“I had reached such a high level of concentration that it was as if the car and I had become one. Together we were at the maximum. I was giving the car everything—and vice versa.” ~Ayrton Senna
Remember the days when driving the interstate felt like that? Oh, the joy of driving!
Today the interstates are full. If not commuters, then tractor trailers, busses, RVs. And traffic takes away all the fun.
I suppose if you have a license to drive, and you do drive, you assume you know how. Maybe not.
I’ve driven all over North America, and I’ve rarely seen drivers who can perform well in all terrains and circumstances. Usually they drive as if no one taught them how. And maybe they didn’t, drivers ed being what it is.
“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” ~Dave Barry
“I’m not tailgating, I’m keeping up with the pace car.” ~Anonymous
Tailgating is one of the most stressful things on the road: the driver behind you riding your rear bumper. Some motorists almost attack the drivers ahead of them as if they were on a search-and-destroy mission. They refuse to give them their space. When young persons do this, I wonder, Who taught them to drive? Where did they learn driving etiquette, if at all? If someone is riding my bumper, I yell, “Back off!” Of course, they cannot hear me, but maybe the message will get through subliminally.
“Recklessness is a species of crime and should be so regarded on our streets and highways.” ~Marlen E Pew
Some drivers go wild on the interstate if they think no one is looking, and they can get away with it. I’ve seen smart-alecks on highways and freeways weave in and out with dexterity and speed. It’s unsettling to safe drivers who cannot see the rascal coming and hardly know where he’s going. Further, what if you’re about to change lanes when he darts into the lane first? You’ll be battling for space. There’s also the thoughtless vermin that revs his engine loudly and goes speeding down a residential street as if he were on the freeway.
“Ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” ~George Carlin
“Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” ~Anonymous
Speed limits are not always arbitrary, though they may be. Usually they are governed by safety. For instance, a wild, careening motorist on the no-speed-limit German Autobahn would not have time to react sanely if he had a blowout or had to slam on the brakes. Thank God for speed limits on our interstates and highways!
I have driven around cities like New Orleans, Louisiana (I-10), Dallas, Texas (I-635), and Youngstown, Ohio (I-80), where traffic was thick and dangerous. You almost had to go 90-100 mph to keep from being run over. I’m uncomfortable at such speeds because I don’t drive that fast; but when a crazy person is on your bumper pushing you, and you can’t change lanes, what do you do?
“Drive slow and enjoy the scenery—drive fast and join the scenery.” ~Douglas Horton
In one instance, the driver of a large van behind me was so close to my car—at that ridiculous speed—that I couldn’t even see her headlamps in my rearview mirror. Or discern what was in the lane beside her. And the driver in front of me was so close I had to brake to keep from hitting him. As soon as I could safely do so, I exited at a turnpike service area. It was such a nerve-racking experience, I was shaking. It took me over a half-hour to decompress.
“The speedway ends at the cemetery.” ~Anonymous
On the other hand, slow motorists can also be a road hazard. I call them cholestrol, because they clog arteries. On a limited-access highway, slow motorists should, by all means, stay out of the left or middle lane. On a two-way road, they should pull over and let the long-forming line behind them move on.
“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.” ~Anonymous
ACCELERATING AND DECELERATING
“I hooked up my accelerator pedal in my car to my brake lights. I hit the gas, people behind me stop, and I’m gone.” ~Steven Wright
My aunt used to drive at full trottle right up to a stop sign, and slam on her brakes. Which scared my mother and me to death! I’ve no doubt I annoy the drivers behind me—most of whom are half my age—because I take off slowly and slow down before I stop. I try to keep the RPMs <2,000. Hopefully, this saves on gas. There is no need to dart from a redlight—in a city you’ll probably not gain much: you’ll simply get to the next redlight sooner. And there is no need to fly to a stop sign. It won’t help you leave any faster. So slow down and live.
“How many times have you been on the freeway and had someone fly by you at 100 mph then end up two cars ahead of you at the off ramp? What’s the point?” ~Mark Harmon
“All in favor of conserving gasoline, please raise your right foot.” ~Anonymous
“Life is always at some turning point.” ~Irwin Edman
Always signal if you’re going to turn left or right or if you’re going to change lanes. This is driving courtesy, but it could also prevent an accident. On the other hand, if you see a turn signal indicating that a driver intends to turn, make sure the signal is accompanied by his slowing down, before you pull out in front of him.
