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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Driver's Ed -- The Freeway Edition

After a long road trip that took me from New Orleans, through the states of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, back up to Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, down through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana (wow, I’m exhausted just typing that) I’m come to a sad conclusion. Americans don’t know how to drive.

Face it. Most of us learned how to drive when we were sixteen. At that time, we studied for a written exam and had to prove our skills with an active, honest to goodness, person in the car watching, driving test. After that, nada! With the exception of a punishment “drivers ed” that you attended so points don’t show up on your record from that stop sign you ran last year, that initial schooling is all you’ve ever received. 

I’m here to tell you we all need refresher courses. Instead of the state simply sending you a new license every ten years, I think it would behoove us all to have another written at least, and a driving test at best.

In lieu of that, here are some examples of things we’ve forgotten, simple things taught us when we were but innocent youths more interested in the cute person in the front row than safe following distances behind us.

Lesson #1) Merge vs. Yield

Merge means, “match the speed of the cars so you can seamlessly get into traffic,” while Yield means, “be prepared to stop because you’re about to encounter traffic.” In other words, Merge means MOVE MOVE MOVE! You’re about to get onto a freeway, bub, so you need to be traveling at the same speed to safely become part of that. DO NOT STOP! 

Meanwhile, Yield means Yo! Slow! As in “you do not have the right of way.” 

Lesson #2) A safe following distance

Most states have laws about how close you should be to the car in front of you while cruising down a freeway at 80 miles an hour. Those are handy distances, like 1000 feet, or something. That is to say, useless. Failing that, however, you are tailgating.

So, how do you know? You can’t very well get out a measuring tape, now can you?

Watch the car in front of you and notice when it passes something stationary (a sign, a mile marker, that tire on the side of the road). Then count “Mississippi one, Mississippi two.”  If by then you’ve passed the same item, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE! You need at least 1 second to see and react to the car stopping in front of you, and 1 second for your own car to stop, hence the two-second rule. Always! This trick works regardless of speed.

Lesson #3) Moving into another lane

They are called turn signals, people! They are located on your steering wheel! I’m confident every car has them!

I know, you think, “If I put on my turn signal the car next to me speeds up to keep me out of the lane”, and true, some bozos will do just that. But that’s not a reason not to use them. There are only so many things we, in cars, can do to communicate to other drivers our intentions: Stop, Left, Right, I’m having car trouble, and I’M SO MAD AT YOU! Turn signals are information. Period. I guarantee you, no cop writing up a traffic accident report had to put down the words: the problem was way too much information; everyone knew exactly what was going on. Use them, use them, use them.

Lesson #4) A safe following distance (part 2)

Let’s say you’re passing a vehicle (on the left, of course, everyone agrees, yes?). How do you know when you can safely merge back over, keeping in mind that you want to give that driver a safe (2 second) following distance? This is so simple I’m always astounded people don’t do it.
Not a safe following distance.
Glance at your rear view (that’s the mirror in your car, by the way). Once you see not one, but two of his headlights (BOTH of them) in the mirror, you can safely merge without incident. That’s it. Just a glance, “yep I’m good to go,” and merge. No drama, no honking horns, and no panic should a deer jump out in front of you at that instant.

Lesson #5) Exiting the freeway

This seems like an easy thing. There’s my exit, put on turn signal, and off I go. Yet, most of us aren’t in the right lane when we realize “there’s my exit.” What do we do? We speed up to get in front of the car on our right, swerve into the right lane (with almost zero following distance), and take the exit at high speed.

You think I’m kidding? Have you seen yourself drive? 

I call this the Speed Racer mentality. We’re always in a hurry and we always need to get in front of that guy. Win! Why doesn’t it occur to people to use the brake in this situation. You’re about to slow down anyway. Start the process by slowing down, and getting in BEHIND the vehicle on the right, and taking the exit.

You’ve heard it before: Driving isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. Yet we get in our cars so often and with such disregard that we forget we’re about to take our lives, and the lives of those around us, into our hands. 

I, for one, am looking forward to the Google Car, when, one day, we all get into our vehicles to go to work, yet sit in the passenger side as the car moves on its own, in and out of traffic, while we read the news, or update our Facebook, or watch something on TV.

After all, that’s really where our minds are.

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