Friday, January 20, 2012

Looking For a Gentler ‘Mr. Wheeler’

Three hundred eight five (385) people died in car accidents in Israel during 2011. That’s more than a person a day.  According to Israeli police, the key causes for accidents are: running a red light, unsafe passing, ignoring right of way, not maintaining safety distance, speeding, and disregarding pedestrians. We can’t blame the state of the roads, or the vehicles condition, or the density of cars. There’s one key factor to blame – drivers’ behavior.

Mr. Wheeler in action
In 1950 Walt Disney came out with a wonderful cartoon staring Goofy, the loveable Disney dog. The cartoon was called Motor Mania and it illustrates the behavior change from Mr. Walker (pedestrian) to Mr. Wheeler (car driver). Using a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” theme, Disney urges all of us to control our behavior once we get behind the wheel.  It has been 60 years since the cartoon came out, and the message is as relevant today as it was then.

I come across the Mr. Walker/Wheeler phenomena every day. Most Israelis are happy to help and assist others when approached. Yet some people change once they climb into their car and sit behind the wheel. Their behavior becomes aggressive; they are focused on “winning the race” and believe the end justifies the means.

Let’s take changing lanes for example. I am not talking about zigzagging between lanes in order to get ahead. I am talking about changing a lane in order to pass another car, make a turn, or exit the highway. The process should be straight forward: turn on the signal light, look for an opening in the target lane, and carefully switch to that lane. Sounds simple, right? Not if other drivers refuse to cooperate.

For some drivers, seeing a turning light of another car serves as a red flag: “someone is trying to take over my lane”. Their immediate reaction is to speed up, flash their head lights and honk the horn – all meant to deter or even block the other car from getting into “their lane”.  This can easily turn into a “game of chicken” where neither driver is willing to yield until it is too late.

One strategy for smooth lane changes involves lowering the window, and waving your arm to signal a request to switch a lane. My experience is that other drivers invariably show courtesy, slow down and let you safely switch lanes. I suppose a human arm is far less threatening than an electro-mechanical light - even though both relay the same message.  

A more daring strategy involves avoiding the signal light altogether. Stealthily observe the target lane, looking for a gap. Once you spot an opportunity - quickly shift lanes before any driver is able to react or move to block you. Needless to say, surprising the drivers around you with a sudden lane change is a highly dangerous behavior.

It shouldn’t be that difficult or dangerous to change lanes.

We pride ourselves on being a small nation, with a sense of community and willingness to help each other in a time of need. There is no reason why behavior on the road should be different. We all need to become more patient, more accommodating, and less aggressive on the road. A person dies in a car accident every day. Let’s not be that person, or cause the death of another.

Be a kinder, gentler Mr. Wheeler…


  1. "Three hundred eight five (385) people died in car accidents in Israel during 2011. That’s more than a person a day. "

    In the US, it's about 35,000. 1.25 million worldwide (in 2000, WHO stats).

  2. Mr. Wheeler,
    I read your article from August on becoming a volunteer Police Officer. I live in Jerusalem, do you have any info on becoming a volunteer in Jerusalem? Thank you