If you have to pull off the road, if you’re temporarily disabled, or if you’ve slowed for the weather, put on your flashers (the switch may be atop your steering column). But be careful about using flashers just because you want to squat in the street a few minutes. Putting on your flashers doesn’t give you the right to impede traffic.
“What is the difference between a flashing redlight and a flashing amber? The color.” ~Anonymous
CHOOSING AND CHANGING LANES
“If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane.” ~Anonymous
Some motorists have no idea why the DOT put two or more lanes going one way. They assume multilanes mean first-come, first-serve. To the contrary, multilanes of traffic headed in the same direction do not mean personal choice. The right lane is for slower traffic, like tractor trailers, and the left lane is for faster traffic. Stay out of the left lane if you are not passing.
Multilaned roads in places like Maine, Massachusetts, and New York have signs posted warning, “Keep right except to pass.” If you obey that rule always, it will help to train you that the left lane is to be used solely for passing, not simply for cruising.
PASSING OTHER VEHICLES
“Road sense is the offspring of courtesy and the parent of safety.” ~Australian Traffic Rule
Many motorists do not know how to pass on a two-way road or on an interstate. If you’re on the interstate, passing, don’t dawdle. Get on with it. Don’t be so timid that you cannot get around the other vehicle quickly. Usually upping your cruise control a mere 2 mph will speed you up enough that you can get around the other car or truck safely and swiftly.
Another most important thing is do not cut back in until you can see the vehicle behind you in your center rearview mirror. Too often motorists pass—usually young inexperienced motorists, but not always—then almost immediately cut in front of the other driver’s face because they saw the vehicle in their side mirror. Wrong! Very wrong! There is a required safety warning on the passenger side mirror. It says, “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” When you cut abruptly in front of that other driver, you are invading his space, and he has to brake to keep from hitting you.
Cutting back in too soon is one of the most dangerous errors I have seen drivers make. I never cut back in until I can see both headlamps of the other car in my center rearview mirror.
My safe regard for this rule has irked some careless, devilish drivers. One middle-aged woman, riding my rear bumper, laid on her horn because I wouldn’t cut back in when she thought I ought. I played it safe despite her. When she finally went around me, she cursed me over her shoulder and gave me the finger. Don’t let such antics force you to cut in too soon. Do what is right.
SEEING AROUND YOUR BLIND SPOT
“Check your side mirrors, and check your blind spot over your shoulders …. That’s a habit drivers ought to have for their own safety, but for cyclists and pedestrians, it can save a life.” ~Julie Yip
While I was teaching her how to drive, I was constantly telling my daughter how to do this and that, how to pass on interstate, which mirrors to look into, and about that blind spot. All drivers know that with ordinary side mirrors, even when adjusted for your height and visibility, there can still be a blind spot. You look over your left shoulder and suddenly see a car you had no idea was there. It is estimated that eliminating the blind spot could prevent 500,000 accidents a year.
The solution is convex mirrors (“bubble mirrors”). I went to Auto Zone and bought enough $1 small bubble mirrors to put on all the side mirrors on our cars. With them you can see the full length of the left, or right, side of your car.
“More and more people are buying bigger and bigger … and the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the blind spot.” ~Consumer Reports
“In a truck that blind spot is 60 feet away. If you’re right behind the truck that’s where he can’t see you.” ~Steve Warner
DRIVING AROUND TRACTOR TRAILERS
“We saw a two-story house with a tractor-trailer upside-down on top of it.” ~Danny Shaeffer
You cannot drive around tractor trailers the way you drive around cars. Don’t ever forget that. So give them a wide berth. Stay out of their way. It is much easier for you to move than for them to move. That lumbering tractor trailer cannot stop suddenly, even if the driver wanted to. Sometimes not even you can stop suddenly. Vehicles are governed by momentum and reaction time.
A big truck going downhill can spiral out of control. That is the reason, on a steep decline, you see signs for runaway truck ramps. The driver cannot stop the truck through ordinary mechanical means: it takes a physical lift to control the truck.
Years ago my family and I understood the dangerous behavior of trucks because we drove back roads over steep mountains. We didn’t want to be behind a truck going uphill or in front of one going downhill.
