DO THE PEOPLE who put bumper stickers on their cars actually read them?
It's a question that I'm asking more frequently as I buckle up and venture into the hazardous world of public highways.
Often asked in anger, this exasperating question may be rephrased as: Can the people who put bumper stickers on their cars actually read?
A recent commuting day turned up three prime examples of driver illiteracy.
While I was driving down a steep hill at or about the posted speed of 40 miles an hour, a Cadillac pulled out in front of me and stuttered for a few terrifying moments as he finally made it up to speed, my brakes pumping all the while. He then slowed to a comfortable (for him) 30 miles an hour on the incline. Super cautious, but super stupid. If the motorist wanted to drive very slowly and timidly, he could at least look before entering the highway.
On his bumper was the "Drive to Survive" sticker of the Maryland State Highway Administration. Tied to his door handle was a red ribbon, which is the symbol adopted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Not that I think uncharitably about those organizations, whose purpose is to promote safe, responsible driving. Not that I believe their motives aren't sincere either, even if some of their presumable supporters act as if they aren't.
Another fellow traveler along life's road sported the blue-green, premium-fee Chesapeake Bay Trust license plate, and one of those blue "Save the Bay" bumper stickers. An environmentally motivated motorist, one would reasonably expect.
Yet it wasn't long until a cigarette butt came flying out the driver's window, bouncing in a shower of sparks onto the roadside. That was followed shortly by a contribution of trash paper into the air stream from the car, no doubt the wrappings of a fresh pack for the mobile smoker.
Never mind that littering is against the law, or that Smokey the Bear has been reminding us for decades about the causes of forest fires. Where was that environmental conscience that prompted the car's owner to pay for the Bay tag and apply the Bay sticker? The more appropriate decoration for his rear end (and for his car) would have been the Mad magazine sticker of total irresponsibility: "What, me worry?"
A third instance involved an impatient sort who gunned his car to try and pass a vehicle ahead of me -- across the double-striped, no-passing center line.
Luckily for him, he managed to muscle his car back into the proper lane just in time to avoid an oncoming vehicle. That abrupt re-entry caused a chain of panic-braking for cars in the line, before he zoomed on down the pavement without a care for the speed limit.
And why should he, since his vehicular activities were charmed by the yellow talisman on his rear bumper, the one that reads "Troopers are your best protection"?
That's the sticker that proclaims your support for the private Maryland Troopers Association, whose uniformed members patrol our county and state roads.
There's nothing wrong with bumper stickers. I've had them on my cars over the years. They provide a passing identity for anonymous drivers, a moving message center that can be serious or humorous, sacred or profane.
But the mounting evidence, from my personal investigation, is that the bumper stickers too often create a negative image for causes or ideas because of careless, thoughtless driving habits of people who employ their bumper stickers.
Political candidates -- and ballot question advocates -- believe they are an effective way to advertise, to spread the word and demonstrate public support. There's no such thing as bad publicity, just spell my name right, as the saying goes: the benefit of name repetition.
Perhaps they should rethink such thinking when it comes to bumper stickers.
What are you going to think of a yahoo driver who cuts you off or tailgates at a dangerous interval or creeps along in front of you at 20 miles below the speed limit? And that cretin's car bears the bumper sticker proudly proclaiming support of "Burns for Council" in the coming election?
I once voted "no" on Question B simply out of spite because of inconsiderate, dangerous driving by a motorist whose car sticker urged me to vote "yes" as we drove to the polls.
Perhaps other folks don't take it so seriously, or go with the flow more easily. Maybe they don't even notice the stickers. Or they forget, even if they don't forgive.
Another answer is that the particular bad driver of a car was not responsible for the bumper sticker. It was put on by the car's owner, who may not be the driver. So any relationship between bumper sticker and driver may be purely coincidental.
But there's one popular bumper sticker we would all do well to heed, regardless of how the motorist in front is driving:
"If you can read this bumper sticker, you're too darn close."
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.
Pub Date: 12/01/96