Stop Kidding Yourself!

STOP KIDDING YOURSELF, IF YOU DRIVE
TOO FAST . . . YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!

The debate over whether or not to lift the “national speed limit” of 55 mph, which resulted in a bill which allows states to decide maximum speed limits for themselves, was ludicrous. Let’s get real. When asked on national television what she thought about increased speed limits, one young lady summed it up nicely by saying, “That’s cool, now we can do legally what most of us have been doing illegally all along.” Habitual speeders will break the law regardless of posted speed limits and will continue to do so unless two dramatic but unlikely changes take place. I won’t hold my breath.

The first is a monumental overhaul of driver attitudes. We’re caught up in this notion that faster is cooler. It started with the self-gratifying “me generation” of the sixties and morphed into the do-it-now, have-it-now, and get-there-now can’t wait attitude of today. I call it the “NASCAR Wannabe” syndrome. Professional racing drivers will be the first to tell you that faster has its place, but the place is not on public roadways.

This attitude change has to go far deeper than just knowing the consequences of excessive speed. Any thinking driver knows that the small amount of time, if any, that one might gain by speeding is not worth the risk and that any reduction in speed will reduce the force of impact in a crash and thereby reduce the extent of injury and odds of a fatality. And, tragically, all too often it is not just the speeder who pays the price but innocent parties as well. For habitual speeders it is full speed ahead regardless of the consequences. In other word they just don’t care.

This cavalier attitude toward speed limits is not unique to highway and freeway driving. It’s an even greater problem in towns and cities where the number and frequency of conflicts are manifold and the driving task more complex. What is more we are coming to accept this kind of driving as normal. Some even laugh it off in cliché “boys will be boys” fashion. There is nothing normal about endangering lives and reckless driving is about as funny as Russian roulette!

When you tailgate another driver who is obeying the speed limit, you are the problem, not the other driver. When you get impatient and pass another driver at an unlawful speed, you are the problem, not the other driver. And when you get angry at another driver who is obeying traffic laws, you are not only a problem driver but it’s time to turn in your license, please! Stop kidding yourself. You are not a good driver by any rational definition.

So what is a good driver? A good driver is a driver who knows, understands and obeys traffic laws and rules of the road. A good driver understands why we have traffic laws and rules. The good driver understands the rules are there for our protection, and not part of some conspiracy to take away our personal freedoms. If you have an impatient or hostile attitude toward others who are playing by the rules – change it! Don’t let these dangerous emotions make your driving decisions for you.

The hostile driving environment will not go away until each of us is willing to examine our individual attitude toward driving and, if we drive this way, admit it and make a sincere effort to change. Only then will sanity and therefore safety kick in. As I said before, don’t hold your breath.

I said that two dramatic changes must take place. The second change is up to those we rely upon to enforce our traffic laws. Habitual speeders just don’t get it – never will. They are convinced that if they can get away with it, it’s okay. Unfortunately the only way some speeders will get the message is the hard way with tough and consistent enforcement of traffic laws.

Get rid of the stupid idea that a wreck will never happen to you. If you continue to drive this way the odds are that it will happen not once but three times in your driving career and when it does happen, you’re stuck with the consequences. There are no instant replays in this dangerous game. Your first wreck may be your last!

By the way: The state patrol in our state recently announced that their average traffic stop for speeders on the interstate is people driving at from 95 to 105 miles per hour. Any idea what you look like after you leave the road and roll or collide with another object at those speeds? You don’t want to know! Slow down.

To Get There Sooner . . .

IF YOU WANT TO GET THERE SOONER . . . LEAVE SOONER!

Recently there was an inquiry in our letters to the editor column from a reader who wanted to know, “Why can’t people drive the speed limit?” One might at first conclude from her question that she was concerned about speeders. Not so. Her complaint was that some people drive too slow to suit her and that everybody should at least drive the speed limit. She has a point. We should drive the speed limit.

I often ask the same question but with a different spin. Not only is it rare to find someone who
drives slower than the posted speed limit, the vast majority of drivers drive much faster than the
lawful limit. The unfortunate reality is that most of us are concerned with our speed only when we see an officer. Why so many of us have this compulsion to break the law puzzles me, especially when we know there is very little to be gained by speeding and a great deal to lose. Excessive speed is in fact one of the two principal causes of collisions. The other is tailgating. Let me tell you the two simple reasons why we should obey speed limits.

First, posted speed limits are set according to conditions which include the amount and nature of the traffic, the characteristics and condition of the roadway, our reaction times and other factors which only traffic safety engineers fully understand. If the experts tell us that 35 mph is the maximum safe speed for a certain segment of roadway we should believe them. That’s what we pay them for.

