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Public Service Announcement: lane changing

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Attention drivers: your turn signal does not entitle you to change lanes. It is for warning only. Should a driver whose lane you are attempting to enter not heed your desire, your turn signal does not automatically justify you shoving your car between two others who are unprepared for your injection into their lane.

Also, please note that turning on your signal at the exact moment you change lanes does not count. If your method of changing lanes goes something like the following, you need to re-evaluate your lane changing method:

lane change desire manifests itself>
look for openings in between cars>
there are none>
grip steering wheel>

In other words, if your signal blinks, like, ONE time between the time you decide to change lanes and the actual event of changing lanes, you, sir, are a bastard.

(This is the first in a series of helpful, common sense tips that will improve not only your life, but the lives of others around you. Can’t get enough? I don’t blame you! There’s always more helpful, common sense items at unproductivity.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • Taloran

    I had an interesting run in on the road the other day. I was headed home from work when this guy in a bright yellow pickup labelled “PCL Construction” cut around me as I was waiting for oncoming traffic to pass as I made a left-hand turn. He proceeded to cut to the left-hand lane of a very busy 3-lane (each way) divided road, pass two cars, and cut back to the far right lane. He grew impatient in that lane, cut to the middle lane, sped past one car, and forced that driver to slam on the brakes as he cut in front of him/her.

    Three blocks later I saw him, six or seven cars ahead of me, turn into a supermarket parking lot, so I took my time and followed him in. As he parked, I parked next to him, got out with a little spiral notepad in hand, walked to the back of his truck and jotted down his license plate and vehicle number.
    He very politely asked me what I was doing, and I told him “I’m taking your information to report you to PCL Construction for driving erratically and dangerously.” He got very hot under the collar, swearing at me, saying he was going to kick my ass, and all that rot.
    So, I got home, Googled PCL Construction, and sent them a very polite note about this man’s behavior, with precise details on when and where the behavior occurred.

    Never heard back from PCL, unfortunately.

  • Eric Olsen

    Sorry I overlooked the frogs – when Sea World of Aurora stil actually had, you know, animals and stuff, they had cool Poison-Dart Frog exhibits, just the ones to which you refer, and they were so colorful you just wanted to link them.

    That was some drive JR, I’ve done it actually – that was a miracle view you had. Sometimes from my aunt and uncles up in miraleste you could see the entire coastline from Malibu to Newport – okay maybe it was one time, and then the monkeys flew out of my butt, but I did see it.

  • Eric Olsen

    Man, you can’t get a damn thing done in the afternoon anywhere in Spain

  • Taloran

    “Excesive (sic) mellowness is positively French or Mexican or something”

    I think the Americans should adopt the siesta as a national institution. We’d all be much happier.

  • Taloran

    I’m trademarking it right now

  • JR

    Poison Frogs sounds like a great name for a band. Or Brightly-Colored Poison Frogs if it’s a San Francisco band.

  • JR

    “Yes, I do envision L.A. as the classic traffic scenario: how I miss driving home to Hermosa Beach, from a DJ job at say, Redlands, at 3 or 4 in the morning only to hit bumper to bummper traffic 20 miles from home at 4 IN THE FRAKING MORNING. I’m getting misty now, I have to stop.”

    Not bad! That has to be close on a hundred-mile drive.

    Mine was driving down the 405 from UCLA to UC Irvine during morning rush-hour, sticking a bunch of meteorites into a reactor until they were nice and glowy, loading them in the van, and driving them back to UCLA hopefully before the heavy afternoon traffic, then working in the lab for another eight hours.

    BTW, I once saw the San Gabriel Mountains from Irvine at dawn. It was, like, a miracle or something.

  • Cecilia

    I think the Poison Frogs analogy was positively brilliant.

    Perhaps this is just such a passionate subject (noting to self that Friday afternoon “rush” hour is now upon us here on the west coast), people get kind of caught up in the tempest.

    Well-written, insight-laden, and downright colorful, that comparison of yours…then of course, as a former biology major I would notice.

    And no, I wasn’t paid or coerced to write this.

  • Taloran

    Dang! I woulda thought the brightly-colored poison frogs would have had some comment…. sniff.

