Saturday, September 17, 2005

S p ac i n g

There is no "three second rule" when you are stopped. When bringing a vehicle to a stop at a light be sure to, if you are the first driver there, to pull all the way up to the thick white line, or, if you are not the first driver stopped at the light, pull up close behind the car in front. The cars don't have to be so close together that it looks like a parking lot, or so close that the driver in front thinks he is about to be rear-ended, but get close.

What's the reason?

The reason for pulling up so tight is to make sure there the people behind can do the things they need to do. While this issue mostly relates to city driving, it often comes up in more rural areas too. In other words, for the following reasons, it is still good to practice even when these situations aren't present.

There is often a short right turn lane at many intersections, especially in cities. Sometimes there is no break-down-lane; the road goes right to the 8 inch tall curb and the sidewalk. Sometimes the turn lane is only about three car lengths long, or possibly even shorter. If, as an example, we are at an intersection and we want to turn right, and the light is red, we would use the little right turn lane, come to stop, check traffic, and go when safe. The problem happens when there are other cars already at stopped at the intersection. If the cars are packed up right and we can't make it into the turn lane, well, that's just too bad. If, on the other hand, the cars aren't packed up, and we are just a few inches shy of being able to make it, and the people won't pull up, it can be very frustrating. This can be especially frustrating at long lights.

So, next time you pull up to a light, schooch up.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Smooth Sailing

In much of what I have written so far, I have tried to put the law, common sense, and common courtesy at the forefront of my argument while trying to keep opinion to a minimum. When speaking of "good" drivers, much of what I state here is based upon observation and personal opinion. What makes a good driver to me does not necessarily make a good driver to someone else. I intend to start off with items that might be considered as more general truths and then move toward more of my opinion so, please, do not totally discount my arguments before you have read them. The sad part is -- if you believe what I write here -- if you are a good driver and I meet you on the highway I will never know it.

The best drivers are the smoothest drivers: the drivers you never notice. Before I received my motorcycle license, I took a motorcycle safety course. The state where I was issued my license recognized the final test of these courses and waived the driving portion of the license process if you passed the course's test. In this course, one of the instructors said something that stuck with me ever since, "the best riders are the smoothest riders." I find this to also be true when it comes to divers. A smooth driver, one who transitions from lane to lane with out cutting others off, one who does not pull out in front of others, one who uses their turn signals, and one who moves with the flow of traffic is a good driver. I think about all of the people I curse at everyday on the highway and think about how bad so many of the drivers I see really are. The truth is, the percentage of good to bad drivers has probably not changed over the years, there are just far more of all drivers on the highways (highways that have not changed in proportion to the number of drivers using them).

Being a smooth driver takes a certain command and control of the vehicle and a certain confidence in one's abilities. A smooth driver controls the entire car as almost second nature. When a turn is coming up, a turn signal, almost automatically, starts blinking. Breaking action is smooth, purposeful, and rarely a surprise to any following motorist. When breaking concludes with a stop, the car eases to the stop, not rocking hard front to back. A smooth driver has command of the vehicle supported by a constant awareness of their surroundings. A good driver should be able to tell you at any moment the location of all surrounding vehicles and a really good driver will even tell you the difference between cars and trucks: not because they were memorizing the scene in their head but because they are just that aware. Smooth drivers will, more than likely, be able to describe traffic patterns in their typical surroundings, such as the way to and from work or to their favorite restaurant. All of this information flows in and out of a good drivers head without the driver ever considering the issue. Studies have shown clothing, hats, and even cars are an extension of a person's mind space; some people are just better than others are at including their entire car in this space. I do not want to go so far as to say, being a good driver is a gift, mostly because I believe with vigilance and practice anyone can become a better driver. I will likely never, with any amount of practice, be Juan Montoya but, then again, on public roads he may drive like a total ass.

One item I have left out, and this may be obvious, is the necessity of following the rules. Most of what I believe makes up a good driver can be summed up in two parts, 1) do not impede other drivers, and 2) let other drivers know what you are doing. These two points set traffic rules to the side. For example, a good driver may speed to keep up with the flow of traffic, or a good driver may accelerate beyond their intended speed to pass a slower vehicle if this prevents an approaching vehicle, also intending to pass the slower vehicle, from slowing down. Another example, a good driver may be in a rush trying to get to work and in that rush dart from lane to lane to make their way around slower traffic. The only emotional response a good driver should cause in this situation is jealousy because they are so adept at moving their car though traffic so smoothly. A bad driver, on the other hand, can also dart through traffic but will generate rage because they are not using signals and generally cause others to have to slam on their breaks to keep from running into the bad driver. A good driver knows the rules but knows when they may not be appropriate.