The other reason is even more fundamental – because speed limits are the law. If we exceed the posted limit we are lawbreakers. One would think this alone would be incentive enough to keep otherwise law abiding citizens within speed limits, especially parents whose youngsters are watching and who will surely imitate their behavior. I would like a dime for every one of my students who said, “Dad always told me I can get away with ten or twelve over the limit.” That’s breaking the law! Get away with being the operative phrase here.

Here are some gentle reminders about speed limits:

Speed limits are set for ideal conditions. When traffic, roadway or weather conditions are not
ideal, we must obey the “basic speed law” which states that we may not drive faster than is safe for existing conditions regardless of the posted speed limit. In other words if 40 mph is the safe speed for existing conditions, and we are driving faster than that, we are driving in a dangerous manner. Even though the posted speed limit may be 65 mph we can still be cited.

There is also a “minimum speed limit” which applies to some roadways such as highways and
freeways. This tells us not to drive slower than the given speed (usually 45mph) unless conditions are bad in which case we must obey the basic speed law. If we are poking along at 35 mph on the interstate, for example, we will likely get an officer’s attention because by driving this slow we are creating a danger to ourselves and others. There are also “advisory speed limits” which are set for special conditions such as sharp curves, and there are “special speed limits” which may apply during certain times of day such as in school or construction zones.

Contrary to one popular notion speed limits were not created to limit our personal freedoms. Good drivers understand that they exist to help keep us alive and well, and to bring order into our chaotic modern world of driving.

As for the reader who wondered why people can’t drive the speed limit, here’s a challenge. I
promise to not drive slower than the speed limit if you promise to not drive faster than the speed limit. If you encounter a person driving too slow to suit you, especially an older driver (I prefer to call them “grown-ups”) who’s just trying to obey the law, be understanding and patient. After all, if you don’t get killed in the meantime, that person will someday be you!

If you want to get there sooner, leave sooner.

This is not about how to drive. This is about staying alive! See you next time . . . I hope!

TAILGATERS SUCK!

TAILGATERS SUCK!

I’ve been thinking about going into the bumper sticker business. Bumper stickers are not as popular as they once were but maybe I can bring them back with a few clever messages like TAILGATERS SUCK! As crude as the language is, maybe this is what it takes to get the attention of some people. I have a few other, even more graphic slogans in mind as well.

Until distracted driving came busting onto the scene and took the number one spot, tailgating had always been right up there in the top three killers. It’s in the number four spot now right after (1) distracted driving, (2) excessive speed and (3) drunk driving.

We’re not talking about your pre-game partiers here with beer and barbecue. This is about drivers who follow too close. Let me tell you a little story about a tailgater. Think about this the next time you decide it’s ok to follow too close:

Craig is 18 years old. He’s a nice young man, good athlete, intelligent and well-liked by his friends and classmates. He’s just about to graduate and has been seriously working on getting an appointment to the Naval Academy. He has his sights on a military career.

Jason is 30 years old, married and has two young kids. He majored in Engineering in college and upon graduation went to work for the state highway department in their regional office here. He plans to make it to the top eventually but at present is still at mid-level and pulls down about $50 thousand a year.

At eight AM on Tuesday morning Jason and Craig are both driving west on Daly Drive, a popular route for the morning commute. Jason is dropping the kids at school and then will head for work. Craig is on his way to an early band practice. This is a two-lane roadway with traffic in both directions and, because not too many cops patrol it, drivers tend to drive too fast here. The posted speed limit is 40 mph. Most are driving 50 or more. This morning the roadway is dry, the weather is clear and the traffic is lighter than usual.

Wanting to set a good example for his kids, Jason is in the habit of always obeying the speed limit. Craig is late for practice though, forgets what his Drivers Ed instructor told him and starts to follow too close thinking this will make Jason speed up. Sensing danger, the driver ahead will usually slow down in this situation so Craig has accomplished exactly the opposite of what he wanted. He’s so close behind that he doesn’t see the chair fall off the pickup truck ahead. Jason has to brake hard. Craig can’t stop in time and crashes into him from behind.

The cars don’t appear to be too badly damaged. Both drivers were buckled in and seem to be ok. They get out of their cars. Jason takes a couple of steps toward Craig but then his right leg gives out and he falls to the pavement. Something is wrong. He struggles, grimaces with pain and can’t seem to get up. Craig calls 911 and shortly an ambulance and patrol car arrive.

While Jason is tended to the officers interview Craig. They want to know why he ran into the other car. Craig tries to come up with a reasonable excuse but there is none and he knows it. He is cited for following too close and ordered to appear in court. He knows he made a mistake and is willing to accept the consequences. He goes to court and the judge orders a hefty fine. His dad helps him pay the fine and they think it’s all over. Craig is totally unprepared for what comes next.

