Originally written in May of 2003, but revised and posted 9/11/05
Please note that is is mostly a parady of the Mormon way of life in Utah, and only partially serious.
I recently had the pleasure of overhearing (and briefly being involved in) a conversation about the drivers in Utah Valley, Utah. I was told that they are not very good drivers because you get so many driving styles from around the country all blended into one or two cities. Well, on the surface, that may make all kinds of sense (it helps if, like the person who told me this, you are from a small, farming town in Utah and haven't seen much of the world). Think about it for a moment, and you begin to wonder why other college towns don't have more driving problems. Provo is not really much of a metropolitan area. There are plenty of other places that are far more culturally diverse and have drivers from far more locales. What is it about Provo, Utah (and the surrounding area) that makes it so dangerous to drive around here?
Now, many of you may not give an oil stain about the topic, but I'm going to fill you in, anyway. Utah Valley, also known as "Happy Valley," and sometimes affectionately called "Outer Darkness," is a nice valley in Utah County and the home of Brigham Young University, a Mormon breeding ground. Oh, yeah, it's a school or something, too.
Mormons from throughout the entire world feel this is the only place to be educated, and the only place for their kids to be educated. People come in droves to earn their degrees and find a spouse (for men, many degrees are available, but women are unofficially restricted to family studies, elementary education or their "Mrs." degrees). Naturally, moral standards must be kept, so students
are forced voluntarily sign an "honor code" forbidding various bad deeds liking having a beard and going into the bedroom of a member of the opposite sex. Apparently, "honor" means ratting out your neighbor, although this could just be a rumor started by disaffected ex-BYU students.
I have no problem with this honor code, in principle. It is a private school and can make any restrictions it feels are necessary, but I have don't like the idea of signing something as a promise to be good. If it is on your honor, you shouldn't have to sign something. Also, my wife tells me that you sign a short, reasonable-looking sheet of rules, not realizing until it's too late that you agreed to an entire manual full of restrictions. Is that really fair play? At any rate, I have not dealt directly with this honor code, but have seen its effects on many of my friends who have gone to the "Y." They sometimes live in fear that their academic futures will be ruined forever if they even think about the opposite sex. Ever. Except with the exception of getting married for the sole reason of repopulating the earth through non-sexy sex.
What does this have to do with driving? These are the kids driving around this area. Scary. I mean, think about it. Driving is a complex behavior, but it is based on some pretty simple rules. At a stop sign, there are certain rules or protocols. Changing lanes requires a different set of protocols. Pulling out into a busy street, yet another set. Most of these rules involve making sure your car and the neighboring cars don't meet in an unpleasant manner. That should be sufficient. But these rules get ignored constantly by these Happy Valley Drivers. It's not that hard, people!
There are two basic rules to driving (there may be more, but I'm not going to go into them right now). The first rule is to respect the drivers around you. Rule number two: keep your vehicle from touching pretty much anything else. It's all pretty basic and requires a little courtesy and common sense (you know, that kind of sense that someone gets by agreeing with you). The drivers around here? Well, common sense is in short supply virtually everywhere, so in that way, we are not unique in Utah. However, the question of courtesy? Do not get me started. The truth is, Utah Valley has some of the least courteous drivers with whom I have ever shared the road.
I can't begin to tell you the times I have had another driver do something stupid, or even worse, absolutely dangerous, like cutting me off to turn right, when they were in the left lane a moment ago, only to get mad at me what I honk at them. Or those who think that the road belongs to them and expect you to move when you are already going slightly over the speed limit. They feel they have the right to go as fast as they want, and how dare you follow the law?
While I'm not a career driver, I have had a fairly good sampling of the nation's drivers. I have spent significant time driving in upstate New York, LA, Tucson and Phoenix, and even some in Las Vegas. As long as you drive in the day, you are actually pretty safe in Vegas. Phoenix and Tucson both have their share of idiot drivers, but they all seem to be genuine idiots, and need drugs to achieve optimal stupidity. In Los Angeles and the neighboring areas, there are aggressive drivers, but at least they are required by law not to shoot you without warning you first. That and they also allow you to merge, also as required by law. Not around here. In Utah Valley, if you signal to merge, the cars around you will speed up to fill any gap in traffic into which you might have foolishly wished to merge. Why? Good question.
For the students, I have already hinted at my theory. Most of these students have not found their eternal companion yet. You know, the freshmen girls who are 18 and the guys who have returned from their missions at 21 but are still freshmen, too. Give them six months to hastily make a decision that affects the rest of their lives and eternity. Until that speedy wedding takes place, each one of those young students is a hormonal time bomb, waiting to go off in the streets. Their frustration is palpable as they demonstrate their insane driving techniques. While I wouldn't recommend that anyone of them go out and break a commandment to improve their driving, I must say that they need to relax a little.
But what about the married-with-kids crowd? Whether they are going to church meetings, picking up the kids, going home for Family Home Evening, going to a ward social or speeding to the nearest DI (that's "Deseret Industries," for those who don't know), Mormons have to rush to get everywhere. Why? Is everything they do that important? Well, I think that maybe they do feel that way. Mormons have a sense of purpose and mission to everything they do, including grocery shopping. In addition to that, Mormon parents are often harried and slowed down by children in multiples of four, so much that they never can leave on time for anything. Running late necessitates speeding and cutting off others to get there in time.
Married or not, the drivers around here freak me out. But that is just me. If you come visiting this fine area, don't be too afraid of driving. Just be sure to give the drivers all the respect they deserve and all the space they require, and don't be rattled by a few scowls. They don't use the middle finger around here, but they would if it didn't break the honor code.