Something different besides the weather today. This involves one of my other passions, driving.
Ever since I was old enough to drive, I've loved cars and driving. I got my first sporty car when I graduated high school in 1973, a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and ever since I've had a love for the road. For me there's nothing like cruising down the road in a car, with the wind in your hair and the sound of the exhaust behind you.
I learned very early on that driving was a serious thing to do, and I took steps to improve my driving skills to not only learn car control, but to make me a safer driver. When I got to college, I discovered their sports car club and immediately started what would end up being a life-long hobby, a hobby that has taught me a great deal about car control and safe driving. I only wish others would do the same thing.
I've been driving for 41 years now and over those years I've seen dramatic changes in people’s driving styles and mannerisms compared to the way it used to be. It seems that people pay less attention to what they're doing and are less courteous to other drivers on the road than they were in the past.
One of the biggest problems with driving is that drivers tend to only think about themselves and could care less about any of the other drivers the road. They get isolated in their little world inside their car and don't care or think at all about how their actions affect everyone else out there. Courtesy and consideration for others would go a long way toward improving traffic congestion on all roads.
It's my belief that if people would follow a few simple guidelines and have consideration toward other drivers, traffic would flow much smoother and be less congested, so with that, let's get started in no particular order.
Left Lane Drivers
Left lane drivers are probably the biggest obstacle to good traffic flow. Traffic can only flow as fast as the slowest car, and if the slowest car in the left lane is riding side by side with the slowest car in the right lane, everyone is forced to slow to the speed of the slowest vehicle. If that slow car moved over to the right, the rest of the traffic could flow on by and that bottleneck would be removed. It's kind of like sticking your finger up your nose and trying to breath, you restrict the flow and everything slows down. Traffic is no different, you block the left lane, traffic begins to slow down and backup and now everyone is creeping along.
I'm beginning to think that most new drivers have never been taught to stay in the right lane unless passing. Everyone, when I grew up, knew that the left lane was for passing but that doesn't seem to be the case today. There are some days where left lane drivers slow me down (back and forth to work 20 miles) by 10 minutes or more (out of what should be a 30 minute ride) and there is no excuse for it. I understand everyone doesn't want to go the speed I want to go, but please have some consideration for others and move to the right so the rest of us can move on.
- When driving on a 4 lane road, please stay in the right lane unless you are passing someone. Now... that doesn't mean you go one mile per hour faster than the person on your right. If you're going to pass, then pass, otherwise, slowdown and get over in the right lane. Did you know that in many states, it's illegal to ride in the left lane?
- If you get in the left lane, follow these simple rules: Either keep up with the traffic in front of you OR get over to the right. If someone comes up behind you going faster, please move over to the right.
This is simple stuff folks. How many times have you seen someone riding in the left lane with 20 cars backed up behind them? Please, have some consideration for the other drivers that might want to go faster than you are. Just because you're going to turn left in 5 miles doesn't mean you need to ride in the left lane the whole way. Or just because you think that you're going as fast as anyone should be going so "you're going to show them" and stay right where you are. Or just because you're on the phone and can't do two things at once and you're oblivious to the other people around you... you get the point. Do a search for left-lane drivers on YouTube.
What is the reason for not doing the speed limit? Scared? Incompetent? This one baffles me. I travel down Harbin's road which has a speed limit of 50 mph and yet I see people all the time that do 35-45 mph. Why? Speed limits are typically very conservative and allow even the most cautious driver the ability to move on down the road safely. And then every curve these people come to they put on the brakes. C'mon people, you're not going to fall off the road, at least do the speed limit. I truly believe these people are not confident in their vehicle or their skills and are simply "afraid" of their car.
And while some people might disagree with my next statement, it's simply the law. In Georgia we have a law that's known as the "Speed Trap Law". Here's a short summary:
Georgia has a speed trap law that applies to all police agencies except State Patrol. Some of the regulations regarding Speed Measuring Device (SMD) use include:
- cannot issue tickets for less than 10 mph over posted speed limit,
- cannot use SMD on downhill road with more than a 7% downgrade
- cannot use SMD closer than 500 feet inside a changed speed limit zone
- police vehicle using SMD must be seen by all approaching vehicles at least 500 feet or more
- any municipality using SMD must have warning signs on major road at city or county limits stating so
Item number one is the big one. As long as I'm not going 10 mph or more over the speed limit, they can't give me a ticket using a speed detection device.
So the next time you get "scared" as you approach the speed limit, remember that you have a little leeway. And while I'm not suggesting that you go out and break laws and speed, there is some leeway in the speed you travel before you can get a ticket.
I want to help out people as much as anyone else, it's what I do at work, it's what I do with my website and weather blog, it's what I did as President of Dacula Athletic Association. But sometimes drivers, in their moment of doing a good deed, don't think about how their "good deed actions" negatively impact other drivers.