A few weeks after the collision Craig opens an official looking envelope and learns that he is being sued. Then comes the real shocker. He’s being sued for $3 million! “What in the world is this all about,” thinks Craig, “it was just a little rear-ender.” He reads on. It seems that Jason has been diagnosed with serious neck and back injuries resulting from the crash and will never again be able to perform the work for which he was trained. It’s called “whiplash” and it’s almost impossible to disprove. In this case it’s a legitimate claim but, why so much money?

Jason has an estimated 40 working years left. At $50 thousand per year that totals $2 million. Throw in another million for income adjustments, cost of living increases, medical expenses and other stuff that lawyers always come up with and there you have it. Craig will be paying for his momentary impatience for the rest of his life. And we haven’t even mentioned his own attorneys fees, the increased cost of his insurance and how all this could affect that military career he had his heart set on.

There is no excuse good enough for running into another car from behind. Rear-end collisions occur because the driver following was (1) following to close, (2) driving too fast for conditions, or (3) distracted or impaired. For those of us who drive bigger and heavier vehicles and tow things it becomes even more important to be alert and aware; to maintain sufficient following distances; to be traveling at appropriate speeds for existing conditions; and to fully understand the capabilities and limitations of our vehicles. By doing otherwise we create circumstances in which we can seriously injure or kill ourselves and/or others and like Craig pay for our mistake for the rest of our lives.

Here’s another idea for a bumper sticker. “WHERE IS IT WRITTEN THAT YOU HAVE TO DRIVE LIKE YOUR (you choose a word) IS ON FIRE? I’m getting one made for my motorhome. It’ll go right next to my “USC TROJANS” bumper sticker.

This isn’t about learning to drive . . . this is about staying alive!

See you next time, I hope!

ALLIGATORS!

ALLIGATORS!

Alligators!   You know, that’s what we call those big old chunks of tire tread sometimes left behind by truckers.   They lay in wait out there for you and me like snakes ready to strike.   State police and highway maintenance people try their best to spot and remove these, but they can’t be everywhere all the time.

We were cruising along in our motorhome a few miles north of Ely, Nevada on U.S. 93 working our way towards Boise.   An alligator showed up on the road right in front of us.   It was getting dark and I didn’t see it in time to avoid running over it.   When I heard that nasty bang, which sounded like it came from somewhere back there by our towed vehicle, I knew it had got us pretty good.

Expecting bad things but hoping for the best we pulled off to check for damage.   This time we were lucky.   The only damage was a torn up wiring harness.   Luckily we had the parts with us and were able to fix it without too much delay.   It could have been a whole lot worse.   Alligators can do a lot of damage and if a tire goes over one it could throw you off course and even out of control and that could end very badly.

Here are some good old safety tips you may remember from dad’s early lectures or your drivers ed.   In town, look ahead a block or more.   Try to spot a potential problem early, before it becomes a problem.   On the highway, look ahead as far as possible for the same reason.   Slow down at sundown.   If an alligator shows up without warning, slow as much as possible but keep in mind the oncoming traffic and those around and behind you.   Avoid the urge to jerk the wheel one way or the other to avoid it. That can make things worse.   If you can’t avoid running over it, try to center the critter between your front wheels to hopefully hold down the damage, grip the wheel and maintain control.   If you hit an alligator, stop as soon as possible in a safe place off the road and away from traffic to check for damage.

And remember . . . you’re having fun!

Walking Out to Meet The Future?

Weyco FedWay Bldg.

WALKING OUT TO MEET THE FUTURE . . . OR GIANT STEP BACKWARD?

You’ll have to wait until next time for my usual rant about safe driving because I just learned something totally unrelated to driving that requires immediate comment.   Here goes!

To set the scene here’s a short quote from a book I’m working on.   This book is a loosely tethered ramble through my adventures as a working stiff leading up to and including Adventures of a Driving Instructor, which is what I’m thinking of calling this work.   Everybody ought to do this, by the way.   Even if nobody reads it, writing a book is a heck of a cathartic for clearing the heart, mind and soul.   Anyway, enough of that, here’s the quote:

“As the sun rose above the fir trees to the east, the panorama through the all-glass wall beyond Charlie’s desk was breathtaking.   I watched in wonder as the moving light pierced the rising morning mist and caught the colors of the Rhododendron gardens on the west slope of the vast meadow stretching out below.   Then as if on cue our two snow white swans, gracious gifts to the company from the people of Japan, arose from their slumber, stretched their wings and gracefully slipped from their private island habitat onto the glassy surface of the lake to create their gentle wakes.”

