Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Only Three Driving Rules I Ever Need

One of my tasks as Dad of the House of Terra is giving the offspring their first driving lessons. I did so with Adrienne and John, am currently doing so with Chris, and will do so with Rhiannon, when the time is right.

My recent adventures with Chris have prompted me to remember the Only Three Driving Rules I Need. I've imparted them to my kids, and now I impart them to...well...whoever reads this.

Rule One: Don't Panic. Seriously, the worst thing you can do behind the wheel of a car is suddenly panic and try to do something stupid. This rule is particularly aimed at newbies. If you find yourself overwhelmed and/or uncertain what to do next, make sure no one's on your right, then pull over to the shoulder, take a deep breath, get yourself collected, then resume. It's better than slowing down on the road, clogging up traffic and making a hazard of yourself. Just pull over, take five, then be on your way.

The rule has an application for veteran drivers too. Panic can happen if you find yourself skidding, or there's an object up ahead on the highway. Remain calm, brake and steer carefully, and you'll find yourself out of trouble in no time. So. Rule One: Don't Panic.

Rule Two: Be Nice to Police. Police have a tough job. Most of the time, they get to see people at their worst, and when they try to enforce the law, many times they get people copping an attitude. The last thing a cop needs is some nimrod mouthing off just because the officer in question had the nerve to stop them for running a Stop sign, or going 55 in a 30 mph zone. And it's not going to help their mood when dealing with you in return, and let's face it, the cop has the upper hand.

In the times that I've been pulled over, I haven't shot off my mouth. I didn't offer excuses. I've sat there and simply accepted responsibility for my error, and showed a degree of contrition. The result? More warnings than tickets. Granted, if you get pulled over, a good driving record helps as well (and false modesty aside, mine's pretty good), but even so, a good attitude may be the deciding factor of "Should I give a warning, or a ticket?".

And don't give excuses. If a cop asks you what you were doing, or why, then sure....there's your opening. It happened to me this past summer, and it turned out that the officer knew the person I was doing volunteer work for, and he let me go with a verbal warning.

Again, these people have a rough job. Why add to their grief by being an ass, especially since you're the one that did something wrong? So, Rule Two: Be Nice to Police.

Rule Three: This is the biggest, most important one. This is the one I hammer over and over into my kids, regardless of how long they've been driving. This is "JT's Number One Rule of the Road". And here it is:

Always drive under the assumption that everyone else on the road is a complete moron and has no grasp on car safety, rules of the road, or common courtesy.

Arrogance? Hubris? Elitism? Nope...common sense. If you rely on others to ensure a safe driving experience, you will inevitably be disappointed. Or worse. Here's a sample of accidents I've had, and why they happened.

High School: I was rear-ended while idling at a red light on Route 3A. The girl who smashed into the rear of my car offered this excuse: "I didn't think you were going to remain stopped at the red light".

Early 80's: Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. A cab driver ahead of me tried to outrun a Green Line trolley, and hoped to beat it to the crossing and turn left, making it across the tracks before the train arrived. At the last second, he decided he wouldn't be able to do it, so he slammed his brakes on. I reacted, but not fast enough, and still managed to smack the left front part of my car into his right rear bumper, turning my Honda Accord into a Honda Accordion.

Late 90's: Just outside of NYC on Route 95. A truck driver with a poor command of English wasn't aware that he was supposed to slow down on a curve, and found himself jamming his brakes in order not to plow into traffic ahead of him. His 18-wheeler jack-knifed, slamming my Chevy Cavalier into a Jersey barrier.

There are others, but those stand out as classic examples of people being idiots. I've learned that you have to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the drivers around you. Assume that they're going to screw up. Assume that they're going to slam their brakes for no apparent reason, or drift into your lane without signaling.

And just because you are following the traffic laws, doesn't mean they will. And it'll be cold comfort if you get broadsided but you had the legal right-of-way. Having the law on your side may do wonders for you when insurance liability is determined, but it doesn't help avoid an accident in the first place.

A week after the last time I gave Chris a driving lesson (and the three rules), Carol and I were driving down a side street, approaching an intersection with the main drag. As we approached the light, it turned green. However, I slowed down anyway, and instinctively looked to my right (the main drag's a one-way street) to make sure that everyone was in agreement that a red light on their side meant "Stop, and stay that way until it's green". Sure enough, in the far right lane of that three-lane road, an elderly idiot positively rocketed right through the red light. Had I not slowed down at the intersection, the car would've easily struck my right passenger side door. Right were Carol was sitting.

So, to sum it up, here's the Three Rules again:

1. Stay cool
2. Be nice to police
3. Everyone sucks except you