That particular mountain was tamed by the coming of the interstate. But, even then, it proved perilous when the DOT made one descent too steep. A trucker came barreling downhill in low-to-moderate gear and spun out of control. The truck’s momentum was accelerating faster than the driver or the terrain could control it. When it finally came to rest in the valley, my preacher-medic dad, who had witnessed the event, was the first one on the scene. The driver was already dead.
I’ve heard similar stories of big truck accidents, but that is the one that comes closest to home. Don’t mess with tractor trailers. They are dangerous equipment. Respect them, and give them their space. On a multilane highway, stay out of their lane.
“Drive carefully! Remember, it’s not only a car that can be recalled by its maker.” ~Anonymous
DRIVING IN MOUNTAINS
“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” ~George S Patton
One thing I’ve observed is that residents from flat lands like Michigan and Florida rarely know how to behave when they’re in hillcountry. I was driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park one summer day, and was surprised to find tractor trailers en route. I didn’t know semis were allowed in parks. Maybe it had something to do with road construction.
The three-lane one-way traffic was heavy, and I found myself in the far left lane behind a Michigan motorist braking sharply going downhill. This was maddening. I knew how to drive in mountains; he didn’t. Overcautious and riding his brake, he had no business in the far left lane—he should’ve been in the far right.
The situation, already dangerous, was further aggravated when a tractor trailer entered the far left lane, from the left, immediately behind me. I knew that semis cannot stop suddenly or control their vehicle the way motorists can. That semi, going downhill, was in big trouble, and I was sandwiched between the panicky trucker and the ignorant Michigander. If I’d been allowed—the semi was so close on my tail, I couldn’t see to its right—I’d have moved on or changed lanes. I can negotiate hills, and I realize the importance of getting out of the way of semis.
I was praying for mercy, and by God’s grace we got down off that mountain in one piece. If I could’ve gotten my hands on that Michigan motorist, I’d have given him a piece of my mind! Because he recklessly—ignorantly, no doubt—endangered all our lives. To this day, I dread flat-landers.
Another thing I do in mountains is gear down. I don’t simply take the car out of overdrive; I put it in third or second (not first, that’s too low). The lower gears will outperform your brakes any day.
“Baseball is like driving, it’s the one who gets home safely that counts.” ~Tommy Lasorda
DRIVING AROUND CURVES
“I had to stop driving my car for a while … the tires got dizzy.” ~Stephen Wright
Driving around curves is much like driving over mountains. You need to know how. Nothing is more frustrating to me than getting behind a string of cars doing curves, at 30 mph, with the driver’s foot on the brake.
The best way to take curves is with a steady pace, allowing the car to move. A safe speed and centrifugal force will help the car hold the road.
SPORTING SURROUND SOUND
“When buying a used car, punch the buttons on the radio. If all the stations are rock and roll, there’s a good chance the transmission is shot.” ~Larry Lujack
Some young people pay entirely too much attention to the stereo, CD player, and speakers. It’s rude to have your car windows down while you’re playing your stereo. If I’m driving the car stopped beside you at the redlight, or even sitting in my house while you cruise the street, I don’t want to hear it. Lower the volume or turn the thing off.
Another offense is speakers that make the earth move. Earthquake speakers. They ought to be banned.
“I know guys in my hometown that drive by feel and sound.” ~Evel Knievel
And messing with the radio or player while you’re driving can cost you your life. One young lady I knew had a tendency to drive too fast on the back road near her home. One day, while driving, she casually bent over to find a cassette tape and plowed into a tree. She senselessly left behind a toddler who will never know her mother.
“Learning how to drive while distracted is definitely a recipe for disaster.” ~Mark Rosenker
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” ~Albert Einstein
If you try to do two things at one time, chances are you’re not going to do either well. Years ago, it may have been “sparking.” Today it is more likely texting. Some states, like Maryland, have outlawed texting at the wheel. I approve. I’ve been in states like Virginia that outlawed driving barefoot; and Washington, that outlawed driving with a cup of hot coffee in your hand. Any kind of multitasking makes driving less safe; but, by far, the worst is the cellphone. Inevitably the person on the cellphone will slow down to a crawl or simply stop in the middle of traffic. Someday, if he keeps it up, he’s going to get run over.
