07 July 2007

Rant: Road Rage and Defensive Driving

Driving a car has been a pastime within many countries for decades. In the United States, driving has been synonymous with 'freedom' and 'rebellion.' However, as the decades passed and a love for driving has grown for many generations of people, the number of cars that populate the roads at any given time have increased exponentially.

At the same time, many different kinds of cars, as well as many different kinds of drivers, find themselves on the blacktop. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge the skill levels of your fellow driver (not to mention the abilities of the vehicle they are driving) when on the road, and if you aren't careful, a serious incident can occur because of it. Since states do not require a person to attend a driving school to acquire a license to operate a 3,000lb. projectile, many people simply know the rules of the road, and defensive driving skills are found lacking as a result.

Some Tips for Driving While Sane:

1. Your Ego is Always Larger Than Your Engine. It doesn't matter if your car is a 4-cylinder Metro getting 50mpg or a 3.5 liter Nissan 350Z equipped with twin turbos at 600hp. If your intention is drive fast, then drive fast.

2. Keep Right, Pass LEFT. This is especially required on highways of 2 lanes in either direction. In the majority of states it is supposed to be illegal to even drive in the left-hand lane of traffic if you are not going faster than the flow of traffic in the right hand lane. It does not matter if you are driving the posted speed limit in the left-hand lane. If someone is coming up behind you and they are driving faster than you are, signal your intention to move to the right-hand lane, doing so when it is safe - even if it means speeding up slightly to make the car next to you move away, and allow the faster car to pass.

3. You are not the Police. So many traffic accidents and road rage incidents occur because people feel the need to teach someone else a lesson in regards to being cut off or being tailgated in a passing lane. The most commonly used defense in this case seems to be, "I was driving the speed limit at the time!"

Now, I've seen people tailgate police officers and state troopers, which often results in the police car simply moving over, allowing the moron to pass, and getting behind said person - and the police lights come on. However, and speaking from someone who is simply looking for the path of least resistance when it comes to driving, don't act like a vigilante and attempt to "teach anyone a lesson." Chances are you'll end up creating more problems than your foolish attempt at being some hero will solve.

4. The Highway is NOT the Wangan or the Autobahn. As much as I would like to see some of the more idiotic laws on speed changed, there is still a modicum of decorum when it comes to driving and driving fast. Some states have a Highway Speed Limit of 75, and depending on the locale, it usually means there are people doing 80 in the slow lane. However, in keeping with the "Keep Right, Pass Left" theme, blasting down a highway in a car or motorbike doing 140mph while sliding in and out of traffic is a big no-no in my book. Even Germany's Autobahn has the "Pass Left" rule in effect - to the point of German Police pulling over people in the left-hand lane when the right lane is empty. I can't speak for the highways of Japan on this.

5. Assume the Driver in Front Does NOT See You. A number of traffic accidents and road rage incidents happen when people change lanes suddenly. Sometimes, it is a case of cutting someone else off, but often times, the driver in the front car does not check their rear view mirrors correctly. And, astonishingly, people have a habit of waiting until you are within a certain distance before changing lanes to get in front of you. Always have a plan of defensive maneuvers ready (if "cut off," downshift/brake-tap, change lanes; reduce speed beforehand; etc.) besides slam brakes at the last second and hope I don't hit them.

Challenging 18-Wheelers - A Surefire Way to Die. An 18-wheeled tractor-trailer is 53-feet long, weighing in at more than 70,000lbs. with a full load of cargo. Your little SUV - yes, your "big, safe Expedition/4-Runner/Tahoe" is little compared to a 35-ton behemoth - is less than 10% of that truck's weight. A big truck like that requires about 300 feet (that is the length of a football field, BTW) to slow to a complete stop, even with JAKE brakes. This figure goes WAY up if the truck is rolling down a hill. They do not handle like Italian Sports Cars, either.

So why do people continually cut in front of them...and hit their brakes?

There are too many incidents of truckers having their semi-trailers jack-knifing because of foolish and inattentive drivers - and that is if the driver can perform that maneuver in time. More often, however, the car in front gets pancaked.

7. Get Out of the Blind Spot! For some strange reason, people will in passing lanes will drive right up to where the gap exists between my rearview mirror and the side-mirrors...and stay there.

For miles.

For some time, this was not too much of a problem. However, I have had some very close calls with people hanging in my blind spot and remaining there. Now, I never drive at a constant speed (always varying between posted limit 5mph up and 10 down). If I have someone on my left side as a blind-spot driver, one quick downshift and allowing the engine's power to do its job will rid me of this dangerous driver. And if he or she speeds up with me, I don't get mad or even. Because:

8. There Are Idiots Everywhere Driving Everything. Often, when driving, you will happen upon a nutcase who believes that they are driving "The Ultimate Driving Machine." Contrary to popular opinion, "Japanese Import Performance cars" are not the only vehicles guilty of this, nor do American Muscle Cars partake in the "Speak softly and carry big stick" nonsense that is peddled around these parts. In fact, for every Honda Civic I've encountered with a loud exhaust and poor ignition timing (to make it sound like they have an anti-lag turbo), there have been as many idiots driving Ford Mustangs with loud exhaust systems and stiff upper crust men and women flouting the law in their Lexus Sc430 and Infinity G35 (ahem, Nissan Skyline R35 GT-R) luxury cars.

Sooner or later, they will probably end up in a bad accident. Just follow 1,2,3,5, and 7 so you don't end up on the side of the road with them.

Let's be careful out there.

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