Journalists who cover the auto industry drive a lot of cars.
Journalists who cover the auto industry drive a lot of cars.
Which means we like to think we know a little more about driving than other people.
Not you, of course. Statistically, you know you're a better driver than most other people on the roads. We're talking about those other ones.
But each of us gets behind the wheel of several dozen cars a year and racks up tens of thousands of miles, on everything from racetracks to Manhattan streets, ranging from high-speed freeway cruising to irksome stop-and-go suburban Saturday shopping.
What follows are six rules for safer driving that you should be observing.
After all, you're the sole pilot of a two-ton machine that can travel at more than 100 mph.
Based on what we see through the windshield, though, you're probably not observing all of these rules--and some of you aren't observing ANY of them.
(1) Check your mirrors every 30 to 60 seconds.
It's painfully clear that many drivers have no earthly idea what's behind them.
That would seem to be because they're not using any of the three mirrors--one on the windshield, one on each front door--to glance at what's happening behind them.
No, this shouldn't come at the expense of looking ahead.
But it's critical to know what's going on behind you.
If you can't say whether there are vehicles behind you in each lane or not, you're not looking in your mirrors often enough.
Is there, for instance, an over-eager adolescent kid in a lowered car parked 18 inches off your rear bumper at 65 mph?
If so, the sooner you move over, the quicker he can roar past you--thereby taking you out of the range of a potential accident or road-rage incident.
And this is especially important now that various blind-spot warnings are displayed in the door mirror as well, from lights that illuminate when there's a car in your blind spot to specially angled second-mirror insets that show what's next to you.
(2) If you're not passing another car, stay OUT of the left lane!
The left-most lane on roads with two, three, or more lanes in the same direction is NOT just for travel. It's called the passing lane. And there's a reason for that.
We can't do any better than to quote the full text of a graphic that's been making the rounds on social media (see diagram, which we found via Wade Brown).
It doesn't matter if you're going the speed limit. You may feel like you're doing the right thing by slowing a speeder down, or you may feel it's your RIGHT to drive in any lane you 'darn well please.'
You're not. It's not. And you ARE breaking the law.
Here's how it is DESIGNED to work: You're in what you think is just like any other lane except that it's 'fast'. One of us approaches you from behind at 74mph (and you look down to see you're going 67mph and you switch to your smug 'justified' face because the sign says 65). While rather close in proximity, the driver begs you to move over.
Oh, how you should.
But you don't.
The driver tries to be patient and now cars start lining up behind both of you. There's a quick flash of the brights, and if you look up from your phone you either move over, or your ego decides that you'll be stubborn (and in some cases actually slow down ON PURPOSE). In most cases you don't even notice the signal but you just start complaining about the guy riding your bumper.
Now there's four or five vehicles lining up behind you while you have a LOT of distance ahead of you and enough room to move over. Now the sixth vehicle back finally jets across two lanes of traffic to go around not only you and the cars behind you, but but also around the slower cars in the two lanes to your right, only to find that there's no GOOD reason for you to be IN THE WAY.
Note that he used the 'SLOW' lane to do this in.
Move over. You don't have to be stubborn.
It's not your lane. You don't have to be self-righteous.
Please be part of the solution. Don't cause traffic jams and contribute to road rage.
The general rage among drivers at oblivious left-lane hogs was rewarded in March, when a Maryland woman was ticketed for blocking the passing lane and failure to keep right.
The "keep right" rule is also taken seriously in Georgia, we gather.
On the West Coast, though, the rule has apparently been forgotten entirely--helped along, we suspect, by the legality of passing on the right on multi-lane freeways.
(3) Highway on-ramps are for accelerating up to speed, so do it.
Even if they're cloverleafs, the purpose of a long highway on-ramp is to let you accelerate up to the speed of cars you're going to merge with.
That means way, way higher than the 35 mph we frequently observe drivers maintaining for the length of an on-ramp.
That's frequently followed by panicked acceleration at the very end, often startling drivers who assumed they could safely pass you.
Take our word (and that of experienced driving instructors): Your car can both turn and accelerate at the same time. Put your foot down. By the end of the on-ramp, you should be doing 50 to 75 mph--depending on prevailing traffic.
If you don't and there's a less powerful car behind you, you're putting them at risk because they can't accelerate as fast as you can.
Seriously. Practice accelerating around curves. It's a basic driving skill.
(4) You have turn signals in your car; use them!
To the left of your steering wheel is a stalk that switches on your left and right turn signals.
It's to signal other cars that you're about to change your path in some way.
Please use that indicator switch to signal your intentions.
Here's the rule: If you're about to turn, or change lanes, and there's another car visible, you should signal the turn.
It alerts other drivers who may be just about to speed up, change lanes, or do something else you're not aware of.
Sure, if you're on a completely deserted Kansas highway and the only other wheeled vehicle you see is a tractor in a field, you don't have to signal.
Any other time: Use. The. Signals!
(5) Are your headlights on? Low beam or brights? And are they properly aimed?
Some states have annual auto-safety inspections that check for proper tire tread, adequate brake pads, working lights, and so forth. Some even check to make sure your headlights are aimed properly.
Because you've probably seen as many wildly skewed lights as we have--perhaps the result of owners changing bulbs or light units on their own and ignoring the adjustment screws afterward.
So making sure your headlights are aimed correctly (ask the mechanic to check next time you take your car in for service) is one rule of headlight etiquette.
Another is to be aware of which beam you have on.
Most drivers actually don't use their high beams enough, it turns out--but those that do often forget to dip the lights for oncoming traffic.
We drive on a lot of rural roads, and we spend more time than we should flashing oncoming cars to let them know that they're blinding us.
Look for the dashboard light that indicates high beams--and know which you're using. Always.
(6) Get off your damn phone.
We're deadly serious. By now, all of us can tell who's on the phone just by their erratic driving.
You're the person who unknowingly slowed down to 10 mph below the speed of prevailing traffic--regardless of what lane you're in--and then, once you realize it, sped up to 10 mph above and roared past us.
Until we passed you again, doing 10 mph under in the right lane, again.
Talking on the phone--regardless of whether it's hands-free or not--affects your concentration as badly as three drinks do.
While some data seems to indicate that phones aren't the worst cause of distraction while driving, the drivers we see on the phone--a lot of them--have slower reaction times and are far, far more erratic in their driving.
It's even more serious for teenagers.
And if you're on the phone while you're driving, you probably have other bad habits that make you even more distracted behind the wheel.
It ought to be crushingly obvious, but--for the record--checking Google Maps and texting on your phone is equally distracting. Duh.
You know it's wrong. The U.S. Department of Transportation is very worried. And you also know you won't get fired if you let that work call go to voice-mail.
But in the end, none of us cares about your excuses.
We just want you to get off your damn device and Pay. Attention. To. Driving.
(c) 2013, High Gear Media.