1924: Road Courtesy

I must be having a mid-life crisis. I became obsessed with a car (yes, a car) and just had to have it. So, traded in my trusty 2001 VW Golf (a moment of silence please) and negotiated a pretty good deal on a silver Madza3 hatchback. So now that I’m out on the road with it, traversing the streets of suburban and urban D.C., I ask my fellow driver to mind your manners while on the road. The following excerpt is from the 1924 booklet Etiquette in Public, written by early twentieth-century etiquette goddess Lillian Eichler.

If courtesy on the road were made traditional, if good nature and good-will were expected of every motorist, is it assuming too much to imagine a time when rudeness on the road will be as rare as it now is in social contact? Certainly when motorists expect courtesy of one another, as guests do in a drawing room, it will be forthcoming.

And after all, by its very nature, conduct on the highway is immeasurably more important than the surface conventions of the drawing room; for here we find that not only are courtesy and kindliness of spirit involved, but life itself. If a man is interested in conversation, witty, agreeable — we can find it in our hearts to forget that he never rises when a lady enters a room. But if a motorist misses our heel by a fraction of an inch, we cannot forgive him, no matter how agreeable a chap he may be otherwise.

So do you think Ms. Eichler would be pleased with our tailgating, speed-loving, cell-phone talking society today? She probably would have expected more by now, with so many years of driving under our belts since she wrote this.