Good Advice from the 'Bad Driver's Handbook'

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Farai Chideya talks with Larry Arnstein, former taxi driver and co-author of The Bad Driver's Handbook: Hundreds of Simple Maneuvers to Frustrate, Annoy and Endanger Those Around You.

ED GORDON, host:

And now, NPR's Farai Chideya talks with someone who provides expert driving advice on everything from surviving road rage to outsmarting your average street sign.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

On any given day, millions of Americans spend considerable time behind the wheel of a car. Many, like those of you listening, are or will be annoyed by some other person's driving. Well, fret not, help is on the way. Larry Arnstein, former taxi driver and co-author of The Bad Driver's Handbook: Hundreds of Simple Maneuvers to Frustrate, Annoy and Endanger Those Around You is here to share some liberating truths about driving that you won't see in any DMV Handbook. Welcome, Larry.

Mr. LARRY ARNSTEIN (Co-Author, "The Bad Driver's Handbook"): Well, I'm glad to be here, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Let me just start out by saying that this book is truly really funny, especially living in Los Angeles. You have something about the natural arch right, which his like bongo players listening to their cars' natural rhythms flowing with the curvature of the earth and not on the road. I mean, you really mercilessly skewer drivers.

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, that one actually, I became familiar with when I was helping one of my sons learn to drive. One of our basic points in this book is that we're really -- we're all bad drivers, and that what has been missing is a guide that is directed for and to bad drivers where you get the real driving world as it exists out there, as opposed to the fantasy world that you become acquainted with when you read the DMV Driver's Handbook.

CHIDEYA: And you were a bad driver -- I don't know if you were a bad driver, but you had to be kind of an aggressive taxi driver. What was it like driving a taxi?

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, I drove a taxi a couple of different places. But the first place I drove a taxi was in New York City. And when you're driving a taxi, people give you an extra quarter of a second, which is a lot of time in midtown Manhattan, to cut them off and do crazy things, because they expect you to. So, exhilarating doesn't even begin to describe the feeling you have. It's like you're suddenly an all powerful being just by getting behind the wheel of a taxi.

CHIDEYA: I lived in New York for many years and I always thought that the two types of drivers that did well in New York were the really good drivers who could avoid the bad drivers, and the really bad drivers because everyone avoided them. If you were a kind of middle of the road driver, you really didn't have a chance.

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, good drivers, so called good drivers, who actually do things that surprise the rest of us, like stopping at stop signs and slowing down for yellow lights, they actually present the most menace to public safety, because nobody is expecting them to do that. When we see a yellow light, we all know that that means we should speed up to beat the light.

CHIDEYA: What are some of your favorite bad driving moves? You know, you have a section on U-Turns. What are some of the common abuses of U-turns, people having too much fun with U-turns?

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, the meaning of the no U-Turn sign, most people think it means no U-Turns. But what it actually means is you look around to see if there are any cops, and if you don't see any, then you can make the U-Turn.

CHIDEYA: So let me just get to a bigger question, which is car culture. You couldn't write something like the Bad Driver's Handbook without living in a city with a massive car culture. Why do you think we put up with all this?

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, those of us who get where we're going by driving, which is most of us, really have to put up with obstacles like pedestrians who are really an insult to the industrial revolution, because our forefathers created this wonderful society that we have technologically advanced so that people wouldn't have to walk. And yet there they are, we're walking across our roads, and we have to slow down for them and stop.

We maintain that we're not actually doing them any favors by stopping for them because that just encourages them to develop lazy habits, and complacent and slow are not survival traits.

CHIDEYA: So bad drivers, if I can get this correct, are really humanitarians, because they're urging the fitness for pedestrians who then have to run extra fast.

Mr. ARNSTEIN: That's right. We are encouraging a generation of alert, agile, fast, smart pedestrians by challenging them.

CHIDEYA: You could end up with the Nobel Peace Prize. That was Larry Arnstein, former writer for Saturday Night Live. He co-authored with his son, The Bad Driver's Handbook: Hundreds of Simple Maneuvers to Frustrate, Annoy and Endanger Those Around You. It's been fun, Larry, thanks.

Mr. ARNSTEIN: Well, I was glad to be here Farai.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit And if you'd like to comment, call us at 202-408-3330. That's 202-408-3330.

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