<b>DRIVE LIKE A RUSSIAN:</b> Moscow follows its own rules when it comes to automobiles, not unlike Santa Barbara.
Courtesy Photo

NO COP, NO STOP: I’m reading this fantastically funny work of fiction titled the California Driver Handbook. (My edition is subtitled Does Not Apply Within City Limits of Santa Barbara.)

True, the DMV booklet lists all these laws one must obey, or else, such as stopping at stop signs and even (surprise!) for pedestrians. But our Santa Barbara–only edition adds asterisks to the rules: “Suggestion Only.” We’re different.

Barney Brantingham

I’ve been in Third World cities with safer streets. In Moscow, for instance, I watched Mafia gangsters roar around in big black limos while everyone else pulled over the way we would for a honking fire truck or ambulance. I saw no accidents because everyone knew his or her place ​— ​or else. Besides, Putin might be in that other car.

When I was in Havana a few years ago, there were few cars on the streets. Owners of 1950s American-made autos were fanatically careful of their precious Detroit iron. The average speed was about 10 miles an hour. After all, Fidel might be in the other car.

Here in Santa Barbara, it isn’t that we all drive as if we’re on the Indianapolis Speedway; it’s that we just don’t like to obey the law, especially the ones involving stopping for anything. Get out of the way, you moms with strollers! Stopping is for sissies or Montecito matrons in 1955 Rolls-Royces.

For basically relaxed people, we’re always in a hurry for some reason. We know that if we come to the required full stop at a signal, a driver coming the other way will see this as weakness. He or she will take advantage of this to dart across our path.

This, of course, is assisted by the well-known “rolling stop.” Your wheels just keep turning until you notice even a moment’s hesitation by the opposing (enemy) motorist. Then you hit the gas. This maneuver is associated with the famous Santa Barbara “no cop, no stop” tradition.

No insurance? The DMV requires you to have it, but according to carinsurance.org, 18 percent of us, millions of drivers, don’t bother. In law-abiding Massachusetts, only one percent skip it. Insurance is expensive!

So is auto registration, so a sizeable number of Californians register their vehicles in another state, with lower fees. A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times estimated it would cost five times as much to register one of those hulking, highway-wrecking RVs in California as it would, for instance, in Oregon.

Which might account for all the Santa Barbarans with Oregon plates. The law requires a new resident to register a vehicle within 20 days. But despite efforts to encourage folks to rat out their neighbors, it’s tough to enforce this. Hey, this is Southern California, not some uptight state like Massachusetts.

Scofflaws not only avoid their share of highway-related costs but also smogging to help (koff! koff!) keep air pollution under the sudden-death level.

Lots of locals pretend to be unaware of the law requiring them to apply for a driver’s license within 10 days of moving here. Ha! Catch me if you can.

Speaking of scofflaws, Santa Barbarans consider it their right to get their licenses from other states. I even know a Californian without a country who only packs an international license. Here, we normally have to agonizingly renew licenses every five years or so, depending.

My wife, Sue, facing a renewal crisis, is driving me crazy, fretting about passing that quiz. So she’s pestering me with all those questions from the DMV handbook that don’t even apply in Santa Barbara.

I went into the DMV office the other day and watched a roomful of miserable-looking folks hunched over handbooks, facing the prospect of all those trick questions. But if they somehow got an Arizona license, they wouldn’t have to renew it until they were 65 years old. I am not making this up. They’d have to go in every 12 years for a new photo and vision test, however.

Years ago, when I started driving the mean streets of Chicago, we didn’t have seat belts or car phones. Texting hadn’t been invented. Sex had only recently been invented. Today, I see drivers up and down State Street with cell phones clamped to their ears or punching away texting or sexting, whatever that is.

Illegal, yes, according to the DMV. But these folks have the attitude: Hey, catch me if you can. I’m a Santa Barbaran.*


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