Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad Manners = Bad Drivers

Homeward Bad manners equal bad drivers. The phenomenon of bad driving can’t be explained with that simple equation, but lack of courtesy is certainly one of the factors that contribute to making driving a car so frustrating and, often, infuriating. Scope of awareness is another factor. The scope of human awareness ranges from none, through only aware of oneself, to awareness of oneself and his/her family, to awareness of other people around us, and on up to complete awareness of our surrounding environment on all levels. There are some drivers who are very close to the bottom of that range, acting as if they are the only one on the road. Distraction is becoming more and more a major factor, not only behind the wheel of the car, but in many other areas of human interaction. As more people seek information and communication through hand-held electronic devices, distraction is increasingly creating chaos on the roads and on the sidewalks. Distraction effects awareness. The less aware one is, the more dangerous they are behind the wheel of a automobile. Distraction, in addition to electronic communication devices, can come from anything one is doing in addition to driving the car. When you are driving, that is all you should be doing. You have only fractions of a second to react to an almost infinite variety of hazards you may encounter. Undistracted, full awareness of the task at hand is what you should strive for when you drive. You are surrounded by discourteous, barely aware, distracted drivers. To survive you need ever advantage you can give yourself. In addition, there are some unwritten rules of the road, which you should know. Some of the rules are, or have been, practiced in other places. Some may well be unique to Southern California where I travel. Before I was old enough to drive, I heard about the St. Louis rolling stop. I had an aunt who lived in St. Louis and on a visit to her from our home in Peoria, Illinois, I remember hearing my parents discuss the rolling stop. They believed that it was unique to that city. Perhaps it was in the early 60s, but I doubt it. In California the rolling stop is alive and well, and the rule, as practiced, is that if there is no traffic, vehicle or pedestrian, at an intersection regulated by stop signs, you don’t need to stop. Or even slow down very much. Some drivers who get into the habit of applying this rule will often practice it even when there is traffic in the intersection. It is my firm belief that these drivers consider what they are doing and where they are going to be more important that anything anyone else might be doing and are thus entitled to the right-of-way, either that or they are just oblivious to everyone else on the planet. Recently, a new rule has come into fashion. Simply stated, it is: You may park anywhere you want to if you turn on your emergency flashers. Anywhere really does mean anywhere. I’ve seen this rule applied to double parking on a very narrow and quite busy street. It, apparently, applies to any situation where it might be even momentarily inconvenient for the driver to properly park his/her car. The way this works in practice is as follows. If you feel you need to get out of your car for some reason and there isn’t anywhere right where you are to get your vehicle out of street then you simply activate your emergency flashers and go about your business. How to get around the traffic hazard you just created is not your problem and you don’t need to be concerned about it. I believe that some drivers actually feel that they are entitled to stop their vehicle wherever they please as long as they turn on their emergency flashers, and if you object by honking or gesturing rudely they look either surprised or indignant that you would challenge their right to do so. Another rule: Turn signals are optional, or possibly obsolete. I’ve seen this rule applied in other places, but it is very broadly followed in Los Angeles, especially by the Los Angeles Police Department. In practice, this rule may be caused by one of the driver’s hands being required to steer the car while the remaining hand does various other tasks, such as texting; holding the cell phone to the ear; applying make-up; gesturing; holding a book, newspaper, coffee cup, sandwich, energy drink, cigarette or hairbrush; adjusting the sound system or on-board video player; and/or whatever other activity the driver might consider essential. In the case of the LAPD, perhaps they just don’t want anyone to know what they are going to do next. Of course there are always those people who don’t actually know what they are going to do next and, thus, all turns are done as an impulsive or entirely random act. Here is one to watch out for. The rule seems to be: When turning from a side street into traffic, always wait until you can see the oncoming driver’s eye color before pulling out in front of him. I see this every day. Just when you think that the driver who wants to pull out will wait until you have passed safely by, they pull out in front of you. They look at you and then they wait and wait. It’s as if they wanted to test your reaction time. Perhaps they do. This is a rule for the pedestrians in the group: If a driver pretends not to see the pedestrian, he doesn’t have to stop. Here is how this works. You are standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. There are cars waiting to turn onto the street you want to cross. When the light changes, cars can turn in front of you as long as the drivers have not made eye contact with you or you have not stepped off of the curb. Even stepping off the curb into the crosswalk is no guarantee that a car or two won’t clip your toes before someone admits to seeing you. Eye contact is essential for a pedestrian. Glaring eye contact is even better. If you can simulate a good, intimidating, “You better not!!” glare, you will be more likely to live to step up onto the opposite curb. This may well be my favorite. If, as you reach an intersection, not matter how busy it might be, and realize that you are in the left lane, but need to turn right, other drivers are required to yield to you as you cut across all lanes to make your turn. There is a related rule to this one, and that is: If you are pulling out of a gas station or restaurant driveway that is within a dozen feet of an intersection and need to turn left, you are entitled to cut across all lanes of traffic in order to make your turn. I believe the simple computation for this rule is that you should never have to live with a mistake where you would be required to turn around and try again. And finally, the most annoying rule of all: When turning around, always chose the narrowest part of the busiest street possible so that the maximum amount of cars are required to wait while you perform your maneuver. It is even better if one of more of the other vehicles have to back up to allow space for the completion of your turn. Never pull into a driveway and wait for traffic to clear when you need to turn around. Always strive for maximum inconvenience for the maximum number of other drivers. For the courteous, aware and undistracted drivers, I recommend that you always allow extra time to reach your destination. Driving is fun. Sit back and wait until the chaos resolves and then proceed with caution. Defensive driving isn’t just a catchy phrase thought up by the highway safety bureaucrats. No, it’s a lifestyle, an attitude. The Boy Scouts have it right with their motto: Be Prepared. Arm yourself with the knowledge that everyone out there on the road is crazy except you. If you drive that way, you’ll be more likely to survive your journey unscathed.

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