  • Eric Olsen

    Yes, I do envision L.A. as the classic traffic scenario: how I miss driving home to Hermosa Beach, from a DJ job at say, Redlands, at 3 or 4 in the morning only to hit bumper to bummper traffic 20 miles from home at 4 IN THE FRAKING MORNING. I’m getting misty now, I have to stop.

  • JR


    Your L.A. past is showing through.

    I have to admit, I often can’t resist the lane-lottery challenge. Of course, the best advice for heavy traffic is to switch the radio to a classical station, relax, and ride it out in one lane; but what fun is that?

    As a courtesy to my fellow citizens, I commute by bus.

  • Eric Olsen

    hence your pleasing mellowness – MD and Jolt (don’t think it’s still around) have the highest caffeine content of soft drinks

  • The Theory

    Moutnain Dew is nasty stuff. So I stick with Sprite or some such simular item.

  • Eric Olsen

    I think it’s positively un-American that all you guys are so mellow. Excesive mellowness is positively French or Mexican or something. We NEED to frantically switch lanes to gain a .1 second here and a .3 second there, chugging a blend of uncut Mountain Dew and Jolt Cola syrup, honking viciously at rogue swaths of oxygen in the sea of smog, muttering and gesticulating, glaring at the pikers.

    On the other hand, that’s why I refuse to ever commute more than ten minutes on a regular basis again.

  • Taloran (post 30), I do the same thing. It’s useless to keep changing lanes in bumper to bumper traffic, not to mention a lot more stressful to do so. Saves me from growing too many white hairs too young if I just chill in 1 lane regardless of how many times I get passed up by that 1 car or vice versa.

    Oh and that Krazy glue/nickel headbutt thing was hilarious. Thanks for the laugh.

  • As Duane pointed out, it’s pointless to constantly switch lanes. I have a theory that it adds to a driver’s anger and could eventually result in road rage. Like Duane says, how many times have to switched lanes only to watch the lane you were just in move half a mile ahead while you’re sitting there? The people who zoom from lane to lane in a useless attempt to get ahead just make themselves more and more angry. Me, I get in my lane and I stay in it the whole drive. I figure once I’m on the road, there is no reason to worry – if traffic is slow, traffic is slow and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I do my best to get out the door at a reasonable time so I can get to work on time, but traffic problems happen – if I’m late, I work late and make it up. Life goes on. People really need to learn to relax. Bring some good CDs and your drive is just another excuse to hear good music. If you look at it the right way, traffic problems just allow you to hear even more great music than you’d planned. I’ll take any excuse I can get.

  • Cecilia

    Oh, and I just thought of another pet peeve: I drive a mid-compact sedan and absolutely can’t stand it when someone in a truck rides right behind me at such a distance that the headlights cause (more-or-less temporary) retinal burn. Don’t drivers of tall vehicles realize this? Doesn’t the extreme glare bouncing off the victim’s rear view mirror and the outline of the hapless driver attempting to shield his/her face from the blinding light send a clue? Even adjusting the mirror isn’t enough sometimes.

    The same goes for drivers of cars equipped with eight million lux halogen headlights–you know, the sort used in extreme deep-sea explorations or illuminating objects in the outer reaches of the galaxy…what the hell gives with that?

    Thus the obvious conclusion would be that the worst of the worst is the driver of the tall vehicle equipped with the aforementioned Space Probe Illuminating Kit.

    As far as I’m concerned, such vehicles just seem to shout, “Look at me (if you can)! I’m an inconsiderate Asshole!”

  • nope….route 3 from nashua, nh. area all the way down to burlington.


  • Taloran

    25 mile stretch of very overcrowded highway in Boston? Might it have been 128?
    Boston traffic is awful.

  • i spent over fifteen years driving the same 25 mile stretch of highway to & from work.

    it was very, very overcrowded. lots of (mostly stop) stop & go traffic.

    the fact of the matter is that no amount of lane-switch, passing, etc. will gain you any more than a minute or two on your arrival time.

    i wish people realized this.

    cripes, if you gotta get there early just friggin’ leave a few minutes earlier!!

    oh ya…and RELAX!

  • Taloran

    By the way, I’ve never actually used the Krazy Glue and nickels trick, but I’ve thought about it a lot!

  • Eric Olsen

    You speak the truth Duane – the bottom line is that when people get into cars a very high percentage of them check their brains at the gate, so to speak.