This was the scene to which I was treated as, coffee mug in hand, I waited for the others to arrive for an early morning meeting where we were about to brief a senior VP for his upcoming visit to the Far East.   The date was May 11, 1978.   The time was six a.m.   The place was the top floor of the Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Federal Way, Washington.

When I went to work for the company in the mid sixties, Weyerhaeuser corporate functions were – if this makes sense – in one place but scattered.   Worldwide operations of the forest products conglomerate were guided from all or major parts of more than twenty different office buildings in and around downtown Tacoma, which had been home base since founder Frederick Weyerhaeuser moved the company headquarters west at the turn of the century.

In 1971, under the leadership of George H. Weyerhaeuser, the firm consolidated these functions into a new corporate home at Federal Way, which was at the time a mostly rural and picturesque area a few miles north of Tacoma.   I was there for the opening where we listened to the architects proudly describe their work and heard the corporate seniors extol the alleged (my emphasis) benefits of the then-new open office concept (I wanted my office back).   Having written a lot of the PR hype and other promotional work that went along with this event I was, one might say, on pretty intimate terms with this building.

I won’t even try to describe this building because my words will not do it justice.   Images and descriptions abound online for you to see.   This was and is an architectural masterpiece.   The structure, situated amid a lush, wooded 480 acre campus, is like no other.   The working environment was unlike anything I had ever experienced before or would ever experience again.

Why am I going on like this about a building?   After all, it’s just a building.

I just learned that the company is about to abandon this magnificent Federal Way facility and relocate its headquarters to an oversize breadbox in downtown Seattle.   With due respect to the corporate decision-makers and to the City of Seattle I find this unthinkable! Breaking faith with its historic ties to south Puget Sound and the City of Tacoma is bad enough but to trade in this engineering marvel of unparalleled beauty for an ordinary concrete box in the middle of any downtown is an insult to the public, the shareholders, the employees past and present, and a betrayal of the proud tradition of what many thought of as the most innovative of the world’s forest products giants.   This one-of-a-kind headquarters complex was the heart of that innovative spirit.  During my years there I wrote countless words about Weyerhaeuser products, capabilities, history and accomplishments.   Not once did the word “downsize” appear in any of it.

I’ve often thought about the annual shareholders meeting in 1971 when the new campus was dedicated to grand press and public fanfare.   The massive dining area, crowded to overflowing with well wishers, went silent as George Weyerhaeuser rose to speak.   He hesitated for a long moment, turning his head first to the right to survey the long meadow spread below, then to the left to take in the lake with its swans.   Then, he returned his gaze to the crowd and, with uncharacteristic emotion said simply, “We are walking out to meet the future!”   Surely this move was not what he had in mind when he made that statement.   For me, this building for as long as it stands will always be Weyerhaeuser Company.

If any of you Weyerhaeuser alums out there happen to see this and are feeling talkative, I will welcome your comments, favorable or otherwise.   Thank you.

The Train from Hell

THE TRAIN FROM HELL!

You might not even know they were there except for the three innocuous signs spaced a few miles apart along southbound Interstate 15 in Southern Nevada.   They identify three little known and slightly mysterious places called Apex, Arrolime and Garnet.   It’s not as if they’re alien landing pads or anything like that, just harmless little stops along the way that most drivers hardly notice.

So why is it that when we pass those signs my heartbeat goes into overdrive, my palms start sweating and I get the urge to go (if you get my meaning)?   It’s because those signs are telling me we are closing in on Las Vegas and pretty soon we will be taking a ride on the dreaded . . . Train from Hell!

If we’re driving a car on a Las Vegas freeway, as opposed to let’s say a motorhome, things can be pretty ho-hum.   Like driving on any other big city freeway.

We know from studies for example that drivers on city freeways behave in much the same way everywhere.   Like sharks in a feeding frenzy.   So we have learned to compensate for that by making survival our principal goal.

We know that freeway drivers enjoy sports and are very competitive.   We’ve learned this by studying the concrete medians which were originally painted white but are now covered with black tire marks where drivers have competed to see who can crash into them the hardest or jump over them the highest.

The local media is supportive and likes to participate in these events.   On the car radio our friendly traffic reporter routinely boasts, “Good news folks, only nine wrecks and seven fatalities to report at this two o’clock hour but, not to worry, with any luck we’ll make it to an even dozen by commute time.”

Yes, freeway driving in a car can be pretty boring.   But, we’re not in a car!   We’re driving a motor home with a car in tow which measure roughly fifty-five feet in total length and together weigh about 24 thousand pounds.   The other drivers around you have no clue.   Unless one has handled one of these, one has no idea the skill it takes to navigate a rig like this in heavy traffic.   Get on a freeway with one of these things and the whole game changes.

