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11 July 2017

Five driving-related urban legends that will still freak you out

By Matthew PritchardMatthew Pritchard
Get ready for every road to look this scary... (Image credit: Marcus Quagmire - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Scary Branches)

Who doesn't love a good urban legend?

The world of motoring is full of myths and legends that range from the practical things like 'is it legal to drive with my interior lights on' to things that are a bit more... uh... spooky, like 'did this car murder fourteen people?'

Chances are we've all heard one of these stories at one point or another, and there are a ton of them floating around the internet. Now a logical person would hear most of these and think to themselves "ha! That's a fun story to tell, and that's all it is".

But if you're like me and you scare easily, then you already know that there are key lessons to be learned from these stories so that you can spend the rest of your life hiding inside and living in fear. You know, like a NORMAL person. Lessons like:

Don't flash your headlights!

Stop me if you've heard this one:

As the myth generally goes, you're driving home late one night when you pass a car that has its high beams on. Being the good person you are, you gently flash your high beams at them to let them know so that they don't continue blinding passing drivers. But what you don't realise is with the simple toggle of your headlight stalk you've signed your own death warrant. The car that passed you was being driven by an initiate for a local gang and in order for them to get their full membership card they now have to chase you down and kill you.

Behold. The true killer. (Image credit: Duk - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Headlight lens optics) Behold. The true killer. (Image credit: Duk - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Headlight lens optics)

You're likely to have heard that this myth originated in Los Angeles in the early '90s, but according to Snopes, this myth can be traced back further to Montana in the early '80s with the Hells Angels biker gang as the murderers in question.

But where this myth really gained traction was in chain emails and faxes, remember those!? If not, don't worry, all you need to know is that they're throwbacks from when the internet sounded like this.

While a chain email doesn't have a lot of credibility if it's part of a series from your great aunt, two of which tell you to "send this to ten people and luck will find you!", if you received an email from a government body warning you about the imminent danger of this initiation ritual (like some hoaxers did), you'd... well you'd probably be a bit skeptical still. But you'd probably think twice before offering that gentle warning.

Be careful about who you give a lift to!

Chances are your parents drilled into you the dangers of hitchhiking or picking up a hitchhiker. And if they didn't, then pop-culture sure as hell did it for them.

Just wait until you drive past and it turns into a middle finger... (Image credit: Drozd - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Hitch hiking) Just wait until you drive past and it turns into a middle finger... (Image credit: Drozd - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Hitch hiking)

But it's not just hitchhikers that can be creepy, like in the legend of the Fatal Fare.

This legend comes from Japan, if you haven't read any Japanese urban legends before and also hate sleep then I highly recommend looking some up because there are some gnarly ones out there. But don't worry, this legend isn't nearly as scary as Kuchisake-onna or Teke Teke.

The story is about a cab driver who, while cruising around one night looking for a fare, picks up a strange looking person dressed in all black with a hood drawn over their face. When the cab driver asks them where they are going the passenger responds with an address that the driver isn't familiar with. When the driver asks where this is, the passenger tells them that he will give directions.

The passengers directions take the driver through a weird series of backroads that he has never been on before. Eventually the passenger directs him all the way out of the city. The driver, understandably a little rattled, points out that they are getting further and further away from the city the passenger tells him that they are almost there.

The story isn't that dissimilar to the Vanishing Hitchiker, although that hitchiker is typically just a sad ghost, not out to hurt anyone.

Eventually the cab winds up on a road that is pretty much falling apart. The driver, now more unseasy than ever, turns to ask the passenger exactly where they are only to find that the passenger has disappeared.

When the driver turns back to face the road he notices, too late, that he is heading straight for the edge of a cliff. The cab drives off the edge and the driver plummets to his death.

The story isn't that dissimilar to the Vanishing Hitchiker, where a motorist unwittingly picks up a ghost on the anniversary of their death, although that hitchiker is typically just a sad ghost, not out to hurt anyone.

