Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Handy Traffic Tips

I drive a lot. As such, I'm subjected frequently to the incompetence of other drivers. After being nearly killed yesterday on my way home, and after experiencing an incredibly minor inconvenience on my lunch break today, I thought I would share some driving tips that will help us all get along better on the road.

First, the stories. I was exiting the interstate yesterday on my way home from work. I was in the right lane, and when I came to the exit ramp, I put on my turn signal and moved to the right. Pretty basic stuff. At the same time, however, a driver in the FAR LEFT LANE decided he also needed to exit, so over he came in a hurry. Unluckily for me, my car was occupying the space he was trying to merge into. I found out in that moment that the brakes on my car still work quite well. As I was braking, I sounded my horn to let him know I was there. He sent some gestures my way in return, and I don't think he was wishing me good health. I'm not sure why he was so upset, considering he was the one who almost smashed into me, but hey, whatever.

Today's incident was far less significant. I went to Wendy's for lunch, and when I got there, a car was trying to leave the parking lot through the driveway marked "Enter." What's more, he wasn't pulled to the right side of the driveway--he was all the way over on the left, making it utterly impossible for anyone (namely me) to get into the parking lot. I had to drive past, then turn around and come back. Definitely not a huge deal, but irritating none the less. I have no idea what that guy was thinking.

In that spirit, here are my driving tips. Be glad I'm doing this for free--in some places this would be called "Remedial Driving School," and you'd have to pay for it. Of course, if you'd like to pay for it, send me an e-mail and I'll reply with instructions. I could always use extra money.

* If you driving on the interstate or any road with two lanes per direction, drive in the right lane unless you're actively passing another vehicle. This is my biggest pet peeve. The only exceptions to this are accident avoidance, accommodation of vehicles (especially emergency vehicles) in the shoulder, and when exit ramps (or turns) are on the left. Drivers who cruise in the passing lane clog up the flow of traffic.

* Speaking of emergency vehicles...really, accommodate them. If there's a cop or something in the shoulder, move over if it's at all possible, or slow down some. If a police cruiser, ambulance, or fire truck is behind you, move over and let them pass. Seriously.

* If you're going to pass, pass. Don't get alongside another car and then stay there. Likewise, if you're being passed, let them pass. Don't speed up and stay with them. This also stagnates the flow of traffic.

* If you are coming up on traffic that is trying to merge onto your road from an on-ramp, move over and let them in if you can. This is just common courtesy, and I'm happy to say that people do this, for the most part. Every now and then you come across someone who just won't get over, though. Semis are especially bad about it.

* Conversely, if you're the one trying to merge, try as much as possible to match the speed of traffic before you get to the merging point. It makes it a whole lot easier to get on. Also, you're making life difficult for anyone who may be behind you. Taking it slow and picking your spot to merge may be great for you, but it really screws everyone else who has to slow down to keep from ramming into you.

* Don't use your brakes on the interstate unless it's truly necessary. If you need to slow down, just let off the accelerator. Seeing brakelights at high speeds makes others (me) think something bad is about to happen.

* Use turn signals when changing lanes or turning. I don't even care if you're in a turn-only lane, because people across the way may not know it's a turn-only lane. It can really help people out to know where you're going, so use them. Please. Why wouldn't you? I can't even attribute this to laziness, because all you have to do is flick the switch, and if you're too lazy to do that, it's likely you're comatose. I suppose you may have to flick it again to turn the signal off if all you do is change lanes. Otherwise, it's courteous enough to turn itself off for you. If anyone can explain non-usage of turn signals, I would be ecstatic to have an explanation.

* Turn on your headlights when it's dark or fairly cloudy. This is to be seen as much as it is for seeing. For some reason, lately I've driven past a number of people not using headlights even at night. Your parking lights won't always do the trick.

* If you're making a turn, and there isn't a stop sign or traffic signal, and there's no traffic keeping you from turning, you don't have to come to a complete stop before you turn. You can keep a certain amount of speed and still make the turn successfully. Stopping for no apparent reason tends to frustrate drivers behind you.

* Rain is not the end of the world. A standard shower is no reason to drive twenty miles below the speed limit. Heavier rain, perhaps.

* When stopped at a traffic signal, get through it as quickly as possible once it turns green. Doing this means more drivers will be able to get through, which helps improve traffic flow.

* Most of all, just pay attention to what's going on around you, and try to be mindful that you aren't the only driver on the road.

Many of these things sound incredibly simple, like common sense, but there seems to be precious little of that on the roads these days. It's incredibly frustrating to nearly be killed because someone perhaps doesn't know you're there, or to be held up by someone who doesn't appear to know or care that they're in the way. Improving the traffic flow is going to make everyone happier in the long run. And the short run.

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