A popular chain drug store sits at a busy intersection in Starkville. At peak traffic times, like when school gets out, it’s impossible to turn left (southbound) out of its parking lot.

Nevertheless, an elderly woman was attempting just that as I and the three or four other people in front of me watched helplessly, unable to continue our travel. She wasn’t simply sitting in the lot waiting for a gap in the steady line of cars and school buses. Instead, she had pulled out into the northbound lane, blocking it completely, intent on bulldozing her way in front of a bus.

Before you say I’m being hard on the old, let me assure you that in my experience selfishness and stupidity may be found in any generation of drivers. A student, eager to get wherever it was he had to go after consuming a platter of chicken fingers, pulled out of the restaurant lot, crossing the westbound lane of a major local highway. He sat in the eastbound left-turn lane, waiting to merge into traffic. Problem was he was blocking all the people who actually wanted to use the lane to turn left. He was oblivious to the blaring horns, shouts, and obscene gestures, some from fellow students.

My favorite pet peeve around here, though, is drivers who think they’re doing a good deed by letting someone out of a parking lot to turn left across traffic onto a busy thoroughfare. They do this, and the left-turn driver accepts, despite the fact that visibility is extremely and dangerously limited. I often say it: a wreck waiting to happen. I never let anybody out who’s turning left. I would feel responsible in some way for the accident.

Over and over I see drivers paying attention not to the road but to the conversation they’re having on their cell phones or to inserting a CD in the dash. Or they cut the corner as they turn left, and thus almost scrape the front quarter-panel of my SUV. Or they insist on going well under the speed limit, even when there is no reason to, like heavy rain or a bicycler up ahead.

Stevie Ray Vaughn once asked in a song “whatever happened to the Golden Rule?” Every time I get out on the street or highway these days I ask that question. What would happen if drivers followed the famous dictum of Jesus “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Would we be driving around with cell phones stitched to our ears? Or ignoring speed limits, either by driving too fast or too slowly? And, even though it seems as if we would be following the Rule by letting drivers turn left in front of us into oncoming traffic, I think not. Part of our duty to others, according to my tradition, is to help protect their lives. As one of our statements of faith put it, we are to follow the sixth commandment (“You shall not murder”) by preventing injury to our neighbor as much as we can (The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 107).

Many years ago, a pastor in my church in Georgia preached a sermon on the Golden Rule, relating it in part to what we do as drivers. He must have made an impression on me.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.