Now we’re not just another car.   We are a target, or at least it seems that way when we’re driving through Vegas!   It’s as if a silent message just surged through the crowd.   “C’mon, everybody, let’s harass this guy and see if we can run him off the road.”

So, why are we here in the first place?   Well, usually we’re here because we’re on our way to Laughlin, Lake Havasu, maybe Palm Springs or some other place in that general direction and, the trouble is, there is no way to get there without going through Vegas.   Well, there are other ways but most are longer and out of the way.   Don’t get us wrong, we have nothing against Las Vegas.   Been there and done that many times.   No, it’s not the town . . . it’s them dag-nabbed, rattle-brained suicidal drivers!

The Train from Hell begins for us on southbound Interstate 15 where it passes the Las Vegas Motor Speedway about twelve miles north of downtown.   It’s an appropriate place to begin because at this point the interstate looks a lot like the start at the Indy 500 just as the pace car peels off.   This is where inbound traffic starts to rev up and I begin asking myself, “Do I really want to do this again?”

And, have you noticed?   The time of day doesn’t seem to matter anymore.   I’m from Los Angeles.   When people used to ask me the best time to drive through L.A., I would casually tell them, “Oh, just stay outa there between, um, roughly seven and ten AM and maybe between four PM and seven.”   But, now it’s bumper to bumper all over the world no matter what the time of day. Doesn’t anybody work anymore?!!      

Anyway, The Train from Hell is now taking us into downtown Vegas where things start getting dicey.   No pun intended there, I would not joke about a thing like this.   We’re coming up on this thing they call “the spaghetti bowl” which is a cleverly designed tangled nightmare of on and off ramps which lead to places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Reno and who knows where else (I can’t take my eyes away from the road long enough to look).   From here on its pretty much close your eyes, grit your teeth and hope for the best.   The ramps are about three feet wide here and have advisory speed limits of twenty-five miles per hour because of the tight curves which of course make people drive faster!  Oh, I almost forgot.   This interchange is always under construction, has been for the last twenty years.

Now comes the really fun part.   Are you ready?   We are now obliged to merge onto another freeway called the “515”.   This is where I mutter a hopeful silent prayer that we can pull this off one more time without crashing.   You see, the merging area goes uphill so, after slowing to the obligatory 25 mph on the crossover, there’s no way in hell we can get up to traffic speed which is about 1200 miles an hour, in time to merge safely.   Believe me, you do not want to go here with a heavy rig unless you have more guts than brains and your car insurance (and life insurance) is paid up.

If we somehow manage to pull this off without death and destruction and there’s not a wreck up ahead to bring everything to a halt, which the city arranges at least a couple of times a day (at no charge), the Train from Hell will be smokin’ along on the 515 at its usual pace of whatever they can get away with, which believe me is never even close to the speed limit.   The kamikazes, usually young guys in massive high rise pickups (sometimes old guys) will be flashing past at full throttle working hard to blow you away with their prop wash.   The woman behind will be following so close we can see the spinach in her teeth and the locals will make it clear immediately that nobody (and I mean NOBODY!) is about to give any room to this idiot foreigner who is dumb enough to be here in the first place, especially with that stupid motorhome getting in everybody’s way!   I’m gripping the wheel so hard now it’s trying to bite me.

Everyone knows how dangerous it is but for some reason drivers tend to bunch up on freeways.   It’s so common we have a name for it.   We call these wolf packs.   Typically there will be a quarter mile or so between wolf packs but The Train from Hell is not your everyday wolf pack.   It’s a World Class wolf pack with zero space in any direction!   If anyone has a problem in this nightmare close order drill, like a blow-out or loss of control, the result will be total disaster.   There’s no telling how many other cars and drivers will be involved and there are going to be fatalities.   Stay out of wolf packs!

Here’s something else to think about when you find yourself on one of these Trains from Hell.   If you are driving at just 45 mph and you have normal unimpaired reaction time, your brakes and tires are in good condition and you’re stopping on dry, level concrete your stopping distance is 150 feet.   We’re talking about half the length of a football field.   Are you listening? Half the length of a football field!  

   Keeping this in mind, imagine now that you are not in your car but in your motor home or towing your fifth wheel and your speed is not 45 but 65 or 70 miles per hour.   What will your stopping distance be now?   Are you listening?   Keep your speed reasonable and do not tailgate!   It breaks my heart to see those toy haulers and boat trailers screaming by at 80-85 mph, sometimes faster, and I just know there are kids in there!   You don’t want to know what you look like if you leave the road at those speeds!   And, if you know anything about fuel efficiency, you know that anything over 65 is just wasting that very expensive fuel anyway with no gain in efficiency.   If you want to get there sooner . . . leave sooner!