Unless of course that hitchhiker is Dan Akroyd. Then you're screwed.

Check your backseat!

Now I KNOW you've heard this one.

A young woman is driving home late one night. She notices that there is a car behind her that has been getting closer and closer. Soon enough the other car starts tailgating her, periodically flashing its headlights. The woman panics and, the first chance she gets, pulls into a petrol station, runs inside and tells the attendant to call the cops. But then the other driver pulls up, approaches the petrol station and tells her to call the cops as well because there's an axe murderer in the backseat of her car. Presumably lying in wait until they can find an unsuspecting axe to murder.

This myth is so common it even appeared as the opening scene of a movie based on a killer who themes their attacks based on urban legends.

I first heard this story when I was about ten or eleven. As a stupid kid (and not the stupid adult I am now) it scared the hell out of me. I knew that it had to be made up, but I was at an age when my logic and reasoning skills were still being overpowered by the "but what if" question. You know the one, 'there obviously can't be a monster under my bed. Otherwise there'd be news stories about kids getting eaten by monsters.

'But what if I'm the first?'

Basically where I'm going with this is I'm now in my mid-twenties and I still check the backseat of any damn car I drive for murderers before I get in.

Your security system means nothing!

We've all learned at one point or another that no security system is perfect. It's a fear that's always in the back of your mind and stories like 'the chained car' don't help.

The chained car is about a man who, desperate to keep his pride and joy safe (his sports car that is, not his family, because... you know... priorities), he makes sure to keep it locked up as tight as possible. Most versions of the story have him attaching a big-ass chain to the front axle of the car, but there are adaptations that have the security system get more and more advanced.

What happens next depends on the version you're hearing. Sometimes he's been at work, in other versions he and his family are mysteriously gifted tickets to a sold out concert (because that wouldn't ring any alarm bells). Either way, when the man returns home he finds that the car is parked in the garage, the wrong way around. This time the chain is attached to the rear axle instead of the front.

Left near the car is a small note that simply reads: "If we wanted it, we'd take it."

Try getting that one out of your head the next time you lock up at night.

Don't stop to help people! (wait...)

This one is harder to track down. Variations of the story are floating around the internet but core theme is pretty much the same.

While driving through rural backroads a motorist decides to try out a new shortcut, it's getting dark and they're anxious to be off the road before the sun goes down. The shortcut takes them to a long stretch of road boxed in on both sides by either tall grass or crops.

You were picturing exactly this, weren't you? (Image credit: Derek Jensen - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Indianna Rural Road) You were picturing exactly this, weren't you? (Image credit: Derek Jensen - Image from Wikimedia Commons - Indianna Rural Road)

Suddenly they find that halfway along that road is a car.

Sometimes the car is parked over the two lanes, other times it's on the side of the road. All the doors and the boot are open, as are several suitcases with clothes strewn over the road. Lying on the road are two people.

The driver's immediate reaction is to get out of the car and help the people in trouble. They check their phone to call for help and find that they don't have any reception. That's when they notice that everything is looking a bit... staged.

Again, what happens next depends on the variation of the story you're hearing. Sometimes the driver will drive onto the shoulder of the road and go around the scene. Another version has them spotting refleactions of light on eyes in the grass nearby. Either way, they gun it and hurry around the scene in front of them.

As they drive away they notice that the 'victims' have gotten to their knees and that roughly twenty people have emerged from the grass surrounding the car.

When the driver gets home they research the area and find that it has a long history of people going missing... Cue spooky ghost noises.

Don't be too afraid!

If you're anything like me then you've heard one (or more) of these stories at some point or another (usually when you're a kid) and they've stuck with you for whatever reason. It's usually fear.

Not that I want to get all 'after-school-special' here, but while these stories are fun to tell and to listen to we should all know by now that that's all they are, right? Just stories. Nothing to worry about or to take too seriously.

Except for checking your backseat, that is.

What's your favourite urban legend about driving? Freak us out in the comments below.