How many times have you seen someone stop to let 2 cars pull out while holding up 50? While I appreciate your kind intentions, it would make more sense to let the larger group of cars go. You have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your actions and do what's right for the benefit of the majority of the drivers and the flow of traffic, not the minority that are waiting to pull out. The more people you slow down or hold up, the more mess you're creating and increasing the possibility that you will indirectly cause an accident. Don't slow down the main flow of traffic, people will get out. This is simple consideration for others on the road.
When entering a 4 lane road from an on-ramp, please accelerate to the speed of the flow of traffic before reaching the end of the ramp, that's what the ramp is for. I think some people are afraid of pushing the gas pedal too hard. And speaking of that, please accelerate at a decent rate. It shouldn't take 1/4-1/2 mile to reach 50 mph.
When pulling out onto a road, if you cause the car that's coming up behind you to have to slow down for you, you either shouldn't have pulled out OR you didn't accelerate as fast as you should have. If you're going to pull out, GO! Accelerate, don't poke along. Again, this is simple consideration for others on the road. Another thing I see people do all the time is rushing to pull out, and then go slow. What was your hurry to pull out if you're just going to creep down the road?
How many times have you been riding behind someone that wasn’t keeping up with the cars in front of them, and they cause you to miss a light? Yet THEY speed up at the last possible second and go right on through. Been there? They obviously had no thought for the other people that might like to make the light also. Please keep up with the cars in front of you so you don’t do this to people. Again, this is just another simple consideration for others on the road.
Phones and other Distractions
This is a VERY sore subject with me. Numerous studies show that humans are absolutely terrible at multi-tasking (I can tell you I can't do it safely).You can't safely do two things at once so while you are driving, please focus on driving. That means quit reading your book, doing your makeup, talking on the phone, texting, riding with a pet in your lap, fussing with the baby in the backseat, dancing in your seat, and all the other myriad of things I see people doing... while they're supposed to be driving. A person trying to drive and do other things is one of the most dangerous practices you'll face on the road, and I'm not so sure that it's not as dangerous as a drunk driver. And the fact that most people have horrendous driving skills makes this practice one of the most deadly combinations on the road. I can't tell you how many people I've seen almost run off the road while they use their phones and this scares the h*** out of me. I trust my skills but I fear other people out there. Throw more distractions on top of their lack of skills and all of a sudden their cars become dangerous weapons on the highway. PLEASE PUT YOUR PHONE IN YOUR POCKET OR PURSE and forget about it for the 15-30 minutes while you're driving. There is NOTHING so important that you need a phone in front of your face while driving.
Driving Too Fast for Conditions
I race a car; I'm use to going fast. But I do not trust the water, it's unpredictable and if you start to slide in water... goodbye. Experience has taught me that driving in rain/snow/ice can be one of the most dangerous situations you can put yourself in on the road. I see people flying down the road in the rain like nothing could possibly happen to them, yet most of them have no idea how hydroplaning works, much less what to do when they encounter it. Water on the road can be very unpredictable and you can encounter a puddle of standing water without warning. Once you start to hydroplane, you're in trouble. The only thing that's going to bring it back is slowing down or removing the source of the hydroplaning, and even good driving skills won't help you much in this situation. Once it starts to go, you're pretty much hanging on for the ride. Slow down when it's wet people, especially if you're going 50 mph or higher. My main concern is someone hydroplaning and coming into my lane. Don't be stupid, slow down, it may save your life and the lives of others.
Proper Driving Position
I just have to laugh at some of the people that I see lounging in their cars. Laid back in a reclined seat, barely able to see over the dash, and hardly able to reach the steering wheel. They've obviously never been in an emergency situation where they've had to maneuver their car, or they would have discovered very quickly that they weren't seated correctly... that is if they survive.
You want to lounge, stay at home please. When you're driving, you should be seated fairly upright and close enough to the steering wheel where your arms are bent at roughly a 45 degree angle. If you keep your arms any straighter, you lose leverage and you'll wear your shoulders out from holding your arms out-stretched. Also, you should be close enough so that you can turn the steering wheel far as possible without taking your hands off the wheel. If you start off with your arms straight, you won't be able to turn as far.
Mirrors... how often do I see rearview mirrors that are pointed at the driver? Really? Looking at yourself while you drive doesn’t do a lot of good for driving. Again, this is not your bathroom, it's a car. Please adjust your mirrors so that you can see all around you. And another thing related to mirrors; please don't ride in my blind spot in the left lane. Not only is it annoying but it is VERY unsafe, you can't be seen. Either pass or get over.
Hand position is very important in car control and both hands on the wheel please. I know very few people that drive well with one hand, especially in an emergency situation.
