact, I wondered if perhaps this person didn’t even know what he was doing. An infinite amount of reasons could be involved as to why this person chose to get back at me for driving too slow. Would they even remember? Was this their unconscious mind taking control and had some kind of death wish? I can’t believe that this could have been a rational, reasoned course of action.

I pulled into my condo development. After parking in the garage, I just sat there for a few minutes. I was shaking. In some kind of shock. Enraged that someone would actually put a number of people in that kind of danger. The situation could have been much worse and ended very badly. I wished I was quick enough to memorize his license plate for the police, immortalize his face in my memory. I wanted to go back on the road with a baseball bat in my trunk and find this guy, which seemed kind of contradictory, but I was angry. I knew the best thing to do was to get out of the car and go home.