Pissed Off Br(u)no: Driving in Brno
Photo credit: CG / Brno Daily.
1. On a sub-zero morning in February, I was driving my kids to preschool and my wife to work. A large dump truck was approaching. Suddenly, a parked car blindly backed into my lane. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop a meter from the car, luckily keeping my front end from sliding into the oncoming dump truck. My kids were strapped safely into their car seats in the back seat.
2. Under a small railroad tunnel, oncoming cars often disregard the fact that they should yield and, about twice a month, this causes a near collision when I enter from the side with the right of way. Once I got into a shouting match with a truck driver who clearly (and dangerously) failed to yield. My kids were in the car, so I didn’t swear. Not in Czech, nor in English.
3. A business near where I live has a fence that obstructs the view of cars that exit the property. Half a dozen times, as a pedestrian on the sidewalk, I have almost been run down when the cars failed to slow down enough. There is a mirror expressly to eliminate this blind spot. Most drivers don’t bother to use it. I do, and the look of abject horror and guilt on the driver’s face when they see me standing safely on sidewalk, anticipating their unnecessary aggression, is only a partial positive. My kids are trained to always stop at that driveway, yet it has crept into my nightmares.
4. Earlier this summer, on the way to the last day of regular preschool, an old man on crutches stepped off of the sidewalk between two cars on my right. I was going the 50 kph speed limit. I stepped on my brake a bit and watched him. I expected him to stop in the gutter. He didn’t bother to look up and he just kept going. I slammed on my brakes and turned slightly into the middle of the street, luckily there was not an oncoming car. The bouquet of flowers, the bottle of wine and the box of chocolates that were to be gifts for the teachers, went flying from the passenger seat of the car. I came a centimeter from hitting the man. He grumbled and continued across the road. My kids got a great lesson for why we always look both ways when we cross streets.
All four of these events happened within 500 meters of my home — and, as emphasized above, all of them include my children.
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I have a theory about Czech drivers: It is possible to drive from age 18, but cars are more difficult for young adults to get here than in the United States. They generally have to wait until they are much older to actually drive one regularly. When they do finally get one, the drivers (the males, I should say) awaken from a dormant period with the subconscious need to live out their teenage angst. And they do: The relish the power, the speed, the freedom, the confidence, the supposed hand-eye-coordination and the excitement that they had cultivated through years of video games.
I have driven, conservatively, more than a million kilometers in my life, and I have driven in Brno for five years. In my experience, this town, easily, has the most obnoxious drivers.
I partially understand why. Some aggressiveness is necessary to be safe on these roads. There is a lot of traffic. The streets are narrow and claustrophobic. Trucks double-park. Cars temporarily park half-way up on busy-street kerbs. You often have to been assertive in order to merge. And it is not easy to pull out of many small streets.
The problem is that this necessary aggression establishes a high bar of normalcy. That makes it common to see people drive quickly through parking lots, cut a right-hand turn across crosswalks in front of pedestrians, and burst 30 kph over the speed limit to overtake a car in a residential neighborhood.
Tailgating is easily my biggest pet peeve. There is no logical reason that anyone should want to be right up on the ass of another car. Yet, tailgating is a constant in this area, be it on the highway at 130 kph or in a traffic jam or when have your hazard lights on and you want to back into a driveway.
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5. A fifth illustrative driving experience happened earlier this week. While going to get my children at a summer preschool, I checked to see that there was no one in the lane I was backing into. By the time I straightened, a car had made the 90-degree turn 100 meters away and had started toward me. I saw in my rearview mirror that it was coming quickly so I put my car in gear, apparently not quickly enough.
I have lived and driven for years in New York City. Honking — both giving and receiving — doesn’t phase me. But when a car speeds up to aggressively approach my back bumper and then honks, that pisses me off. I flipped the guy off and my blood pressure spiked.
Later, when I turned left, the guy turned left. When I turned right, the guy turned right. When I turned left again, the guy turned left again. When I parked in front of the preschool, the guy parked as well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. A not insignificant thought went through my head: at least there aren’t many guns in this country.
In the end, there was no road rage incident. The guy went to get his kid from the preschool and I went to get my kids from the same preschool. We waited together, slightly awkwardly, as the teachers brought the kids to the front.
He brought up the incident. He explained that he honked at me because I didn’t speed up quickly enough; he was right. I told him he should have slowed down; I was right.
We said good-bye to each other, took our children back to our cars and went on our separate ways.
At least every incident (so far, knock on wood) has had a happy ending.