Photo by Adobe Stock | ©Ezume
Columnist Phil Reisman discusses the high-decibel driving and road rage that have become more common during the pandemic.
“I don’t believe in road rage; I prefer the gentle rebuke. If I don’t like the way someone is driving, I pull up alongside the other car and say, ‘I hope your children turn out poorly.’”
— George Carlin
Ah, the wisdom of Carlin. The late curmudgeon was not only funny; he was spot-on.
We’re fed up with cretinous nitwits and incels who, slumped low in the saddles of their window-tinted, tricked-out death machines, endlessly rocket up and down our parkways, weave in and out of traffic, and punctuate their miserable presence with supersonic staccato blasts from modified mufflers and exhaust systems.
Why do they do this? They do it because they hate the world and probably hate themselves, as well.
Their antisocial modus operandi amounts to an indiscriminate hate crime aimed not at just one group or class of people but at all of us — and that includes babies, dogs, and anybody trying to get a decent night’s sleep. Somewhere online I saw a comment from a guy who called them “noise terrorists.”
Can’t get more hate-filled than that.
I wrote about this high-decibel menace a year ago, noting that the COVID-19 lockdown caused the escalation of aggressive driving — a blanket term that covers every aberrant road behavior from driving on the shoulder to drag racing. According to StreetsBlog.org, during the height of the lockdown, in the spring of 2020, a 51% decrease in New York City traffic led to an 80% increase in speeding. (It’s hardly surprising that the pandemic enabled an anonymous individual to shatter the illegal New York-to-Los Angeles “Cannonball” road record, reportedly timing in at 26 hours and 38 minutes.)
Here in Westchester County, the problem has been a chronic quality-of-life issue, especially in the heavily trafficked central and southern part of the county, where the twisting, overused parkways invite idiot driving and resultant road rage. If ever there were low-hanging fruit for a constituent focus group, this would be it — and incumbent County Executive George Latimer seemed to sense the politics of the matter by convening a presser just before Election Day.
The purpose was to announce that progress had been achieved, thanks to targeted law enforcement. Over a six-week period from July through Labor Day, county police issued 350 summonses for various forms of “obnoxious driving,” including 140 tickets to motorists driving cars with loud, modified mufflers.
County Police Lt. Joe Peters says that not all the noise culprits are engaged in high-speed drag racing, a fact that suggests more than a few are merely blowing it out their pipes for the sheer sadistic pleasure of shattering the peace and our nerves. One particularly vexing challenge is that drivers can control muffler volume by utilizing a switch inside their cars, thus reducing the odds of getting pulled over by police.
“We’re fed up with cretinous nitwits and incels who, slumped low in the saddles of their window-tinted, tricked-out death machines, endlessly rocket up and down our parkways.”
“It’s an issue we have to combat,” Peters says.
Combat is a good choice of word. Exhaust systems can be rigged to mimic an actual machine gun, causing people to panic and call 911 after hearing it.
And it’s not just exhaust systems. There are devices that make your car horn sound like a gun, too. “People get out of the way… way faster,” exclaims a cackling enthusiast in a YouTube demonstration (facebook.com/DemolitionRanch/videos/152498202342073).
Talk about obnoxious.
An effective deterrent would be punishment that squarely hits these clowns in the wallet. That’s the purpose behind the aptly named SLEEP Act (Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution Act), which was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul late last year. The law not only goes after the drivers; it cracks down on repair shops from installing and selling the noise contraptions in the first place by quadrupling the maximum fine from $250 to $1,000. Inspection stations will be required to check for the modified mufflers and potentially lose their operating licenses if they don’t.
“They seem to not care about other people, and now we are giving them a message,” Hochul said at a bill-signing event in Brooklyn. “You need to care, or else there are financial consequences.”
The word is out. But it remains to be seen if the message is heeded in 2022.
If not, I have a harsher penalty in mind. Every car caught with a modified muffler would be confiscated, placed in a hydraulic press and crushed into a cube to be sold for scrap. Going forward, the perpetrator would only be allowed to drive a tiny, noiseless electric car that can’t go any faster than 50 miles per hour.
I hope that somewhere, George Carlin is laughing.