High beams: Innocent oversight or crime against humanity?

I’m a human being, and like all human beings, I sometimes do unpleasant things to other human beings. Sometimes I talk about people behind their backs, sometimes I pretend I didn’t see the person running for the elevator, sometimes I leave a little bit of milk in the bottle so I don’t have to be the one to rinse and recycle. And sometimes – just sometimes – I leave my headlights on high beam.


That’s right, I’ll admit it. I’m an occasional high beamer. I’m not proud of it, and I never do it on purpose. I just forget to turn them off every once in a while, which is very easy to do, even if you’re an otherwise careful and considerate driver.


I’ll be driving along at night, scanning the road ahead for potential hazards, holding the steering wheel with both hands in a relaxed but firm grip, when I’ll see another car approaching from the opposite direction. I’ll check my speed and adjust my position in the lane but I’ll forget to dip my headlights because I’m too busy thinking about whether or not there’s going to be a cardboard box full of puppies around the next bend. It’s an innocent mistake that could happen to anyone, and when I figure out what I’ve done, I feel instant and overwhelming remorse.


So, given that I know how easy it is to do, why do I hate people who do it to me with such a burning passion? Why, when confronted with a set of high beams pointing in my direction, do I immediately assume that the person behind the headlights is going out of their way to make my life difficult. It’s most likely an average, law abiding citizen who has inadvertently left their high beams on, possibly for the first time ever, and would apologise profusely if given the opportunity, but I always imagine a muttering psychopath with his headlight switch glued into the high beam position, and “Fuck the world” tattooed onto his forehead.


So, just to recap, when I do it, it’s an innocent oversight but when somebody else does it, it’s a crime against humanity. There’s an obvious double standard operating here. Let’s see if I can justify it.


When a series of unrelated strangers do the same annoying thing, my brain combines all of those unrelated strangers into a single,  amalgamated character. That character then embodies the annoying behaviour in my imagination forever more. I don’t see a hundred different people who have each high beamed me once and then never troubled me again. I see “high beam” guy, that bastard. And he’s done it to me so many times before that he couldn’t possibly have an acceptable excuse this time.


There’s “high beam” guy, and “tailgate” guy,  and “sit at 80% of the speed limit on a busy single lane road” guy. Then, of course, there’s “cruise along in the lane that’s obviously going to end and push into my lane at the very last second” guy. And don’t forget “park right in the middle of a space that’s big enough for two cars, leaving two thirds of a car length at either end so nobody else can park there even though there should be plenty of room” guy. I really hate that guy.


Looking at the world like that generates a lot of unresolvable emotion. I’m never going to be in a position to confront the high beamer. And even if I was, I probably wouldn’t say anything to them because I’m afraid of confrontations, especially the kind where the other person can hear what I’m saying, and isn’t looking at me through a rear view mirror.


I’ve found that life is much easier if I remind myself that the person who has just offended me with their driving has probably never done it to me before, and may have a great excuse. Maybe it’s the first time they’ve driven along this road and they didn’t know that the lane was going to end. Maybe they squeezed into a parking space then all the other cars drove away and new cars parked around them in a slightly different configuration that left them looking like a bit of a jerk. Maybe their partner is dismantling a bomb in the back seat and they have to drive very, very slowly so as not to set off the mercury switch. Maybe they’re tailgating me because…




OK, you win. Some people are just dicks.

One Response to 'High beams: Innocent oversight or crime against humanity?'

  1. Glenn says:

    Yep, no excuse for tail-gaters.

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