“We must do everything we can to reduce these needless deaths and we strongly believe that banning wireless communications devices for teenagers learning to drive will help significantly.” ~Mark Rosenker
DRIVING AT NIGHT
“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” ~EL Doctorow
Driving too fast, or even the speed limit sometimes, is risky because you cannot always stop in time if you need to. It is even riskier at night when you are overshooting your headlamps. If you had to slam on your brakes at 70 mph at night, your car would not stop within your current range of vision. It would roll on into the dark. Who knows what lurks in the darkness?
SURVIVING INCLEMENT WEATHER
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” ~John Ruskin
Whoever said that had never operated a motor vehicle. During her driving lessons, and beyond, one thing I kept hammering home to my daughter was “Slow down for the weather.” Four-wheel drive will not always save you. Sometimes you have to trust common sense. If you have any.
Grownups know these things because they’ve learned them the hard way; and when they press the point, they’re not nagging. They’re trying to spare you.
Another thing I do, in any kind of fog or precipitation, is turn off the cruise control. I want my foot on the accelerator where I can feel what is going on. With my foot I can feel the slightest slip, long before the car loses control, and adjust accordingly.
“If I were running the world I would have it rain only between 2:00 and 5:00 am. Anyone who was out then ought to get wet.” ~William Lyon Phelps
If it’s raining, slow down. You cannot stop on a dime if you’re hydroplaning. One morning, rushing to work, I plowed into a friend at a redlight. Rear-ended her. That taught me.
“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ~Carl Reiner
If it’s snowing, you need to know how to drive in snow. Or stay home. If your car is outdoors, not sheltered in a garage or carport, you’ll need to clean it off. I brush mine clean with a broom, scrape the windows, go back inside to warm myself, before I preheat it or turn on the defrost. Even then, you’ll have to be concerned about all the snow you’ve just dumped on the ground. Clean around the wheels too.
I’ve seen motorists, even middle-aged professionals, struggle with getting a car out of its parking place when the ground is covered in snow and iced over.
“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together!” ~Anonymous
One day I was standing at my upstairs apartment watching a mature businessman trying to unearth his heavy luxury sedan. When it wouldn’t budge, he gave it more gas. The usual error. Bullying it, whipping it, as if gunning it would make the thing mind.
My fear was that while he was pressing the accelerator so aggressively—probably in a hurry to get to work—that his big car would flip and hit my car parked next to his. So I went outside to rescue my car. All I did was turn on the ignition, back out, park in front of my own garage door, where it was safe from other drivers, and come back inside. My daughter was laughing. “That guy’s going to wonder how you did that.”
This is how. Before winter begins, I buy a big bag of salt from Lowes or Walmart. After I’ve cleaned the body of the car, I clean around the tires and sprinkle salt around each wheel. Once the wheels are free and clear, they can move. Then I put the thing in reverse and back up, barely touching the accelerator. I never have any problem unearthing a snowed-in car.
But I don’t drive much when it’s extremely cold. Since I am older now and don’t have to go to work, this is easier for me than it is for some people. I realize that.
Salt or chemicals on the road don’t work well unless the outside temp is about 25°F or higher. Yes, I know that for some areas of the country 25°F would be a spring thaw. I’ve lived in places where temps dropped to -50°F with a chill factor of -70°F. Snow plows or salt trucks packed the roads with not only chemicals but also ash and gravel — I’ve also slid in places like that. Even the DOT will tell you, they lay the salt, but they rely on the sun to melt the snow. So I feel sorry for persons who have to go to work in the predawn before the sun can do its work.
I remember a schoolteacher who was killed in a single-car accident because he slid on ice at 7:00 am. A few hours more could’ve saved his life.
The scary thing, of course, is ice, not snow. Any Northerner with a 4×4 should be able to drive in snow. As long as it’s not blowing snow. ‘Been there too.
One time I’d driven over twelve hours, trying to avoid a layover, when within the last leg of the journey, I ran headlong into a whiteout. Blowing and drifting snow. I couldn’t see anything. After all my hard work was I now going to be stranded? A few hours from home? Well, the snow squall went away, and I pushed on. But if you have to, you have to. Better to “waste” a few dollars on a motel than kill yourself.
Ice is different. No one can drive on ice anymore than someone like me can skate on ice.
One time, in late autumn, my dad was driving on the Ohio turnpike when he happened on a strange scene. Parked motorists. They’d pulled over to the shoulder and surrendered. Why? “What are they afraid of?” he asked. “There’s nothing wrong with this road.” The pavement looked bare. “I’m going on.”