If this sounds like way to much to have to be able to do to operate a vehicle you are somewhat correct. A person does not have to embody all of these properties to operate a vehicle. If you find yourself reading this and wondering how you will ever be a good driver do three things, 1) critically asses the way you drive against this description, 2) consciously work and practice to become a better driver, and 3) until you embody most of these characteristics, move over, slow down a bit, quit beating the children, and get off your cell phone.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Play nice, let others by.

On a warm Sunday afternoon you may find yourself tooling around in your drop-top with your girlfriend. Or maybe you are a conservative driver and, by-God, the speed limit is the speed limit -- but you go 5 under just to give yourself a margin of safety. Or you may be driving slow for any other number of reasons. As you are driving along you happen to notice someone in a vehicle behind you, riding your rear bumper like they are trying to make their car your new trailer, and they are dancing back and forth in the lane trying to see around you. You blow it off thinking, "this guy is an ass-hole," and you might be correct. But then a few miles later you notice there are two cars behind you now, and both are trying to find a passing lane in the worst way. A few miles later there are three or possibly even four cars behind you and nothing but miles of open road in front of you. Guess what, you are blocking the flow of traffic, and are likely causing more of a safety hazard by having a gaggle of cars all looking for the next opportunity to pass than if you were speeding. Obviously you don't want to be a road hazard, it would be nice if people didn't drive so crazy, but that just isn't reality and one person cannot solve this problem. So what should you do to relieve this hazardous situation?

If you have more than a few cars backed up behind you, you should consider pulling off the road at the nearest, safe pull off. Some states even have laws, usually un-enforced, about blocking traffic. The general rule of thumb here is: if a driver is impeding the progress of three or more cars that driver should allow the others to pass. The laws are different from state to state, some say three cars while others say four cars but, if you do pull off to allow others to get by, I highly doubt you will ever be ticketed for impeding traffic flow.

Keep right except to pass - update

A recent article by Eric Peters notes that a few states are starting to crack down on the infamous left-lane drivers. According to the article Colorado has already handed out 500 tickets this year. That sounds amazing to me since Colorado isn't the most populous state.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Upcoming Topics

  • What to do when you are driving slow and have cars stacked up behind you.
  • Qualities that make a good driver.

Monday, March 28, 2005

High Beam

Q: When is it appropriate to "flash" someone using the high beams of my automobile?
A: Short answer -- never.

Neither are you an authority nor do you have the right to try to notify someone that either their high beams are on or you intend to pass (or some other reason). Let the police do their job: you will be surprised that they often do.

It used to be polite to let the driver of on coming vehicle know that the high beams on their car were still on. Peoples' tempers no longer allow for this gesture. There are also other reasons than tempers. Some new head light types are annoyingly bright even when on low beam. Many people drive with their fog lights on making it seem as though the front of their car is bright like having on high beams. Most of the annoyingly bright head lights are a high theft item and we can only hope so many of these lights are taken that car manufacturers quit using them. As for fog lights, if they are factory installed you cannot run bights and fog lights at the same time. Some people will install their own fog lights and run them with their high beams on and this is illegal. But let the police do their job. If you count four lights, not just two bright ones, it is only someone's fog lights and, generally, they really aren't that bright.

If you wish to pass someone not obeying the "Keep right except to pass," or "Slow traffic keep right" signs the best, and probably most difficult thing to do is to wait. I hate this option. But short of convincing state officials to allow for open season on rude drivers it is just about all that can be done. I have seen people use their high beams to let someone know they are blocking a lane. It almost always has the effect of pissing off the other driver such that they maintain their current position for mile after mile. It just isn't worth it.

