I saw the light the other week while talking to an old friend who's now a police officer. After all, if anyone sees a lot of bad driving, it's the folks in law enforcement. The truth appeared in a second of blinding revelation. "In terms of bad driving," he said, "if you see a guy who's wearing a hat - look out. Hat-while-driving equals trouble."
I had to catch my breath and steady my head. This was as close to a lightning bolt as they came. You see, I spend a lot of time pondering other people's bad habits in an effort to unravel the reasons behind our species' automotive transgressions. I've sought, if not a total explanation, then at least a few signals or signs I could point to and say, "There. That's why. That's why we suck."
And now, it seemed, I had the key.
For the next minute a movie ran: a montage of hat-wearing driving. There was the old man wearing a flat cap going 40 km/h on Highway 7. The backward-trucker-hat-wearing teenager (who was obviously road racing) weaving in and out of Sunday afternoon traffic. The goatee-emblazoned too-cool Outliers-wannabe wearing the Gatsby while tailgating me in his Cooper Mini. The examples of hat-sporting automotive malfeasance seemed limitless. It was a ready-made "Worst Of" reel. A veil had been lifted. I could see clearly now, the hats were on.
"Beware the hat," my friend repeated. "Beware."
I stumbled out into my new reality determined to put the theory to the test and spent the next week peering into the vehicles around me seeking headgear-sporting drivers. Here's what I've learned:
Ignore the Weather. My first and most startling realization was that I often wear a hat while driving. It keeps my head warm in the winter. Could I be a bad driver? It became clear that the "hat-while-driving" theory should exclude those who were simply combatting the elements and anyone driving a convertible. It applied to drivers who had made a conscious decision to don a hat, independent of the weather and spiritual or religious conviction.
Old Hat. The clichéd hat-headed motorist can recall voting for Diefenbaker, may or may not have played football without a helmet, and sports a Panama while driving his Impala. He wears a hat because he is the product of a time when everyone wore hats and people feared drivers who didn't wear them. A guy without a hat was likely on the run from the law or a communist. So, fashion-wise, "Old Hat" gets a pass, but that doesn't stop him from being a (generally) slow-moving menace.
Young, Dumb and Wearing a Hat. By wearing a hat, a young person takes their first driving weakness (being young) and adds a hat to it. Weirdly, the young person wearing hat is often trying desperately to look like the old guy wearing a hat because everything the old guy has (an Impala, a Panama, polyester pants, a memory of sex before AIDS) is completely hip for a kid who's 21. It's the circle of life.
Vanity, Thy Name is Driven. The true danger lies in the guy who looks in the mirror and says, "I'd look better with a hat on." Why? Because this guy is trying to be someone else, live in another era (like the 1930s). These dudes favour fedoras and pork pie hats. Who thinks that by smacking a Stingy Fedora he'll look like Justin Timberlake or like Paul Newman in The Sting? The kind of guy you'll find in a Jetta ahead of you changing lanes without signalling.
Middle-aged Bed Head. While the youngsters will spend money on hair gel trying to perfect the bed-head look, middle-aged hat enthusiasts often don chapeaus to hide that sleepy follicle side-effect. Bed head undermines the illusion of stability they're trying to maintain. That's a danger sign because it means 40-going-on-80 is tired, hungover or both. Look for them wearing NHL baseball caps driving like psychos to Saturday-morning soccer games.
Woman Wearing Fancy Hat. I'll be frank. If you see a woman wearing a fancy hat driving a car, pull over and call for roadside assistance. A woman wearing a fancy hat is extremely dangerous because a) She is going to either a wedding or a funeral. That's high stress. b) She is wearing a large, fancy hat she agonized over and spent a lot of money buying. c) She is worried she does not look good and feels guilty about spending the money. d) She is late because she spent so much time agonizing and feeling guilty. e) She is not going to be late for that funeral/wedding.
Other Visual Cues:
"Baby on Board" - This is a sign (literally) that signals the motorist is a morally compromised narcissist and a bad driver to boot. It first appeared in the mid-1980s and was almost instantly reviled. It's tough to imagine the logic. Do "Baby on Boards" expect other drivers to think: "Oh, I was going to ram into that car but since it has a sign saying the owner has an infant I won't." Safe driving shouldn't be age-conditional. You should always avoid collisions. These are the same kind of hypocrites who think dropping a bomb on a 16-year-old kid is a war crime but if you throw a rifle in the hands of an 18-year-old all of a sudden he's fair game.
"Anything Hanging from the Rear-view Mirror" - You thought about it. You went out and bought it. You got some string. You got in your car. Then you hung it from your rear-view mirror. All of these are bad signs. Together, they are the motor vehicular equivalent of breaking the Seventh Seal.
"Stuffed Animals" - The first thing law enforcement should do when a bomb scare is reported is search all cars with stuffed animals rammed up against the back windshield.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy