Sunday, April 22, 2012

Forty years’ worth of driving tips

I remember my fifteenth birthday clearer than any I’ve had, including last year’s, although that’s not unusual since I can no longer remember what I had for breakfast. The other day, I wished a couple of parting tax clients to “have a good weekend.” It was Monday.

There it was, sitting by the garage. A brand new candy apple blue 1972 Honda CL100. I had owned a mini-bike for a few years, but this was my first street legal ride.

Several days later, I passed my written driver’s test and headed outside the Department of Motor Vehicles for my road test. The state trooper followed behind with my dad riding shotgun. Through the bullhorn mounted in the grill of the police car, I listened to instructions to turn right, turn left, stop quickly, etc.

We finished road test and I was handed my temporary license. In those days, the real license was produced and shipped from a central location, probably a prison somewhere.

Since that day nearly forty years ago I’ve been compiling a list of driving tips that I follow religiously and, so far, have kept me out of any serious crashes.

My only crash was in Mexico when an 18-wheeler cut me off on a left turn at an intersection, rolling over the right front quarter of my Dodge Intrepid. Not my fault, although in Mexico they haul everyone to jail while they sort out who’s telling the truth (or who bolsters their story with the most cash).

As it turns out, the list is quite short, but I invite my friends to add to the list with their own jewels of wisdom.

1)    Pay attention. I love driving and I can’t imagine what could be more important than paying attention to your driving, especially while you’re driving. I see people climb into their SUVs after loading their groceries and the first thing they do is place a cell phone call. Like talking on the phone is the main thing you do between points A and B.

2)    Pay attention when you’re first in line at a traffic light. Okay, for those who consider it unreasonable to pay attention at all times while driving, at least pay attention for the minute or two when you’re in front of the line at a red light. Is that too much to ask?

3)    You can’t drive through the car in front of you. When you’re merging onto another road and someone is stopped in front of you attempting the same feat, don’t even bother turning to look for oncoming traffic until the car in front of you is gone. I was witness to my father committing this error before I got my Honda. He thought he saw the lady in front of us take off, immediately he turned to look for oncoming traffic, and hit the gas. He traveled six feet before realizing that the lady had only moved up to get a better view. A $1,000 mistake.

4)    Difference in speed kills. Don’t merge onto a highway going 40 mph slower than everyone else. And if you are one of those people who comes to a complete stop before entering Route 6 at Exit 2 (just using a “for example”), please turn in your drivers license as soon as possible and start taking public transportation.

5)    It’s illegal to use the left lane of a multiple lane road for anything except to pass other cars and make a left turn. If you’re one of those people who plant themselves in the left lane on Route 3 (again, just a “for example”) at 60 mph in order to prove a point, read this summary of “keep right” laws (and die).

6)    Use your blinkers. I always wonder why someone would pay $60,000 for a Mercedes that doesn’t have turn signals. And, yes, I am aware that using your blinker is a sign of weakness on the Southeast Expressway. The appropriate compromise is to blink once or twice at the time you make your move. That’s not asking permission; it’s saying “I hope you notice that I’m cutting you off.”

7)    Back out of a parking space only as far as you need to. If you have backed out far enough to clear the cars next to you, stop backing up. Seriously. You haven’t hit anything yet so count your blessings and put the transmission in drive. Continuing to back up until another car stops you is expensive.


  1. My twist on #4 merging onto a highway. As someone who routinely drives well over 40,000 miles a year (approx 1.5 million miles in the past 40 years) it amazes me as to the number of people who a) do not get the concept of the yield sign and b) merge onto the highway insisting they have the right of way. Apparently most have flunked physics and the basic principle that 2 objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Either speed up and merge in front or slow and merge behind me. While I will accomodate my speed slightly, I cannot drop to 35mph because of the person 1.5 car lengths behind me.

  2. Randy, what do you think goes through an inmates mind when they are making a license plate for a State Police vehicle?


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