    And I knew about the nickels., although the headbutt idea is pretty cool.

    “Insouciant” is carefree and/or indifferent with a French sort of fuckyou-itude.

  • Taloran

    In heavy stop and go traffic, I pick out a vehicle in another lane and watch to see whether it gains on me or I gain on it. Things always even out within a few minutes, whether the other guy lane-hops or not. There does not seem to be any way to move faster than the flow of traffic, barring driving in the breakdown lane or other blatant cheating.

  • duane

    Re Tom Johnson’s suggestion (post 23) that scientists should use driver psychology as fodder for research: there is already quite a bit of research being done in that area. I’m no expert, but I do remember reading an article by some folks who specialize in traffic dynamics, which is a very mathematical offshoot of fluid dynamics.

    Does this ever happen to you? You’re driving along a stop-and-go freeway, some guy in a blue Camaro gets on your tail, and your lane comes to a dead stop. The adjacent lane starts to move, and the Camaro darts into that lane and passes you. Two minutes later, the adjacent lane is stopped dead, and you pass by the guy in the blue Camaro. This kind of observation has kept me from changing lanes in stop-and-go traffic, unless I have to exit the freeway. That doesn’t seem to stop a lot of drivers from constantly changing back and forth, usually without a signal, of course.

    The thing with traffic dynamics is that they need to invent mathematical representations of driver’s habits, which are somewhat unpredictable. So this group of dynamicists wrote an article reporting the results of a series of experiments in which they used traffic simulators to simulate crowded freeway conditions. Every test subject claimed that the adjacent lanes were moving along faster than traffic in their own lane, although the conditions were randomized so that, on average, all lanes moved at the same speed. Hmmm. We tend to notice cars passing us more than we notice ourselves passing cars. We then find it almost irresistible to move to the adjacent lane, which is not only an ineffective driving strategy, but tends to incite rudeness, and can add needlessly o the inherent danger.

    Now, where’s my dictionary…what does “insouciant” mean? Ah!

  • The Theory

    that’s why i don’t lock my car. you bastards.

  • Taloran

    Krazy Glue nickels to their doorlocks….

  • Eric Olsen

    So do you Krazy Glue the nickels to your forehead and headbutt the bastard, or what?

  • Taloran

    In response to Capn Ken, comment 19 –
    I travel to Atlanta four or five times a year on business, for three to five days each time, renting a car at the airport. And I must say that drivers in Atlanta are infinitely better than those in Denver. More courteous, more aware of their surroundings, more likely to signal properly, more likely to yield… Atlanta’s roads and highways may be very busy, but I’d take Atlanta traffic over Denver traffic any day.

  • Taloran

    Expanding on Tom’s comment 23, I believe that there are drivers with a predator mentality, and drivers with a prey mentality. Twenty years ago prey was plentiful, but formerly meek drivers are now soccer moms who bomb around in their SUVs, five minutes late and aggressive as hell wherever they go. This is a corollary to the garbage truck theorem – soccer mom SUVs are generally not wrecks, but they’re big enough that you yield to them. Other formerly meek drivers have had to develop aggressiveness in order to survive (by survive I mean it both literally, and getting anywhere in an increasingly impolite society of drivers).
    Prey is now scarce, and the predators are nipping and snarling at each other on the nation’s highways.

    In addition to plentiful predators and progressively less plentiful prey, there are also the brightly-colored poison frogs of the transportation infrastructure, people who drive so badly that you immediately turn off on a side route, just so you’re not one of the smoking wrecks they leave in their wake. You know the ones – 35 on the interstate, 75 through a school zone, blinker on the whole way, cell phone glued to their ear, reading the paper, backing up on the highway when they overshoot their exit, etc. etc.

  • So it appears that something else is coming to light here: traffic behavior can be likened to survival techniques in the wild. It’s also becoming obvious that the reaction to turn signals (both by drivers seeking asylum in a new lane and drivers already in that lane) stems not just from being selfish but out of primal necessity – getting in front of a driver means you’re on top of the heirarchy, and other drivers will respond with aggressive means to keep you from assuming that position.

    Fascinating – scientists should jump on this for some very cool, legitimate research.

