I went out on the road alone today for the first time in more than a year for a 40 mile round trip. I was terrified. People are crazy out there. Either the driving has become much worse over the past 18 months, or I have lost my faith in my ability to handle a car.
Today, driving home from a doctor’s appointment with a broken hand in a borrowed 1999 Mercedes Benz, I was tailgated by a woman in a brand new Land Rover. I changed lanes to minimize the possibility that she might run into me, and she immediately started tailgating the guy I was behind before I changed lanes. In exchange, I got a guy who was frantically searching for something in his car while he was driving. I mean he was looking in the back seat and UNDER THE FRONT SEAT while he was driving and he was close enough to me so I could see him doing it.
I have also been watching a lot of Youtube videos depicting the various incredibly stupid things that drivers do. After watching enough of these videos to literally give me nightmares, I have come to a couple of conclusions:
Most accidents are caused by people who are drunk, high on drugs, whacked out on prescription pharmaceuticals, sleep-deprived, distracted by their electronic devices, in the midst of relationship ending screaming matches with their soon to be ex-partners, parents screaming at children, children screaming at parents, running from the cops, driving without a license, or insurance, or in a stolen car. This does not include senior citizens who are too far gone into dementia so that they shouldn’t be driving in the first place. (One of the worst days of my life was the day I had to take my father’s keys away. It was also one of the worst days of his life, too.)
The other accidents were caused by people who didn’t react quickly enough, reacted to quickly, or who were blindsided by events beyond their control.
My credentials for making this assessment: Six accidents, three of which were definitely my fault. (Learn from my mistakes, especially the one where I put a Ford Taurus SHO upside down in a tree.)
I have developed some new rules for the new environment.
1. Always keep at least one car length per 20 mph between you and the car in front of you. That’s four-car lengths at 80 mph…which is much less than the official guidelines. The reason for this rule is that if you leave more space between you and the car in front of you, the driver’s behind you will climb up your tailpipe to shove you out of their way or cut you off by speeding up, going around you, and then squeezing into the space in front of you.
2. Ignore the posted speed limits on I-95 in Florida if you want to arrive alive. If you drive a steady 65 MPH in the left-hand lane on I-95, you will never make it to your destination. The unofficial rules are that the speed limits for the four lanes, left to right, are 85, 80, 75, 70. Never drive in the fifth lane, on the far right, which keeps appearing and disappearing at each entrance and exit. We Floridians know about the real speed limit because you can’t get popped for speeding on I95 for going less than 90 mph. Visitors are fair game. (I’m driving a car with Georgia plates right now, which paints a target on my back.)
3. If you really want to make sure that you arrive alive on a north-south trip, use the Turnpike. It is less congested, the drivers are calmer, and the road is policed better. It also attracts a better class of driver because you have to pay out of pocket for every mile you drive. If you want to survive an East-West trip, use Alligator Alley. If you are heading north by northwest, then take the Turnpike to Orlando and pick up I-4 to Tampa.
4. Do not drive behind a semi. Late-model cross-country tractor-trailers now have speed regulators that prevent the drivers from speeding up to avoid a collision, usually maxing out at 70-75 mph. They also have collision detectors that force the vehicles to decelerate to 20 mph if other vehicles cut in front of the big rigs. This means that the semi in front of you may suddenly slam on its brakes for no apparent reason, automatically. Since these features are only available on late model cross country rigs, you will never know if the tractor-trailer in front of you is going to suddenly do something stupid that is entirely out of the driver’s control.
4. Remember that if you cannot see the rearview mirrors on any cross country tractor-trailer, or any other big truck, the driver cannot see you, except for the late-model trucks that have 360 camera coverage, which means that the driver may be watching his or her monitors instead of watching the road. (While we are on the subject of tractor-trailers, if you see a tractor-trailer waiting to on a cross street to turn into the street you are traveling on, you have three choices. If you are in the left lane of a two lane road (meaning two lanes going in each direction), move into the right lane. If you cannot get into the right lane, and the light is changing, RUN the light. If you are stuck in the left hand lane and you are the first car in the lane, make a U-turn and get the hell out of there. Speaking as a former Teamster, there are a lot of people driving big rigs these days who absolutely do not belong in those jobs. I have seen a lot accidents in which a tractor-trailor making a left hand turn has actually driven over a car in the left lane waiting for the light to change, and they aren’t just picking on Lamborginis either.)
5. Do not ride in the lane next to a tractor-trailer for two reasons. The first reason, as enumerated above, is that the tractor-trailer may do very stupid things automatically that end up side-swiping you in the process. The second reason is that a lot of these big rigs are too long and sometimes too wide for roads that were designed 60 years ago…and the drivers aren’t as good as they used to be either. As a result, some drivers simply can’t, don’t or won’t stay within their lane lines and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they can roll right over you, especially if you are in a Lamborgini.
6. Never drive in the lane next to a tractor-trailer in a high wind. The tractor-trailer has 40 to 60 times more wind resistance than your car does. A wind that merely shakes your car can roll a tractor-trailer right over you. This never turns out well for anyone.
7. Always assume that Tesla drivers are going to do something stupid. Most of them can’t handle the speeds their cars are capable of, and some of them are in autonomous vehicles which have the same problem as the newer tractor-trailer units. You can’t ever be sure what an autonomous vehicle is going to do.
8. NEVER DRINK OUT OF A BOTTLE OR CAN. Regardless of what is in it – water, soda, beer, or whiskey – while you are sipping out of that container, your eyes are not on the road. If you are really unlucky, that might just be the moment when an avoidable collision begins. Use a straw, preferably a reusable one. You might get thirsty again.
9. DO NOT EAT AND DRIVE for the same reason you shouldn’t drink out of a bottle or can. It distracts you from what’s going on around you. Donuts are just about the only thing that you can eat safely while driving, which is why cops eat donuts. I’ve seen people eating pizza, Philly cheesesteaks, Whoppers and – believe it or not – spaghetti while driving. (This reminds me of a woman I once saw on the East River Drive years ago. She was talking on her cell phone, drinking a cup of coffee and doing her eyebrows at the same time. No, really. I don’t think she made it to work alive that day because there was a fatal accident right behind me a few minutes after I passed her or maybe she simply caused an accident without being in it.)
10. I want to say something about cell phones, but that has become very complicated. A lot of people use their cell phones as radio direction finders telling them how to get where they are going. Somehow, the people who use cell phones in this manner do not understand that simply looking at a phone for directions amounts to the same thing as texting while driving. Sure, use Alexa or Siri or whoever else you’ve got to TELL you how to get where you are going, but don’t look at the maps, make or take phone calls while driving, regardless of whether your phone connects to your information console. Nothing is more important than arriving alive…and helping everyone else to do so. (I remember one time that I took a huge bath on the market. My broker called me up to tell me that I had to fork over a ridiculous sum of money to cover a margin call. I didn’t have an accident that time…but I really wanted to have one. Bad news can turn a cautious, alert driver into a raving maniac in a matter of seconds.)
I am sure that you all have your own driving do’s and don’ts. Feel free to make comments about them either here or on Facebook. If you aren’t on Facebook, and you aren’t a BindleSnitch member, how the hell did you find this article in the first place?
For more information about the ways in which truck rollovers happen, read this article.
It’s by a lawyer, but don’t hold that against him.
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