Don’t do it man!

I noticed that I find myself doing this a lot lately while driving.  I see a car that looks like they might do something crazy – run a red light, go right on red with traffic coming too close (or me!), changing lanes without signaling with my car already occupying the spot they are moving into, and then saying ‘Don’t do it man!’.

I know that has absolutely no affect on whether they do it or not.  I say a lot of things that don’t affect the universe in any significant fashion, this is just another one of them.  Here’s a few of my favorite examples from recent driving.

There are quite a few strange intersections in this area.  One in particular features a 40 mph speed limit on a 4 lane divided road, a traffic light at the bottom of a slope, and a fork in the road soon after the intersection with the traffic light.  One night while headed down the slope towards the light which was green in my direction, I see a car at the light just ahead of me.  I was in the left lane as I need to take the left fork after the intersection.  Despite ‘Don’t do it man!’, the car of course made a right on red, and proceeded to pull into the LEFT lane, right in front of me!  I had absolutely no way of slowing down in time without slamming into them, luckily there was no other traffic and I was able to pull into the right lane.   What was this guy thinking?  You can’t make a right on red if it is going to result in a collision, if you do make a right on red you’re required to pull into the closest lane.   There was basically no way he should have been pulling out into oncoming traffic, but he did it anyway.   The ‘right on red’ when traffic is NOT clear is one of the most often ‘Don’t do it man!’ instances, but not the only one.

Another fine example of ‘Don’t do it’ happened in front of me not long ago.  While driving to work on a nice sunny morning, I followed another car onto the exit that leads to work.  Luckily for both of us, I wasn’t following closely, though I could see the driver was on the phone.   Unfortunately for Mr. Distracted Driver, he soon figured out that he’d taken the wrong exit.   What did he do?  He tried to make an immediate left – unfortunately for him, that left was into a one way off ramp that was merging with our ramp!  This required him to drive over some grass, maybe that was a clue for him, or maybe it was the oncoming cars, or maybe it was me saying ‘Don’t do it man!’.  Of course he decided that going the wrong way on the other ramp was a bad idea and instead kept turning all the way around and go the wrong way on the ramp  he was already on – right back at me!   Another quick 180 and he got going back in the right direction, drove for a bit then pulled over and stopped – hopefully to take a breath and get a clue before he did something else stupid.   Luckily for him I wasn’t driving closely behind him, or we most likely would have had a collision.  He did all of this way too fast and without looking at all – and without putting the phone down.

Some of these incidents have lead me to wonder – do people do this kind of thing less often when you can make eye contact with the driver?  Does that really help?   In both of the above cases the driver could see what was going on, but I couldn’t make eye contact with them.  Would that have changed things at all?  I don’t know, but maybe there is ‘driver to driver ESP’ that alerts people that they are thinking about doing something stupid – but it requires eye contact to work.

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Stay in your lane!

I has been way too long since I posted to this blog.  Not because the driving around here has gotten better, I’ve just been lazy about writing about it.

Have you noticed how bad people have gotten lately about staying in their own lane?   I realize that this is likely to be the result of all the new distractions while driving – nav systems, satellite radio systems and cell phones.   However, this seems to be an epidemic lately and not just by people who are obviously texting while driving.   Its amazing that people still text and drive, hasn’t there been enough deaths caused by that already?

Staying in your lane or driving in a straight line while driving isn’t hard, if you are paying attention.  If you’ve ever looked at something on the side of the road and found the car following where you are looking, you know what I’m talking about, if your attention strays, so does your car.  That’s not quite the same issue while messing with something in your car.   I don’t know about you, but its always been possible for me to change the stations on the radio with wandering in my lane, that’s what preset station buttons are for!   You can hit them without even looking at the radio.   It just seems lately people care less about staying in their own lane.   I’ve seen people going through lights, which should in theory require more attention, wandering out of their lane quite a bit.  I’ve also followed people for blocks who swerved from one side of the lane and back to the middle over and over again.  Not enough to think they were driving while intoxicated, but a big hazard.   Its bad enough now that driving in the middle lane of any 3 lane road is a lot more exciting than it should be.

Stopping optional

 One of the most frequent bad driving habits I see is people running red lights.   Other than reckless driving, this might be the most dangerous thing you can do, yet people do it all the time.   Its gotten so bad in this area, that at some intersections, drivers actually pause when the light turns green, check both ways, then start driving.   I guess that’s the good drivers trying to minimize their risk from the bad drivers. 

