Most dads aren’t the equivalent of Driver’s Education, and Driver’s Education isn’t the equivalent of a state-certified driving school – even though you can get a license using any, or none, of them. Every Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the United States hands out driver’s licenses faster than bunnies make more bunnies.
This means there are a lot of people on American roads operating motor vehicles with the same dexterity of a three-year-old using a crayon for the hundredth time. Sure, the child is better with it now than when s/he started, but this hardly qualifies him/her for an art degree.
Unfortunately, American driving programs (including a lot of dads) and even some driving schools teach little more than the basics. Some of the more complicated things are still taught in the classroom, which is about as effective as teaching human anatomy with a Barbie doll.
It’s good for you, your insurance rates, and other drivers if you attend a state-certified driving school. It’s better for you if that school goes beyond the basics, like handling skids.
If even one of the following is new to you, consider a driving school because these bits of information are only the tip of the vehicular iceberg. Everything offered here is a no-brainer if you already know it, but it just might save your brain if you don’t know.
Look Before You Leap
Turn signals are called signals because they’re meant to signal your intent. Using them as you’re turning or changing lanes instead of using them before you do anything reminds me of the movie scene where the cop shoots and then hollers out, “Freeze!”
The rest of us would like to know what you’re going to do. No one is helped by a vehicular play-by-play.
To change lanes properly you should signal, check your blind spot, change lanes completely — meaning all four tires are in the lane — and then turn off your signal.
If your car swerves as you check your blind spot, it’s because your hand is turning the wheel as your head turns. Go find a parking lot. Practice driving slowly and checking your blind spot while being aware of where your steering wheel is at all times until you are able to check your blind spot without swerving.
To make a proper turn, signal 100 feet in advance. Signal first, then apply your foot to the brake to slow down. If you brake before you signal, those behind you will have no idea what you’re up to and they will assume it has something to do with your lack of intelligence. Some might even look at you like you’ve lost your mind. I hate that. You should, too.
If you don’t know how far 100 feet is, go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and ask them to show you. Signaling too far in advance leaves those behind you leery of your driving ability (and your next move) because they don’t know if you’re really going to turn or not.
If you tend to edge toward the left when turning right — or edge to the right when turning left — it’s because you don’t know where your car is relative to what you’re going around, like the curb. Use the parking lot and a traffic cone (or a beat-to-crap lawn chair) to practice turning to the left or the right without edging the other direction first.
Edging Out the Other Guy
So you’re driving along in the right lane, and the guy in front of you is taking his sweet ass time turning right. No problem: edge into the left lane and go around him. Then marvel at your own stupidity as you try to figure out where the car came from that just broadsided the entire left side of your car. I’ll tell you where that car came from: his lane. The wreck is your fault. Solution: reread the previous eight paragraphs.
Food for thought: You can go around the car in front of you about 1,000 times without ever being hit. That’s about three years worth of driving if you drive every day. Good luck with that fourth year. If you’re prone to this habit and don’t have full coverage insurance, it might be a good time to upgrade.
Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Leaving four full seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you is the safest way to travel. A lot of people think the standard is two seconds. A lot of people are wrong. Some of them are in court for running into another car; some of them are in court after their release from the hospital.
Assuming your eyes are on the road, four seconds allows you the time you’ll need to brake without hitting the car in front of you should it come to an abrupt stop. This also gives the person behind you a little more warning so they don’t drive up your tailpipe.
To count the seconds between you, begin counting (one-thousand and one, one-thousand and two, etc) as soon as the car in front of you passes a particular point. When you reach that same point, stop counting. If you didn’t get to finish saying, “one-thousand and four,” you’re too close. If they slam on the brakes, you won’t be able to stop before running into them, changing lanes into someone else, or driving off the road.
Leaving two or three seconds between you leaves you just enough time to realize what’s going on, but not enough time to do anything about it. The internal dialogue is “I see brake lights! I might hit that car! I don’t want to hit that car. I should –” and then you hit them.
Crawling up someone’s vehicular ass when they‘re poking along may seem like a good idea, but with only one exception it will always be your fault if you hit the person in front of you. If you don’t know what the exception is, stay four seconds back.
The idea that leaving room between you and the car in front of you will delay you is an illusion brought on by what you see right in front of you and what you don’t see down the road. At the same time cars are filling the gap in front of you, other cars ahead of you are leaving your lane.
Blinded by the Light
A quick flash of your brights at a driver whose brights are inappropriately burning is most appropriate. Hopefully they respond by dimming their lights. If they don’t, leaving yours on to punish the oblivious driver can result in them barreling into you because they can’t see. This is also inappropriate.