Other VERY Important Habits
The use of your seat belt is the single most important thing you can do to potentially save your life in a vehicle. Come ride with someone in an autocross and see why it's important to wear a seatbelt. Take me up on it and you'll find out real quick why you'll never ride without one again.
I consider this next paragraph to be as important as anything. Pay attention to what's going on around you. I don't watch the car directly in front of me; I look WAY down the road at what's going on. Look ahead, look way ahead. Your eyes should always be scanning in all directions. I know where the cars are around me and what they are doing, I anticipate their actions, I watch their eyes in their mirrors, and I plan ahead. You must be a defensive driver to be safe. Note... that doesn't mean you have to creep around, it just means that you should be completely aware of your surroundings and how they might potentially affect you. Driving is serious business and requires your total concentration to do it properly.
Don't wait until the last second to change lanes in order to make a turn. Plan ahead.
Use your turn signals.
Don't ride your brakes. I have to laugh at this one. We followed a lady in a Mercedes SUV that other day, and she rode her brakes all the way down Harbins Road, across 316, and all the way to Kroger. Never once did her brake lights go off. All I can say is I'm glad she's got the money to replace those Mercedes brakes. Oh... and as long as we're talking about brakes, check your brake lights please. Many of you are riding around with one or more out, and some of you have none at all. And speaking of lights, you are an open invitation for getting pulled over if you have ANY lights out, including your tag lights. Please check all of your lights for correct operation.
And lastly... do your best to maintain a constant speed. Cruise control is a wonderful tool; I use it all the time. The constant speeding up and slowing down is not necessary and very annoying, especially on the Interstate.
How and Where to Learn Car Control
For those of you that do take driving seriously or those that would like to improve their driving skills, or the skills of someone in their family, please join us sometime at one of our local SCCA autocrosses (called Solo events). I started autocrossing in 1973 and have done it off and on ever since, and I believe that it is THE BEST and SAFEST way to learn car control, learn about your vehicle responds in various situations, and have fun at the same time. My son got started at 12 years old has developed better car control skills than I have!
If you don't know what an autocross is or haven't seen one, here's a great video created by a college student that explains exactly what it is and how it's done. Basically what you do is drive your vehicle through a course that is setup with orange traffic cones, as quickly as possible without hitting a cone. All runs are timed to the thousandth of a second and a cone adds 2 seconds to your time. You get no practice but you do get to walk the course so you know where to go. It is very intense because things happen very quickly, and quite the adrenaline rush! Cars are normally grouped or classed together depending on the car, but all the cars in the novice group run together regardless of the type of car they are driving.
Speeds vary depending on the course and the car, but for most cars are generally between 30-60 mph. Some cars, like the Jeep, will hit as high as 80 mph. Keep in mind that spectating alone won't begin to convey what it's like in the car at speed. You'll need to take a ride with someone (come out and I'll try to help work that out) to get a real sense of what all of the G-forces feel like. Depending upon the car and driver, you will be in awe, I promise you!
The Atlanta Region of the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) has an excellent Novice program to help you get started and learn the ropes. Our events are open to anyone in just about any type of vehicle (except those that are too top heavy). If your vehicle passes a safety inspection (no loose battery, no loose objects in the car, etc.) and you are 16 years old or older, you can participate. Teens with learner permits can drive if a licensed driver is in the car with them, and kids as young as 8 years old can run karts in the kid classes. In addition, your child may ride along with you if they are 12 years of age or older. We have many families that come out and the entire family participates. We have novice instructors (several national champions among them) that will ride with you and give you pointers, and they'll even drive your car (with you as a passenger) if you’d like, so they can give you an idea of what your car is truly capable of. The novices also get extra runs so they have more seat time to practice what they've learned. And even those of you that are sitting there thinking "I already know all of that stuff", come out, not only will you be VERY surprised what you don't know, but you'll have a blast figuring it out!
I truly believe that this is the best way to learn "respect" for a car, and to safely learn the capabilities (or what it's not capable of) of your vehicle in a controlled environment. If you think this might be something you'd like to try, contact me here or in private, or better yet, come out to watch our next event which is Sunday, August 12th, downtown at the Turner Field Green Lot (the one with the big blue wall). We start about 10am and end around 5pm. We'll be there running the Jeep and getting in some practice before the National Championships in September, so come out and say hello and see what it's all about. You can come out and watch for free and stay as long as you'd like, we even have a food vendor there if you like to have some lunch! If you think you would like to participate, you must register online at the SoloAtlanta.com registration link which you can find on the SoloAtlanta forum. You can also get up close with the cars in case that's your thing and we normally have about 150-200 participants, so there is plenty of action.
To sum it up, please drive safely and responsibly, please be considerate of others, and do your part to help relieve traffic congestion. You will be safer, the people around you will be safer, and everyone will get to where they need to go much more efficiently.
Oh, by the way… VOTE NO FOR TSPLOST!!!
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