Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Driving Rules They Don't Teach You

I am in the wrapping up phase of teaching my second child how to drive. As encouraged by Utah law, he now has many hours of driving under his belt. He has driven under many different conditions on many different types of roads.

I have purposefully had my son drive in very nasty weather, at night and under low visibility conditions, in heavy traffic, through construction zones, and in busy parking lots. I figure that if he can safely drive in the worst conditions with me in the passenger seat, he will be much more likely to drive safely in most conditions when he is on his own.

Last night he drove on the high school’s driving range along with five other drivers. After an hour and a half of driving under 15 mph, he was bored stiff. He’s used to driving in real traffic and actually driving to purposeful destinations.

As I have taught my two oldest to drive, I have told them that regardless of what they learn in driver education courses, there are three additional rules to which they must strictly adhere at all times:
  • Idiots always have the right of way.
  • Your job is to drive safely; not to enforce the law.
  • Be kind, but not to the point that it endangers someone’s safety.
In my decades of driving, I have learned that there are a lot of bad drivers on the roads. (Don’t bother with superfluous griping about how drivers in some specific geographic location are the worst. Objective studies usually find that such anecdotes are ill founded.)

The simple fact is that some people drive bad often and that most drivers — even the best ones — occasionally do something stupid. If another driver insists on doing something idiotic, by all means, get out of the way and let him do it. It is never worth sacrificing your safety simply because the traffic law recognizes that you are in the right.

If your safety is endangered by another driver’s activity, go ahead and honk and then mutter under your breath. But don’t get aggressive either with driving, language, or hand gestures. Wish the person well in your heart, and move on with life. You will be happier and safer.

This ties in closely with the second rule. You are not a traffic enforcer. Police officers can’t be everywhere and can’t see every traffic infraction, but it’s not your job to regulate traffic. If another driver is being dangerous, go ahead and get the license plate number and call the 911. But don’t try to play the cop yourself. If someone is dangerously tailgating you, it’s better to move over and let them go by than to try to slow them down.

We also have a lot of kind people on the road. You should be one of them. But it is not smart to allow your kindness to create a hazardous situation. A good illustration of this principle is the traffic patterns surrounding the 7-11 that is less than a mile from my home. It’s not hard to get into the parking lot, but at certain times of day it can be nearly impossible to get out of the south exit. You can almost always get out of the west exit.

During the predictable heavy traffic periods, a savvy driver in the 7-11 parking lot that wants to go either east or west will avoid the south exit. She will instead turn north out of the west exit and make a quick trip around the block to get to a safer intersection where she can turn west or east.

Unfortunately, many drivers aren’t that wise. You will see them attempting to turn out of the south exit during the busiest times of day. It’s one thing when a kind driver stops to allow someone exiting 7-11 to make a right turn into traffic. But when a driver stops to allow a driver to turn left, he endangers a lot of other people, including those in the adjacent westbound lane and those in the eastbound lane that have poor visibility of such activity.

I’d almost prefer that traffic engineers prohibit left turns out of the 7-11 south exit (as well as left turns into that entrance), but there are other times of day when there is little traffic in the area and such a turn can be made quite safely. It’s good to be kind, but you simply do not have the right to endanger others so that you can feel magnanimous.

All drivers should do their best to drive safely. (If you feel you must rant about cell phone usage, please write your own blog instead of threadjacking this one.) In addition to the basic rules outlined in driver education courses, I believe that following the three rules I have listed above will go a long way toward making you and other users of the road safer and happier.


Hyrum said...

If I might add:

- kindness to one or two cars is kindness. Kindness to 5 or more is discourtesy to those behind you.

Scott Hinrichs said...