Back on the Train from Hell we clench our teeth and endure the insanity until the 515 mercifully ends near Henderson.   Then we ease onto Highway 95 near Railroad Pass.   After a while we start breathing normally again.   Next stop: Needles and a little taste of good old Route 66!

This is not about how to drive.   This is about staying alive.   See you next time . . . I hope!

 

Once More With Feeling

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING
“I’ve failed their stupid road test twice now,” Dan snorted. “One more time and those idiots at the DMV are gonna take my license!” I had to hold the phone away from my ear. He was really wound up tight and with good reason. His wife had passed away just six months before. Now they were after his driver’s license. Losing that would mean selling the house and moving in with his kids in another city. It would mean selling the motor home. He needed space so I waited for him to let off some more steam then said, “Okay, now calm down and tell me what got you into this.”

He took a deep breath, let out a sigh and started talking again. “Wasn’t my fault,” he growled. “A guy turned left in front of me so I had to hit the brakes to keep from hitting him. The woman behind me couldn’t stop in time and rear-ended me. Naturally the creep who caused it never stopped and it happened so fast nobody got his number.”

He went on to explain that it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Yes, an officer arrived and took statements from everybody for the accident report but all seemed pretty routine. Nobody was ticketed and everybody went on their way. Then Dan said something under his breath that I didn’t quite hear. I asked him to repeat it. “I can’t say for sure,” he said, “but I think the cop thought my age had something to do with what happened. It was just something about the questions he asked and how he asked them.” Dan had just turned seventy.

Insurance took care of the damages and Dan thought little more about it until out of nowhere he got the notice saying that he had to report to the DMV for a driver license test. “Wait a minute,” Dan said to himself, checking his license to make sure. “My license doesn’t expire for another year and a half, so what’s this all about?”

There’s a popular saying going around these days that goes “today’s seventy is yesterdays fifty.” This makes sense to those of us who are getting closer to those magic years and to most everyone else, except of course those who view anyone over thirty as a dinosaur. But it seems as if the state driver license people don’t see it that way. Older drivers are getting more attention than ever. Usually this attention comes when (a) license renewal time comes around, (b) we get ticketed for a moving violation or (c) we are involved in a collision.

Not long ago I worked with a sixty-eight year old widow who was in a similar situation. She put it this way: “It’s almost as if the state wants to get everybody over sixty off the road,” she complained, “no matter how good we drive.” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard somebody say this or something similar. The word “discrimination” has started creeping into these conversations with older drivers.

I call them “sneaky little subsections.” These are seemingly insignificant rules and regulations that creep into the traffic code when we’re not looking but can have life changing consequences for some. In some jurisdictions now, for example, a person can be reported as a risky driver at any time by virtually anyone (and here comes the “sneaky” part) anonymously! You may never know where that vicious left hook came from. I’ll leave it up to you to search them out but chances are your state has some.

But let’s get back to Dan. Why would a healthy and alert retired long haul trucker with a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record be required to take a state driving test? All Dan did was get involved in a fender bender. But that was all it took. And, it wasn’t even his fault.
If you’re an older driver involved in a crash and an officer or someone else at the scene thinks you look a little unsteady or confused (and who wouldn’t after getting plowed into from behind?) you can be reported as a driver with safety issues. This could lead to anything from having a doctor fill out a simple medical form to a complete re-testing process and possible loss of license. Of course if you’re found to be at fault in a collision your chances of being reported, along with the possible consequences, go up accordingly.

Even more puzzling is why Dan would, with his fifty years of driving experience (twenty-eight of them as a professional driver), be having trouble passing a simple state road test? With his experience it should be child’s play for him, right? Actually it was Dan’s experience that was defeating him.

I knew exactly what would be on Dan’s tests even before I looked at them. On the test that Dan took there is a section called Violations and Dangerous Actions. Within that section is a subsection entitled Habits and listed there are some mysterious initials: SI, RS and HC. There is a fourth item listed elsewhere on the score sheet called SP. There are many ways to fail these tests but these are the designations for the four driving errors that applicants make most, especially experienced applicants like Dan, and these bad habits are taken very seriously by licensing examiners.

Here they are: (1) We fail to signal for turns, lane changes, and when merging (SI for signal). (2) We fail to stop completely at stop signs or we stop in the wrong places (RS for rolling stop). (3) We fail to turn our heads to check blind spots when merging, changing lanes and backing (HC for head checks). C’mon! You remember what your drivers ed instructor told you! And SP? It’s the number one cause of collisions. Speed! (4) We fail to obey speed limits. How would you score yourself on these issues? Yah, that’s what I thought.

