I live in Florida, aka the “Gunshine State”, where anyone with US citizenship, no felony convictions, a few hundred dollars and an afternoon to kill can get a license to carry a concealed handgun. Based upon what I see every day on the roads down here, the requirements for getting a driver’s license are even more relaxed. I’m thinking that licenses come on the back of specially marked cereal boxes, because we’ve got some of the worst drivers in the world down here (and yes, I’ve driven all over the world).
Road rage is all but unavoidable on today’s crowded highways. More drivers, more cars, more stress – ultimately, something has to give. Most road rage incidents are prompted by a victim’s action: perhaps they cut someone off, weren’t going fast enough or didn’t signal. Maybe it’s just because the victim was driving a red car and the rager just shot himself full of ‘roids. You can’t eliminate all the psychopaths on the roads today, but you can minimize your chances of pissing one off. Here’s how:
- Hang up and drive. Do you gulp down a handful of ‘ludes and smoke a bowl of Humboldt before you get behind the wheel? Down a quart of vodka before running the kids to soccer practice? Probably not, so why would you engage in something that has the same effect on your reaction time? Before you make or answer a call behind the wheel, think about this: is this conversation really necessary? Are you talking an inexperienced neurosurgeon though a delicate procedure to save some head of state? Guiding a bomb tech on how to disarm that suitcase nuke on the steps of the White House? I’m guessing no. If you really can’t pass on talking to your BFF every ten minutes, get a headset or speaker phone. They’re still disruptive (since the brain can’t process two complex tasks simultaneously without compromising both), but they’re better than talking on a handset. And never, under any circumstances, text while driving.
- Yield the left lane. In most civilized nations (Germany, for example), blocking the left lane is a sin on par with killing your mother and eating her liver. In the U.S., most states don’t have “keep right” laws on the books; if they do, they’re rarely enforced. It’s common sense, people: don’t block other drivers from passing and you probably won’t piss them off. It’s not your job to enforce traffic laws; it’s your job to get you and your passengers safely from point A to point B.
- Learn to read road conditions. It never ceases to amaze me how paranoid drivers get down here when it rains. Sure, the roads may have less traction than usual, but this is no reason to drive like you’re hauling a 55 gallon drum of nitroglycerin in a pickup truck with collapsed leaf springs and bad shocks. If rain, or ice, or snow make you that paranoid, get training. There are plenty of driving schools and driving instructors that will teach you the skills you need for driving in bad weather. Know your limits: if you can’t drive safely in bad weather, stay off the roads.
- Adjust your mirrors properly. How many drivers even bother to adjust the mirrors in their car? Do your mirrors allow you to see the blind spots on either side? If you’ve adjusted your mirrors properly, the answer is yes. Here’s how you do it, courtesy of CarTalk.
- Don’t drive in someone’s blind spot. On the highway, in moving traffic, you should never drive alongside and slightly behind another vehicle. Do you really think that driver eating the Big Mac and drinking the 55 gallon soda, while yelling at his wife on the phone, is going to give more than a casual glance over his shoulder before changing lanes? Don’t make yourself vulnerable; either pass the driver or tuck in behind him. Of course you can’t avoid driving in blind spots on crowded highways, so just be aware; if you’re in someone else’s blind spot, expect the unexpected and prepare to take evasive action.
- Don’t eat and drive. The average person can go about two weeks without food, so chances are pretty good that you won’t die before you reach your destination. Trust me, that Egg McMuffin can wait. The same thing goes for shaving, reading, applying makeup or brushing your teeth behind the wheel (and yes, I’ve witnessed all of these); do it at home or do it at the office.
- Look twice before you pull into traffic. Then look again. Not a day goes by that I’m not cut off by a driver merging into traffic. Most of these are cell phone related acts of stupidity, but not all. Some drivers insist on pulling into traffic without regard to oncoming vehicles; hey, other drivers have brakes, right? It’s even worse when you ride a motorcycle, because bikes are virtually invisible to the average unaware driver.
- Don’t tailgate. Most driver’s don’t even realize they’re doing it, but when you’re mere feet from the car in front of you, traveling at seventy miles per hour, you’re an accident waiting for a place to happen. Modern brakes and tires are good, but they’re not THAT good. Give yourself a few car lengths between you and the car in front of you, and watch what traffic is doing in front of him. The more reaction time you buy yourself, the less likely it is you’ll hit the car in front of you when something goes wrong.
- Turn signals – use ‘em. That little stalk on the left side of the steering column? That’s your turn signal indicator. Pull up, and your right directional is activated. Push down, and your left directional lights up. Here’s the tricky part (and try to stay with me on this): you don’t want to signal a mile in advance, nor does it do much good to signal when you’re at your turn. A couple hundred feet, depending upon your speed, should do the trick. Also, after the turn don’t assume your directional is turned off. See that blinking green light on the dash? Yep, your indicator is still on. Just shut it off manually, okay?
- In general, don’t be an asshat. Serial killers and sociopaths aside, most people are civil to others when face to face. So why does that go out the window when drivers strap into their rolling battlewagons? Is it the feeling of invincibility behind the wheel of an SUV large enough to have it’s own gravitational pull? Is it the feeling of anonymity, the knowledge that you can screw some poor schmuck with no repercussions? Maybe it’s “C”, all of the above. In any case, try this: if you wouldn’t act a certain way face to face with another, don’t do it behind the wheel.
That’s all I’ve got on this topic, and hopefully it’s enough to keep you safe on the mean streets. If it’s not, remember that bullets typically deflect up when fired through auto glass, and if you need a firearms instructor just drop me a line.