About that time something caught that car, and it spun like a top. It came to rest when an oncoming motorist plowed into it. It wasn’t black macadam. It was black ice.
No seat belt in those days. Both my parents, in the front seat, were injured. None of us children in the back seat. Another hard lesson.
“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.” ~Edward de Bono
There are all kinds of signs posted along a route. Learn to notice them. As a matter of fact, learn to notice everything. You could happen suddenly on a downed tree, accident, rescue vehicle, or road construction. You could come to an unexpected railroad crossing.
Depending on where you’re driving, suddenly a pedestrian, cyclist, child, chicken, cow, hedgehog, pika, squirrel, rabbit, armadillo, bear, horse, buffalo, deer, or moose could dart in front of you. I’ve had to slam on my brakes for sudden darting things. Even tumbleweeds in the mountains of Montana. But the scariest was a young child toddling out of the woods onto a freeway. Where in the world were her parents! Thank God, her guardian angel was about!
I’ve been known to hit squirrels and guinea fowl crossing the road. Sorry. It’s a grisly sound. And a grisly feeling. I’ve also been known to come to a complete stop for cattle, horses, buffalo, deer, and moose. Thank God!
One night my husband and I were driving the interstate when we happened upon a felled horse lying in the road. What small amount of traffic there was at that hour had stopped, as we had; the first motorist had clipped the horse. Who could’ve foreseen that a riderless horse would gallop across the interstate at night?
I’ve stopped for herds of buffalo in Custer State Park, South Dakota. They come right up to your car, and you’d better hope you have a limo or big SUV, because they are big animals. They’ll dwarf a Volkswagen beetle or Toyota Corolla. You can’t move until they get out of the way.
In the mountains of New Hampshire you’ll see warning signs: Brake for Moose. I thought the signs were a joke or a tourist attraction because I traveled all summer and never saw a moose. A fellow told me, “No, that’s no joke. People have been killed in moose accidents. They’re worse in the fall. During mating season.”
I saw my first moose in Canada. On the Circle Route, in Ontario. But the place they were bad was Newfoundland-Labrador. There are over 100,000 moose in Newfoundland alone, the densest moose population anywhere, which each year leads to hundreds of highway crashes.
One night I was coming back from L’Anse aux Meadows NHS, south on the Viking Trail, when I episodically encountered herds of moose. My back-seat driver would say, “What are you stopping for?” She didn’t even see the moose until we were on top of them. I did. Generally, I’d nudge my car forward slowly, and they’d step aside. Next day, however, one flew out of the woods and darted across the road in front of us, in broad daylight, and I had to slam on the brakes.
“It takes 8,460 bolts to assemble an automobile, and one nut to scatter it all over the road.” ~Anonymous
USING A ROAD ATLAS
“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.” ~Earl Nightingale
I was waiting inside a Welcome Center in southern Pennsylvania, near the junction of US 30 and I-81, waiting to ask the state trooper, or whoever manned the desk, about the history of the Molly Pitcher Highway and how it got its name. Meanwhile I couldn’t even signal that I wanted to talk to the trooper because a mature couple were there from Down Under (the South) wanting to know how to get to New York City, I mean right down to Manhattan and all the bridges. Surely, New York City is not within the confines of a Pennsylvania state trooper! So much for my simple and relevant inquiry. This trooper was being asked to parent these children!
My advice is: If you don’t know how to read a map, don’t leave home. You need professional assistance. And I don’t mean a Welcome Center.
My family and I were headed out on a journey of about 1,000 miles with a friend, who had gone to a computer and punched out every itsy bitsy route and turn. He wanted to know if we wanted a copy. No, thanks. We laughed. We didn’t even need a road map. Or a GPS system—we don’t have gadgets like that. We simply got in our car and drove to the destination. The next day the man phoned and said he’d arrived in his vehicle. Where were we? Oh, we were already there. We’d spent the night.
“For me, it started as a child with one of those little wooden jigsaw maps of the US, where’s there’s crocodiles on Florida and apples on Washington state. That was my very first map.” ~Ken Jennings
ACQUIRING ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE
Most drivers have road service as part of their auto insurance coverage. If not, you can purchase road service with your cellphone plan or with AAA. Then, if you break down on the road, assuming you have a cellphone and a signal, or access to a landline phone, you can call for help in an emergency. The service will provide roadside assistance and a tow.
Copyright © 2011 Alexandra Lee