One thing I have noticed people doing lately is waiting until they are about 20' away from an on coming car before flashing the high beams. This is just about one of the worst and most ignorant things a driver can possibly do. More than likely the driver doesn't even have on their high beams. And now they've been subjected to a bright flash of light at close range ruining their night vision. To top it off, they have had no time to realize their error in having their high beams on and make a correction. On more than one occasion I have been tempted to turn my car around to see why, if a person felt the need to flash their high beams, they didn't do it while they were still a quarter mile away or so leaving me with enough time to reach.

I used to be very careful about making sure my high beams were off before I met on coming traffic. Often you can see the reflection of an on coming car's head lights off of over head power lights, signs, guard rails, or bushes. Now I wait until I know the person sees my head lights before I kick them down to low beam. This does not help the other driver's night vision but I don't catch the 20'-away-blinding-flash anymore.

In summary, just don't do it. It is a waste of time. Mind your own business, pay attention to what you are doing with your own automobile, and arrive to your destination safely and without annoying other drivers.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Merge Lanes

Merge lanes and turn lanes should be used for acceleration or deceleration to the greatest extent possible. These lanes include on ramps, off ramps, center turn lanes, and right side turn lanes. The objective when using one of these lanes is to impede other drivers at a minimum.

On ramps and off ramps are not all made exactly alike: they can differ by state or roadway type (interstate versus limited access highway). Some off ramps employ a lane that runs parallel with traffic for several hundred feet before diverging from traffic (on ramps do the opposite, converging a different direction down to a lane running in the parallel path). When this type of lane exists, drivers must use it to either decelerate (off ramp) or accelerate to the speed of traffic on the main highway. When there is no parallel lane the ramp often veers off slowly, in the case of the off ramp, allowing a driver to make a smooth turn, and then decelerate. In the case of the on ramp things are more difficult but skilled drivers look for a space between cars then adjust the speed of their automobile such that their car enters that space with perfect timing and at the speed of traffic allowing for a seamless transition.

This is a very simple concept but many drivers make the mistake of decelerating before the off ramp or accelerating to the speed of traffic on the main highway after they merge into traffic. On a busy thoroughfare, these drivers are major roadblocks. Sometimes the traffic on the main highway ends up being forced to merge into other lanes. This can happen rather quickly, especially when drivers on the main highway do not expect someone to do this. In some instances, the driver on the main highway cannot merge because there is already a car in the lane next to them.

Some secondary roads have center turn lanes (for left hand turns) and right side turn lanes (for right hand turns). Center turn lanes come in at least two configurations: one type uses a continues lane for use by either direction of traffic while the other uses a separate lane for each direction – almost like a left hand off ramp. The center turn lane using the continuous strip of pavement is often the trickiest to use without impeding traffic. When different lanes are painted onto this lane it can help but when there are no lanes the driver wishing to make the left hand turn must be aware of the intent of drivers in the oncoming lane. It is best to watch for turn signals, drivers riding the center line, or making some other action that might denote their aim to enter the center turn lane.

Georgia highway 400 as it enters Dawson County is a perfect example of a road designed with center turn lanes like left hand off ramps. These turn lanes are very long, built to accommodate several cars or to allow for full deceleration. These turn lanes, when not loaded with other cars, may be entered at highway speeds. Drivers on GA 400, more often than not, decelerate well before they enter these turn lanes causing significant backups on this highly congested highway.

Right hand turn lanes are often the shortest of all merge lanes. If making a turn onto another highway a driver can often keep the majority of their vehicle velocity, thereby, reducing the need for much deceleration. On the other hand, if a driver must come to a stop or a near complete stop there is generally very little that can be done to keep from impeding other driver’s progress to at least some degree. When merging or turning it is important to also use turn signals. At least by using a turn signal you can make other drivers more aware of your objectives and they might even react accordingly.

Driving is a privilege not a right. Considering the dangers when driving and the incredible responsibility one takes on when getting behind the wheel it seems as though we should all be working to make ourselves better and more courteous drivers. The best drivers are the smoothest drivers and those that have the ability to interact with different types of traffic while making the least impact possible.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Left Lane is Called the Passing Lane

The left hand lane of a highway, where there are at least two adjacent lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, is called the passing lane. The right lane in this system is called the travel lane. This is an important lesson for many -- many, many, many, many, many -- people.