The sad thing about this habit is that it should be easy to avoid.  I’m not going to claim that I’ve never gone through a light that turned red while I was in the intersection.   Technically, if you are already in the intersection when the light turns red, you’re ‘legal’.  That still doesn’t make it a good habit and one I try to avoid.   In that situation, the other drivers can’t start driving yet, as there’s a slight pause between the light in one direction turning red and the light turning green in the other.   That doesn’t make it a good idea to try and beat the red light.   If the light turns yellow and you think it will turn red before you get there, then don’t speed up try try and make the light.   You’ll know if you are going to make it or not, so be prepared to stop.   What really baffles me is the people who make no attempt to stop when the light is going to turn red BEFORE they get to the intersection.   This happens particularly often when people are pulling into or leaving a shopping center.  What’s so special about leaving a store, that people think its ok to keep driving if the light is red?   Just because you’re following close behind the car in front of you and they kept going, doesn’t mean you can or should.    You know if the light has been yellow for a while you shouldn’t continue.   What happens if one of the cars approaching from the other direction wasn’t stopped at the light, but instead is going full speed because they happened to time the light properly?   They won’t stop at a green light and someone will be seriously injured.  

If you don’t think running red lights is dangerous, check the news for reports of people being killed by drivers running red lights.  It happens.

Failure to yield

Failing to yield (or merge properly) is one of the very dangerous driving activities I see often.  It might even be my pet peeve.  If you’re reading this and you do some of the things described here, consider changing your driving behavior.  There’s no excuse for failing to yield right of way properly!  it is not the responsibility of the car already in the lane to yield.   It is not their responsibility to give you a break, change lanes so you can merge, or drive charitably.   That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it when circumstances permit, but it is not their responsibility!  If you are entering traffic via an on ramp, lane merge or turning right on red, it is your responsibility to do so safely.

As a refresher, here’s a quote from the NYS DMV drivers manual.  This is the general rule for right of way.

A driver approaching an intersection must yield the right-of-way to traffic already lawfully using the intersection.

In other words – the car already in the lane does not have to get out of the way – you HAVE to merge properly.

Here’s the rule for an intersection with a yield sign.

Slow down as you approach the intersection. Prepare to stop and yield the right-of-way to vehicles and pedestrians in or approaching the intersection. You must come to a full stop at a YIELD sign if traffic conditions require it. When you approach a YIELD sign, check carefully for traffic, and be prepared to stop.

So those two rules completely cover what you must do when leaving an on ramp, or going through an intersection with a yield sign.  Here’s what actually happens at an intersection near me, where an on ramp actually has a yield sign at the point where it enters the road.

Cars come off a busy road on a ramp (fairly common here) and the ramp leads them to another road.  At the end of the ramp is a yield sign.  The yield sign is fairly unusual on an on ramp, but in this case the merge lane is very short and ends abruptly.  We’ll call this the merge from Sleeping Road onto Zombie Street, because that’s how most drivers act.

Nearly every day as I drive along Zombie Street, I see cars approaching on the ramp from Sleeping Road.  About 75% of them give absolutely no indication they’ve seen the yield sign or plan on following either of the above rules for merging.    Recently, I was following a very large truck on Zombie as it approached this situation about 30MPH.  Along come 3 cars, driving on the ramp like they can merge with no regard to existing traffic on the road.  This leads to the very dangerous situation of car #1, suddenly finding itself right next to a very large truck – with almost no lane left!  I literally could see the driver give a horrified look at the truck and then slam on the brakes.  How did they miss the HUGE truck already in the road?  How could they not see that they were going neither fast enough to get in front of it (stupid) or slow enough to get behind (just as stupid, there were cars behind the truck).   Luckily they stopped in time before the truck crushed them against the guard rail, and the 2 cars following showed a bit (not much) more awareness of what was going on.  They might not have, I’ve seen the 2nd and 3rd cars in this situation do stupid things like accelerate around the first car on the left, thereby putting themselves in the way even more.   This could have caused a multi-car accident.    Since this happens so often, I’d left extra space between myself and the truck just in case.

What happens almost as often and is just as dangerous, is the people who look like they MIGHT have seen the yield sign and MIGHT actually yield.  They often don’t slow down enough or, as the law requires, stop.  They just keep rolling as the ramp disappears.  This leaves drivers already on Zombie Street in a dilemma – are they going to keep going?  Are they going to stop?  If they keep going is it going to be before or after you get there?  Often they run out of ramp because they haven’t given a clear indication of what they are doing and someone has to swerve around them, particularly people who need to exit Zombie Street on the right just after the ramp.

I also see this when people merge onto the highway from a rest area or on ramp.   Since the merging rules above require you to give right of way to cars already on the highway, you either have to merge at the same speed as cars on the highway and have enough space for your car, or wait until there’s a large amount of space before the next car.  Don’t merge at 20 MPH below the speed limit and expect people to get out of your way!  They don’t have to, may not be able to, and its risky to assume they will.