  • So is carrying around a tube of Krazy Glue and a pocket full of nickels.

    That, my man, is brilliant. Mean as hell, but brilliant nonetheless.

  • The Theory

    i like Taloran’s Garbage Truck Theorem… classic.

  • Taloran

    If one indicates one’s intention and desire to change lanes by using a blinker here in Denver, it is very nearly guaranteed that someone will deliberately place their vehicle in such a position that the desired lane change becomes impossible. That is, unless the vehicle changing lanes meets the criteria of the garbage truck theorem.
    The garbage truck theorem is that people will always get in front of, cut off, or otherwise be discourteous to people driving shiny, small, new vehicles, but will never do the same to people driving large, rusty, great big vehicles that have been in a wreck or three. I believe it is somewhat due to whatever is left of the survival instinct. If someone is driving a brand new Lexus, chances are he doesn’t want to scratch, dent, or wreck it, and therefore you can cut him off with impunity. However, if someone is driving a 1985 F350 with a gun rack and rollcage, that’s had its headlights blown out and front bumper mangled, chances are he really doesn’t care if he smashes your car to smithereens, so you yield to him.

    Toothpicks in the doorlock is a great idea. So is carrying around a tube of Krazy Glue and a pocket full of nickels.

  • Using a turn signal is illegal here in Atlanta.

  • Eric Olsen

    As cited, this is an offense against God and man, but what about those who don’t even bother with the signal? You have to watch their tires for indications of intention. People who do not signal make me want to tie their necks around the steering wheel, turn on their blinker and leave it clicking for eternity (or until the battery runs out). I wish every manner of plague upon the non-signalers.

    “Fucknuckle” is classic, clearly as good as “assplow.” They are quite similar in their obliquity, their multiple possible interpretations, their satisfying ring. I also like the insouciant dropping of the repeated “k.”

  • there was an interesting stat in that book about suv’s (High & Mighty)….it was something like 80 percent of drivers think that they drive better than everybody else.

    …which of course isn’t possible.

  • I think everyone is a jackass when it comes to driving (including your’s truly) simply because we all believe the world should revolve around us. You know, shouldn’t everyone accommodate my driving no matter what I do?

  • Cecilia

    Years ago I had to sometimes park on the street due to a crowded lot where I lived. One night some buttmunch parked right up against my car so that I could not get away from the curb in the morning. This person left his/her driver’s side door unlocked. There were no cars in front of his/hers. It was a little sports-type car, about the size of a Triumph. My friend popped the car out of gear and moved it so that I could drive to work. My friend wasn’t content to just move the other vehicle a few feet–he rolled it more than halfway down the block and then parked it. I soooo wished I could have seen this person scratching his/her head, wondering where the hell the car went and then spotting it several hundred feet from where it was originally. I still smile when I think of it. The moral of the story: if you’re going to park like a dumbass, don’t leave your car unlocked.

  • favorite rotten driver/revenge story:

    a long time ago i had a subscription to The Runner magazine.

    there was a story in it from this guy who got harrassed while on a run in the middle of a big city (mighta been ny)…i guess the runner was crossing somewhere (legally) and the car guy didn’t see him…and almost hit him.

    the car guy, even though at fault, rolls his window down and give the runner the what-for….you stupid asshole, etc.

    so, about two blocks down the road the car guy is stoppped at a light…basically penned in four lanes wide and about ten lines back from the light.

    the runner see’s him…runs through the traffic, onto the trunk of the car…up onto the roof…and then takes a nice jump down onto the hood…putin’ a nice big ‘ole dent in it…

    he then runs off in the opposite direction.

    man, sometimes revenge can be so sweet.

  • JR

    “Last but not least is the PLM who takes first prize in my esteemed roster: an insufferably arrogant shithead in a Corvette convertible who thought he (and his car) were so special that he parked the damned thing cross-wise, thus occupying two and a half spaces. Grrrr…it makes me want to grab a bunch of toothpicks and break them off in the door locks!”

    Hey, there’s an idea! I thought it would be funny if someone lets the air out of their tires. Of course I’m not encouraging anybody to do things like that…

  • I always let the people who have legitimately attempted to use their signal in – it’s common courtesy. What’s not fair is zooming up a long line of traffic and then jumping in front of everyone. Not cool. Not cool at all.