If there are 3 or more adjacent lanes of traffic moving in the same direction the nomenclature and operating procedures are slightly -- but only slightly -- more complex. In this situation, the far left lane is still the passing lane. The far right lane is the entry/exit lane; the lane utilized by those entering and exiting the highway who may travel at speeds less than the speed limit. The center lane or lanes are the travel lanes. An individual could think of the lanes this way, from right to left the speed varies from slowest to fastest.

In any case, the left most lane is not called the:
  • Sit by the car in the travel lane traveling at the exact same speed for miles on end lane,

  • Drive the speed limit or less no matter what the travel lane is doing lane,

  • I have a left exit coming up in 10 miles so I need to get over to be prepared lane, or

  • I have the right to be here lane.

I have well over a decade of driving experience under my belt and rely on this experience to provide my opinion. I have driven probably half a million miles in that time period in various automobiles from junkers to sports cars to trucks with trailers. I currently drive a service truck every weekday down Georgia highway 400 (aka. the worst highway in Georgia). The situation with the left most lane has progressively become worse as years have gone by. Even in the Midwestern states, where drivers are often most courteous, people driving along aimlessly in the left most lane can now be found, often blocking the passing lane for mile upon mile.

In my mind, and that of many of my friends, blocking the passing lane is one of the greatest offenses in current American society. Blocking the passing lane, an event I believe is increasing, provides a testimony to the degradation of our culture. There are really only a couple of reasons people might block the passing lane:
  1. They are unaware or

  2. They do not care that they are preventing the progress of others.
The first case shows ignorance and the second displays selfishness, insensitivity, and rudeness to the needs of others. Neither of these characteristics should we be pursuing or proud of as a society.

Some defend their actions of sitting in the passing lane for mile upon mile without ever getting over, blocking traffic, causing backups, headaches, frustration, and road rage, as their "right" but they are ever so wrong. Many states have laws about how the passing lane must be utilized. These laws often go unenforceable as it is much easier to catch speeders over left-lane-sitters. In most states, to be in the left most lane with cars behind you, you must be passing cars in the travel lane by a speed similar to a "walking pace" or greater. This does mean you can speed! The duty of the car in the passing lane is to either speed up or slow down and merge into one of the travel lanes to let the cars behind you pass. Just sitting in the passing lane, cruising along, is against the law. Not only is sitting in the passing lane against the law but it is also rude.

People that utilize their "right" to be in the passing lane at any moment in time are using what I call the Jurassic Park defense. In Jurassic Park, an individual hires scientists to create dinosaurs from DNA recovered from mosquitoes. The fact that the individual only considered his ability to bring these animals back to life over the a consideration of if he should is a point the author brings out clearly. Like AEsop's Fables, Jurassic Park has a lesson, just because you can does not mean you should. Just because you can sit, illegally, in the passing lane that does not mean that you should.

There are instances where sitting in the passing lane is acceptable. This situation occurs in dense traffic where the highway infrastructure does not meet demand. An example of this would be Georgia 400 between I-285 in the south and Exit 17 in the north. This highway services millions of people and, for the majority of the distance between I-285 and Exit 17, has only two adjacent lanes traveling in each direction. The traffic density is such that, daily from before sun-up to after sun-down, their exists nothing but a sea of tail lights ahead for both directions. Hardly a day goes by where there is not at least one accident in one or both direction sometime during the day. In this situation or similar situations with slow or stopped traffic sitting in the left hand lane is acceptable, mostly because no one is going anywhere anytime soon.

Next time you find yourself sitting the passing lane, with cars stacked up behind you, make a decision on what kind of human you would like to be. Do you want be considered an ignorant bastard by all those behind you? Do you want to be considered a rude asshole by all those behind you. It is your choice and decision, the police will not likely pull you over and ticket you, the people behind you probably won't shoot at you (though a large percentage of drivers carry guns), but do you really want to slow the progress of your fellow man?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Intended Use

My goal is to describe traffic indiscretions and inform the readership of the lawful and/or courteous methodology for operating a motor vehicle on public highways. Topics generated for publication come from my daily commute on Georgia Highway 400. This highway is considerably underdeveloped, generates accidents far above that seen on an average roadway, and, due to the extreme use, most daily problems are exacerbated to extreme levels. I hope the readership can grow and enjoy reading about the many problems a normal but courteous individual sees on the roadways.