When merging from a ramp or merge lanes, either merge at the proper speed with the proper spacing, or YIELD.  Its that simple, and yielding may require you to stop completely.   Its not that hard.   Drive safely and smartly!

Random lane changing

The latest example of bad driving occurred nearby just last weekend.  Remember this is a busy, 3 lane road with lots of stores and plazas, so there is lots of turning and lane changing.

When first getting on this road, or when preparing to turn right, I often find myself ‘stuck’ in the right hand lane.  This is a particularly bad place to be, as too many people drive in the right lane when they shouldn’t.  Either they aren’t turning at all, or aren’t turning for a long time.  Get out of the right lane!   You are only in the way of the people who need to turn and people who want to turn onto the road.   Too many don’t give the person turning enough space, or slow down enough, which always makes it feel like a rear end collision is imminent.

In this case, I was in the right lane because  I needed to exit soon.  Unfortunately for me, the car in the middle lane decided they needed to be in the right lane too – in the same space as my car!   Without a turn signal they started to change lanes.  I beeped and slowed down abruptly, which was good since they never stopped moving over, they just kept going.  If I had been less aware, this would have been an accident.  The next day, it happened again!  Neither driver stopped changing lanes or did anything to indicate they realized a car was already in the spot they tried to move into, which makes me wonder – did they not see me at all, or did they somehow think they actually had an open lane to move into?  All the more reason to stay in the middle lane though that has its own risks.

Remember to always check the lane you are moving into when changing lanes AND use your turn signal!

Historically Bad driving while not moving!

Another incident from the past that I happened to get a really good look at from a close perspective while not being involved!  Have you ever gone past the scene of an accident and wondered how the heck an accident happened there?   So many accidents happen at traffic lights where in theory, there shouldn’t be any accidents if everyone is just paying attention.

This is one of those cases.   While I was walking past a line of 10 – 12 cars stopped at a red light, all of them not moving, the light turned green.  Immediately, and I mean immediately, car 8 took off and slammed into the back of car 7!  That’s right, the 8th car in line decided it was time to move, and did so – before even the first car barely got moving, and certainly not cars 2 – 7.   They also hit it pretty hard, not just a bump.  What could possibly cause this?  The driver was on the phone maybe (or texting), peripherally noticed a light change and instinctively hit the gas?    There wasn’t even another line of traffic or someone moving in another lane to cause them to move!  They also moved too far and too fast for it to be a case of the foot coming off the brake.

Sure, it was a slow speed accident, but judging from the sound of it they’d tried to take off rapidly.   I really wonder how they managed to explain it.

A couple of lessons here – always leave more space between you and the car in front of you at a light!  I’ve heard advice ranging from being able to see the car’s tires to being able to see the tires meet the road.   I’d go for the 2nd, and more.  That space may prevent you from accidentally bumping them, or give you just enough space to avoid someone behind you being careless.   Of course, pay attention!!   Watching what you are doing and staying off the phone will help.

More historically bad driving

Before I get to the next incident, lets review a bit.  I’m not a professional driver and don’t have any special training.   I haven’t been in an ‘accident’ in 30 years and I consider that to be partially due to good driving and partially due to just plain luck.    My goal here is to promote safer, smarter driving by everyone.

I live and drive near a very busy strip mall/commercial district typical to the USA NE/Midwest.  3 lanes in both directions with dividers, left turn lanes and very few right turn lanes.  Lots and lots of plaza entrances and exits and a lot of lights.

This one really should be called ‘How did they do that’?  While driving through this area one day I noticed that a Jeep that I had just passed at a traffic light was now driving across the street in the same direction as me – but not on my side of the road!  They  then went through a restaurant parking lot – and then drove over the curb, down a small embankment and down a side street.   Thinking about it for a second I realized what they had done must have required a number of infractions.   Assuming they waited for the light to turn green, they must have driven the WRONG way down a 3 lane highway, about 75′, to get to an entrance on that side, driven from one parking lot to the other, then performed their off road maneuver.  It really was worse than it sounds, to do this they must have:

1. Made a turn onto the wrong side of a divided highway and driven against 3 lanes of one way traffic (no one was coming) for 75′.  That’s got to be at least 2 traffic infractions, and a serious chance of a major head-on accident.

2.  Driven over a curb and down the embankment where there is no driveway/exit.   Assuming they didn’t scare anyone to death driving down the road or cause an accident, they at least drove over someone else’s lawn/property to do so.

Why would anyone do this?  There’s no direct way to turn where they wanted to go, they would normally have to go 1/2 block past where they wanted to be and do a U-turn to get to the street they wanted.   So to save 1/2 a block, they risked a major accident, car damage and property damage to save a minute or two.

Unless someone in your car is seriously ill and you’re going to the hospital, nothing is worth that much stupid driving.