If the other driver is too dim to dim their lights, keep your eyes focused on the white line on the right side of the road. Where there is no white line, slow down and keep your eyes focused on the right edge of the road. Be careful not go off the side of the road, a common action taken by those who aren’t willing to admit they shouldn’t be driving due to night blindness.
Sliding Down the Razor Blade of Life
Icy roads are great fun for the educated and experienced Norwegian. For everyone else, it’s an insurance claim and a funeral procession waiting to happen. The Disney/Pixar film, Cars offers a glimpse into the correct way to handle a skid, but the better bet is signing up for a driving school that offers lessons in how to navigate wet and/or icy roads, handling a blown out tire, and recovering from a skid.
Please be Seated – In a Belt
We’ve all heard stories about those who were burned alive, drowned, or died from lack of treatment because their seat belt wouldn’t unlatch after an accident. What we’ve all heard are just that: stories. While preaching to an anti-seat belt advocate does no good, the rest of you should avoid traveling with those who have no grasp of physics.
In the event of a collision, the unbuckled will involuntarily move about at the same speed the car was traveling. There are no exceptions to this natural law. In the course of doing so, the unbuckled might be cleanly ejected from the car. They might also slam into someone before their exit — if they exit at all — or decapitate someone else (take their head off). That’s a bad day.
Surviving might seem preferable to death, but you might not think so when you realize your unbelted buddy just paralyzed you or killed someone you love with his civil rights. If you’re the one who paralyzes or kills someone because of your civil right, good luck with the guilt.
I Don’t Know How I Got Here
Highway Hypnosis, or White Line Fever, can occur when a person is driving a great distance with little or nothing to focus on other than the white line. They may react as expected to most things happening around them — on an instinctual rather than conscious level — and arrive at their destination without event and with little or no recollection of where they’ve been. They may also involuntarily enter a dream state and lose control of their vehicle.
Long drives can be boring drives, especially at night and on open, barren highway. This is no time for cruise control. You need the stimulation of having to be in charge of your speed.
If you’re tired, pull over and take a nap. Opening your window for a blast of cold or rushing air in your face will not help you. You’ll be tired again within a few minutes.
If you’re not tired, then play music that makes you want to sing or pretend you’re a musician. Enlist your passenger to help you stay alert. If you’re alone, check your mirrors often, adjust your seating position, and most importantly, be mindful of the possibility that the road could hypnotize you.
I wonder about a society that not only allows, but also accommodates the idea that doing anything else while driving is somehow okay. Laws be damned – they aren’t enforced enough to produce a measurable difference. Drivers who multi-task are common, and they endanger all others in their vehicle and on the road.
Eating, looking at or reaching back to the kids, applying makeup, talking on a cell phone (yes, even the hands-free version), reading, and changing music takes your eyes — and most importantly, your concentration — off the road. Ask anyone who has ever been the cause of an accident because of distraction and they will tell you (if they’re still alive and not in a vegetative state) they took their eyes off the road for less than a second before the accident occurred.
If you’re one of these people and you refuse to change your driving habits, my only regard for you can be found later in this article.
There Are No Accidents
It isn’t your fault if a drunk comes barreling down the road at you or the person behind you isn’t watching and slams into your rear end. Or is it? Nine out of ten times an accident occurs for two reasons, not just one.
While a drunk or inattentive driver is certainly flirting with disaster, your own awareness of others is crucial. Any driver behavior out of the ordinary is reason for extra caution, and you should be aware of what everyone else is doing even if it isn’t out of the ordinary. At no point should you trust or assume anything about other drivers – except that they might hit you.
If you see a driver who is weaving in the least, reading, putting on make-up, on their cell phone or talking to an empty car, eating, fighting or conversing with a passenger, you must assume they are not paying attention and avoid them. If you’re already near them, slow down and back off.
It’s not a good idea to speed ahead of the distracted driver. If you think an already distracted driver won’t suddenly jut into your lane because they don’t know you’re there, you might find yourself reconsidering that idea from a hospital bed.
”There is No Hurry; We Shall Get There” – Winnie the Pooh
We’ve been told dozens of times to slow down, leave the house earlier, and take our time. It’s not always possible, is it?
Yes it is. Without exception there is no situation that is made safer, better, or faster by speeding. Any gain from speeding is at once put against the risks of speeding.
The only situation in which you would need to drive quickly is with the news that an otherwise healthy loved one will probably not live long because of a sudden injury or condition. You have my sincerest empathy, seriously. And I want you to consider how horrible it would be if you rushed to be by their side, got in an accident yourself on the way there, and then your loved one miraculously pulled through – just in time to attend your funeral. Your loved ones can’t dry their eyes on your assumption that “It’ll never happen to me.”