Knowing these things may help you keep from becoming a victim of those sneaky little subsections. Best advice: (1) Lose those bad habits to keep from getting caught in the searchlight in the first place and (2) if you are made to take the test, give yourself a better shot at passing. Again, lose those bad habits, and the others you’ve picked up along the way

By the way, Dan’s tests must have set a record for bad habits. But he really took the plunge on head checks. Our conversation went something like this: Dan said, “What’s this HC (bleep)?” I explained about head checks. Dan said, “I been driving for fifty (bleeping) years and never did (bleeping) head checks and in all those fifty (bleeping) years never had one (bleeping) accident! My answer was simple. I said, “If you don’t do head checks you will probably die in a car wreck next week!” I let that sink in for a minute then added, “Oh yeah, and beside that you will not pass the test.” Next day, after we spent a couple of hours in the car, he took the test for the third time and passed with 98% and a compliment from the examiner. Nobody EVER gets a compliment from an examiner!

This is not about how to drive.   This is about staying alive!

See you next time . . . I hope!
.

The NASCAR Wannabe

THE NASCAR WANNABE

You’re driving along on the freeway, thinking about where you’ll stop for lunch and all is well.   You carefully check your mirrors, then signal and move out to pass an eighteen-wheeler which has slowed down to pull a grade. Suddenly out of nowhere a NASCAR wannabe, who was three miles back when you just checked your mirrors, has his nose up your tailpipe.   Even your doctor never got this intimate! He’s giving you the lights and acting like a jerk.   You move over as quickly as you can but in the meantime this guy is creating real danger for you, himself, the trucker and whoever else is nearby.   Of course he has no clue about any of that so he glares and flips you the single-digit salute on the way by as if all this was your fault!   Now you’re mad, he’s mad and you’re day is not as nice as it was a couple of minutes ago.   But you’re grateful the incident did not end a whole lot worse, which it could have.

Now you’re headed up Main Street looking for that really nice restaurant you’ve heard so much about.   GPS just told you a left turn is coming up so you check your mirrors and signal to move into the left turn lane.   The lane is clear but just as you start to make your move a wild-eyed female comes charging up from behind, dives over into your turn lane way too early and cuts you off.   As she races past and hangs a left without looking or signaling you spot the cell phone stuck to her ear and the little guy in the car seat.   She’s doing all this with one hand and, I might add, half a brain!   She decided that there was some kind of advantage to getting to the signal ahead of you and made a decision to go for it, which put you, her and everyone else at the intersection at risk, including her little boy.   She also made you miss your turn, dammit!   Now you have to go around the block.   As she goes out of sight you let your breath out, thank the Lord nothing worse happened and wonder why any sane person would do such an idiotic thing.

It’s aggressive driving and it is epidemic.   It’s also juvenile, suicidal and just plain stupid.   Speeding, tailgating, running red lights and other risky driving behavior are all around us every day.   The vital social skills such as courtesy, and the common sense which once defined the good driver, have gone away and in their place is a scary “get out of my way or I’ll kill you” mentality.   Our home town is a good example.   There is no place in our town more than ten minutes from any other place in our town, yet everyone drives here as if their tails are on fire!   Reckless driving is a way of life.   Presumably these are ordinarily rational folks who know better.   So, what in the world makes them act this way?

A number of reasons come to mind but in my opinion this phenomenon is largely an outgrowth of our social condition in general.   It began with the “me” generation in the sixties and grew out of control until now we live in a world dominated by instant gratification.   We are compelled to do it now, have it now and get there now with little or no thought for the consequences and this leads to disregard for traffic laws.   Let’s be honest with one another.   How many people do you know who pay any attention to speed limits, for example, or actually stop at stop signs?   Aggressive drivers just don’t get what traffic laws are all about.   Traffic laws are there to save our butts!

And then there are the mass communicators who love to massage us with those messages that clearly encourage risk-taking.   Ever take a close look at those car commercials?   Mr. Smooth or Ms. Beautiful is shown careening down a wet (wet looks cool on TV) and winding road.   Or better yet, it’s a shadowy figure we can’t quite make out through those over-tinted windows, racing down a city street at night and at blinding speed, and there’s never a speed limit sign or a traffic cop in sight.   And, there’s that NASCAR dude again!   This time he’s doing insane wheelies, layin’ down the rubber and makin’ massive smoke, or racing across a dusty desert just missing collisions with those other dudes who are also traveling at warp speed.   Somewhere in impossibly small type it says “do not attempt this”.

