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road sage

Zombie car

They almost got me.

I was driving down a one-way a few weeks back. There was a line of cars parked on my right and, up ahead on the left, a taxi. I drove onward and then, as I neared the taxi, it lurched into the road and almost broadsided my car. With just seconds to react, I pumped the brakes and then swerved to my right while giving my horn a blast.

The taxi drove on as if no one was behind the wheel.

There was barely any reaction whatsoever to this near-accident. It was as if the car was being operated by an entity entirely lacking consciousness. Just an undead mass of flesh – and then I realized with a chill that I had just encountered a "road zombie."

A road zombie is a driver who, either through distraction, ego or just plain sloth, ceases to have a living brain and loses touch with any concept that they are driving.

In fact, they forget that they are even in a car at all. That's okay so long as the car isn't moving but, after a few tweets or minutes on their cellphone, the road zombie awakens. Then, like an animated decaying corpse who smells human brains, it springs from its undead slumber, and leaps into sudden and violent action. With an undead groan of something like "TEXXXXXT!!!!" or "TIMMIES!" the road zombie jerks its car with a sudden twist straight into traffic.

You can find road zombies anywhere, from highways to cozy country roads, but there are certain environments they prefer. Perhaps the most popular form of reanimation occurs on sleepy city streets.

The scenario is as follows: The road zombie is parked. Its mind is preoccupied. Take, for instance, the undead taxi driver who almost drove directly into my trusty minivan. To all outward appearance he was parked, at a standstill, going nowhere.

Then he decided to stop whatever he was doing and join the world of the living. He wanted to drive. A living person, a sentient driver, would turn on his signal to alert approaching cars that he intended to merge, albeit from a standstill, into traffic. He'd do a shoulder check and check his mirror. The signal lets other cars know they should be alert. The road zombie just cranks the wheel and pops into traffic. Woe betide anyone who gets in the way.

Road zombies are dangerous to other cars, but they are lethal when it comes to cyclists. How many riders are flung across the hood of a road zombie's car every day? Dozens? Hundreds? Nay, thousands? There aren't enough accurate statistics to determine a sound number. One thing we can be certain of – the consequences for the cyclists are as bloody and gruesome as any horror movie.

Sometimes the road zombie's carnage isn't restricted to driving. The absent-minded havoc can just as easily be caused when the road zombie has brought his car to a stop. It's called "dooring," and it's so common that it almost doesn't require an explanation. But for those few who are unfamiliar with the practice, it operates something like this: The road zombie has parked his car. He's either still on or getting on his cellphone. He doesn't check his mirrors. He abruptly opens his door and voila – instant accident, just add cyclist.

Road zombies aren't always on four wheels. There are some road zombies who are of the two-wheeled variety. These cyclists are often found at dusk and are so plugged in to their ride they cease to be of this world. You can see them, earphones in and no lights on their bikes, riding the wrong way on a one-way street. You check your mirror for any cyclists coming along beside you, but it never occurs to you to look forward into the darkness to look for a rider who is travelling the wrong way at a fair clip.

Regardless of the type, road zombies all share the same troubling trait – willful obliviousness.

The road zombie is too busy doing something important, like texting or talking, to be bothered with the dull business of driving. In this respect, it is more transgressive than the normal variety of walking dead. A virus-carrying zombie bit those poor creatures. They perish and go on to become brain-craving zombies. They're victims.

Road zombies suffer from a different kind of virus – egotism. It's their world and the rest of us are just living in it. If they want to dart into traffic without warning, so be it. If they want to fling their car door open and watch some poor helmeted soul fly over it, why not? If they want to put in their headphones and cycle through the world like it's their own lollipop kingdom, it's their God-given right.

You beat a real zombie by putting a bullet through its head. The principle when it comes to road zombies is similar. The only way to stop their dangerous behaviour is to put a thought into their brains. For instance: "Driving is a potentially deadly activity that requires skill and diligence. You need to wake up."

So, next time you find yourself in a car with a road zombie or confronted with one on the road, do the world a favour. Let's drive some reality into their thick skulls.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy