Chivalry in the Fast Lane

Scott Farrell comments:

Having just returned from a two-week trip to England, I’ve been contemplating the Code of Chivalry as it relates to the American “rules of the road.” The motor vehicle fatality rate in the U.S. is about three times as high [slider title=”as that in England”]Annually, 15.6 per 100,000 people are killed in car accidents in America vs. 5.6 in England and Wales. Source: 1994 World Health Organization stastical data.[/slider]. Ironically, by American standards, British roads seem far more dangerous than American highways, with narrower lanes, fewer street signs and higher speed limits. So what causes this difference?

From an admittedly personal and unscientific viewpoint, it’s possible that British roads are safer because of the concept of chivalry. One of the seven knightly virtues is mercy — that sense of tranquility and compassion manifested in someone who is willing to unilaterally forgive a perceived slight or offense rather than seeking an opportunity to “get even.”

Mercilessness has practically become iconic of American drivers: Angry motorists proudly weave through traffic to seek retribution against the ones who cut them off or who hold up traffic in the fast lane, regardless of how many others they endanger in this game of “one-upsmanship.” American drivers often seem to use their vehicles to demonstrate dominance and superiority; in contrast, British drivers tend to be patient and deferential on the road.

In this article, the author reminds us that chivalry, with its sense of graciousness, consideration and respect, is not just hollow courtesy. Observing the Code of Chivalry along with the rules of the road makes the freeways (and the whole world) a bit safer for everyone.

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The Art of Being a Knight on the Road

When I think of the word chivalry, I think of men dressed in Shakespearean clothing, placing their coats over a puddle so that the approaching maiden doesn’t drown her shoes and dress in muddy water. Not many men would be willing to ruin their Ralph Lauren sportcoats these days.

But while many modern women wouldn’t expect such grandiose pampering, chivalry can be as simple as opening the passenger door before opening your own. Of course, with the advent of remote keyless entry, laziness often kicks in. Don’t let this laziness consume you. Even if you feel you must use the keyless remote, you still can walk around to open the passenger door first.

Chivalry is not defined only as a nice gesture from a man to a woman. It is not gender-, age- or race-specific. Anyone can be chivalrous, and everyone should.

In traffic, for instance, why ride the bumper of the car in front of you, trying to shield merging cars from entering your lane? Instead, be polite and allow one of the merging cars to slip into the lane in front of you. It won’t make your commute that much longer.

car-angerTo be chivalrous is to be polite. If your slogan is “don’t get mad, get even,” then you need some serious lessons in the art of chivalry. Don’t let your blood pressure rise for no reason. Instead of speeding up to a slower driver and flipping your high beams to show your discontent, be patient and wait for the opportunity to pass them. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are driving slow and have the opportunity to change lanes to let faster traffic by, then do so.

An additional way you can be chivalrous is to help another driver in need. It can be as simple as dialing for help to assist someone with a flat tire, or as simple as calling 911 on your cellular phone when an accident occurs in front of your eyes. Even if you are not noticed for your good deed, self-satisfaction should be enough justification.

We all make mistakes on the road; there is no such thing as a perfect driver. Yet often, when another driver slips up, we are so quick to criticize them. Sorry if this sounds too much like Jerry Springer’s closing thought, but if we all work together and tap into our courteous nature, the road will be a more peaceful place.

Chivalry is not dead!

© 2005 Jon Hindman

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This article has been reprinted from the website To share your thoughts on “motorway chivalry” through their discussion forum, send an e-mail to

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