Showing us stop signs, warning signs and crash statistics doesn’t sell cars so the advertisers like to excite us with the wild and reckless side of driving.   What’s that you say?   Drivers won’t imitate this?   You better believe they will!   Driving and riding with other young people is the leading killer of our young people already.   Keep showing them images like this and it’s certainly not going to get any better!

There is an obvious price to be paid for this by all of us in dollars, lives and injuries.   The average speed of drivers being cited by the state patrol on the interstate highways in our state is between 95 and 110 miles per hour.   This is an incredible statistic!   Do you have any idea the consequences if you leave the road at those speeds?   You don’t even want to think about it!   I’d like to say that I don’t give a damn but, I can’t say that because I do care about any life, even that of the aggressive driver.   What I don’t like is the price that others have to pay.   The sad truth is that aggressive drivers, like drunk drivers, often take others with them.   This is not about how to drive,   It’s about staying alive!

See you next time . . . I hope!

 

An Accident Is No Accident

AN ACCIDENT IS N0 ACCIDENT!

It was just after seven o’clock one summer evening in Los Angeles.   Bob had spent the entire day washing, waxing and polishing his car.   Now he was headed for the apartment he shared with three fellow students to get shaved, showered and suited up for a very important date that Saturday night.   As he approached the intersection at Eighth and Vermont, at the speed limit and with the green light, he noticed a car lined up in the opposite direction waiting to turn left after he passed through.   Bob never made it through that intersection.   The car waiting to turn left was hit from behind and suddenly lurched into his path. They collided head-on at a combined speed of about 35 miles per hour.   Needless to say Bob missed his date that night and instead spent the next two months recovering from his injuries.   The driver of the other car did not survive the crash.

Most people would call what happened that night an “accident”.   That’s what the paper called it the next day when the story appeared describing what happened.   But an accident is by definition something which happens by chance.   This didn’t happen by chance.   That’s why we call these events “collisions” or “crashes”.   These happen because someone did something they should not have done or did not do something they should have done!   It’s called “driver error” which is the number one overall cause of collisions. In the example above one of the drivers did something he should not have done.   Were it not for that one simple mistake, Bob would not have been involved in this collision at all and the life of the other driver might have been spared.   Two questions:   First, can you name that simple mistake?   Second, can you name the number one error drivers make which causes most collisions?

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying, “What if the weather or a mechanical failure causes a crash? You can’t blame me for that.”   It’s bad form but allow me to answer that with another question.   Actually two questions.   Whose responsibility is it to make good decisions about whether or not to drive in bad weather?   And, whose responsibility is it to see that the vehicle is in good mechanical condition?   As the driver you’re captain of the ship.   The captain is responsible for the ship, anyone who’s in it and anything that happens to it.  

By the way, I’m Bob in the story above.   As I’ve said before, statistically speaking, an average driver can expect to have three crashes in a typical driving career.   I’ve had my three.   In the first two I was critically injured.   In the third crash I was killed.   Well, not really but I like to throw that line in – followed by a long pause – just to see if anyone is listening.

This is not about how to drive.   This is about staying alive!   See you next time . . . I hope!

 

 

Some People Never Learn

SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEARN

I’m driving across town the other day when this guy in his cool new ride pulls up alongside me at a stop light.   He seems to be in a hurry because he doesn’t bother to stop in the right place but rolls right past me and stops in the crosswalk where he blocks two women and a guy in a wheelchair who now have to go around him, but he doesn’t care.   I’m guessing he probably does this all the time.   When the light changes he goes pedal to the metal and leaves me in the dust.   I drive on at the lawful speed like I always do and, well how do you like that?   There he is, waiting for me at the next stop light.   Ever notice how much that happens?   This time he shoots me a dirty look and once again races away with the green light.   You probably know what’s coming.

The same thing happens no fewer than seven times as we cross town together.   Each time we stop, look at each other, he gives me a dirty look, then races out of sight at full throttle but there I am right behind or alongside him at the next light.   I’m trying hard to keep a straight face but this time he catches me in his rear view mirror laughing at him.   Now he’s really pissed, decides he’s had enough and goes into road rage mode.   This time he stays put through the green light so I can’t go.   I remember this trick from my stupid kid days in L.A. when we did dumb stuff like that so I’m watching my mirrors pretty close, hoping I don’t get rear ended.   Then when the light goes yellow for us he flips me the single digit salute and smokes through the intersection nearly causing a four-car pileup and then disappears around a curve.   I’m thinking, well, this time he pulled it off, but nope.

The next time I see him, he and his ride are at the curb and he’s getting an in-your-face earful from one really angry deputy sheriff.   I give him a friendly wave on the way by but I don’t think he sees me.

This is not about learning to drive,   This is about staying alive!   See you next time . . . I hope!