    Also not cool are the asswads who just have to get in front you because their lane is slow, but there isn’t a car behind you for many hundreds of feet. Wouldn’t it make sense to slow down just a little and get behind the last driver, rather than wedge yourself in between the last two? No one gets pissed off when you join in at the end of the line. I think it’s a power thing – it makes these tiny brained, tiny penised Neandertals feel superior, even if it’s in a completely meaningless, stupid way.

  • Cecilia

    Let us not forget those drivers with no concept whatsoever of something known as “physical reality”. It is frightening to consider how many people out there are in control (at least in their opinion) of thousands of pounds of steel, glass and explosive fuel.

    Some people think their vehicles magically bend when they turn corners “Oops–hit another pedestrian on a corner! Shouldn’t stand so close to the street!”…those who believe their vehicles are capable of fitting in places they can’t, and have no clue as to what “braking distance” means.

    There are also drivers who assume everyone can see them because they have never considered the existence of this little trivial annoyance known as a “blind spot”. Hence, they believe that if they don’t see it, it ain’t there, but their vehicles have sirens and beacons! Yeah!

    Too many drivers careen and weave through traffic as if wherever they are going is far more important than the lives they endanger….wowee, another guy beat me to the red light! What an accomplishment!

    My (hopefully) final gripe is has to do with Parking Lot Morons, a subspecies which includes goombahs who park 1963 Chrysler Imperials in Compact spaces. Or how about the lazy slobs who will hem and haw impatiently as I try to load up my car with groceries–and then zoom into that space the nanosecond I pull out…because it’s ten feet closer to the frickin’ supermarket!

    Last but not least is the PLM who takes first prize in my esteemed roster: an insufferably arrogant shithead in a Corvette convertible who thought he (and his car) were so special that he parked the damned thing cross-wise, thus occupying two and a half spaces. Grrrr…it makes me want to grab a bunch of toothpicks and break them off in the door locks!


    That feels better….

    …at least until I think of something else to rag about…

    ….like pedestrians wearing black who jaywalk (or run) across busy highways and think it’s A-OK since “pedestrians always have the right of way”…

    Uh-oh, here it comes!

  • Exactly Hazy. That’s how I feel. Most people who think you’re a bastard for signaling just before changing lanes are probably the same people who wouldn’t let you in anyway even if you did signal before hands.

  • And, please, do your part by letting the person who IS using their turn signal get in front of you. I bet a lot of people don’t put on their turn signal before changing lanes because of experience with the ubiquitous “You’re not getting in front of ME” attitude.

  • i agree. “fucknuckle” almost beats “assplow”.

    not quite tho…

  • “Fucknuckle.” I may have to borrow that.

  • duane

    In the SF Bay Area, a turn signal means that the driver inadvertantly flipped on his blinker 15 minutes ago, then forgot, and can’t hear it because of all the noise coming out of the cell phone glued to his ear, and will definitely NOT be changing lanes. Also, it has become a common practice to swerve across several freeway lanes in one go. Drivers executing said maneuver believe that they get points for style by minimizing the distance between their front bumper and the rear bumper of the car behind whom they are crossing the lane. This is done so that the several-lane change can be accompanied by constant acceleration. This move is never accompanied by a turn signal, and I’m guessing that if you could say to them, “Hey, fucknuckle! Don’t you know that you’re supposed to use your turn indicators when you change lanes?!” they would say, “Hey, Jackoff, I was changing three lanes!”

  • i was trying to get on the SE XPWY one time and this guy in a pickup sped up and boxed me out at the last second. traffic was VERY snarled, so i (immaturely, to be sure) rode alongside the car in front of him and inserted myself when he stopped and the pile then moved. he chased me and then lost control of his car trying to scare me as he cut me off as he exited.

    at least he didnt zoom into a rotary without looking…

  • My favorite – the unending turn-signal, what one friend named “a left/right turn around the world” and “the perpetual left/right turn.”

  • JR

    Sometimes a turn signal means, “I once changed lanes.”

  • in the boston area a turn signal (if used at all) does not mean “i would like to change lanes”…it means “i am changing langes”


  • The Theory

    my pet peeve is people who don’t check their blind spots before changing lanes.


    I’ve almost lost my life several times when people do that to me.