If your need to rush cannot be accommodated by a phone call to 911, it’s not a reason to rush. If you must do something fast, try rushing right out and signing up for a course in time management.
If racing is your thing, take it off the street. Sign up with the big dogs at NASCAR or go home.
Rubbernecks, Unite! (In a Pileup)
If you’ve ever watched a reality show like Cops, you’ve no doubt seen footage of a rubbernecker causing an accident because he was so busy looking at the scene of an accident that had already occurred. It’s not that uncommon. There are plenty of people who pay more attention to wrecks than not causing one.
Slow down when approaching the scene of an accident and pay attention to everything going on – especially cops or someone else directing traffic, incoming and exiting emergency vehicles, and rubberneckers. If you just have to have a front row seat to the goings-on, then at least have the decency to pull over out of the way and stop.
Speed’s the Limit
Posted speed limits exist for one reason only, and apply to only one type of road condition: dry and clear roads in broad daylight. The speed limit is how fast you can go while still safely navigating that particular stretch of roadway.
Yes, I know you could safely go 100mph in a 45mph zone – if it weren’t for all those pedestrians, other cars, and animals you had no idea were urbanites. Because there are people, vehicles, and animals — even and especially the ones you can’t see until it’s too late — it’s not safe to go that fast.
Driving at or over the speed limit under any other road conditions constitutes overdriving. Overdriving does not just apply to what is outside the view of your headlights; it means whatever is outside your view period.
Going over 35 mph on a wet street is overdriving. If the object in front of you is less than four seconds away, you’re overdriving. If you’re accelerating toward brake lights, you’re overdriving.
You must adjust your speed for anything other than broad daylight and clear, dry roads.
What the Hell is That?
Drunks are famous for it, but sober people can also become so entranced by something in or on the side of the road that they run right into or over it. The something can be construction, a bent street sign, a light display, a trash bag, an animal, or a drunk or injured person in the road or on the sidewalk.
If you see something out of the ordinary, do not concentrate on it. If you must know what it is, slow down, pull over, and stop. Beware; it could be something or someone dangerous.
It doesn’t happen often that someone’s car will stall on the road and they just leave it there without any indication that it’s there (hazard lights or a road triangle behind the car). If you’re driving along and you even think there’s a car ahead in the road, slow down. There is no greater driving shame than having to tell a cop you plowed into a parked or slow-moving car.
What the Hell is Happening Now?
A lot of Europeans do it (it’s the law in Germany), but Americans are not altogether familiar with the courtesy of donning their hazard lights whenever they slow their speed by one third, especially on the highway. If you’re doing 60mph and see the need to suddenly slow to 40mph because of an obstacle or other traffic malady, turn your hazard lights on.
Doing this tells everyone behind you that there is a reason to slow or stop. It also helps minimize the number of rear-end collisions in front of whatever it is on the road. Don’t forget to turn them off once all is well.
Parallel Parking and the 20-Point Turn
If you don’t know how to parallel park, find someone who does that’s willing to show you how to do it. By “someone,” I mean a person you have personally witnessed parallel parking a car in three steps more than once (three steps – every time, not every other time). Practice often and don’t take your skills out onto the road until you have mastered the technique.
There is no way to learn this technique other than doing it. Those who say they can or did learn on paper or in the classroom are liars and are 20-point parallel parkers.
Dude, Where’s My Car?
Hood ornaments are not decoration. They have become as much, but that is not their purpose. Their purpose, along with the line down the middle of your hood, is to indicate where the right side of your car is in conjunction with the right side of the road.
While sitting in the driver’s seat, look through the hood ornament or at the end of the line down the middle of the hood). This tells you where the right wheel of your car is. If you look through that hood ornament and don’t see the curb, you might recall having hit it just a moment ago.
Some cars don’t have ornaments or lines. That sucks. If this is true of your car — and you don’t know where every part of your car is at all times relative to everything around it — get some highway cones or similarly heighted objects. Set them around your car in an empty parking lot. Go back and forth toward the cones. Stop before you hit one. Get out and see how far away you are. Get back in and try to hit some of them. This will give you an idea of where your car is, especially those parts of the car you can’t see.
I’m Not as Think as You Drunk/Sleepy/Distracted I Am
If you’re a responsible person who doesn’t drink (anything alcoholic) and then drive, is well rested before driving, and doesn’t multi-task while driving, then anything I have to say about it would be preaching to the choir.
If you’re the type to drive drunk, sleepy, or distracted, the rest of us know nothing will dissuade you. You’re a pig who will probably kill and injure several people on your way through dozens of arrests but no convictions and die a peaceful death at a ripe old age. Got it.