If you could boil the secrets of safe driving down to just a handful of tips, what would they be? I posed that question last week.
Richard Borst of Fairfield, Pa., said he liked the advice of the late auto writer Tom McCahill: “When driving, assume everyone else on the road is just making a break from the asylum.”
Mike Patterson offered a variation: “Assume every driver on the road with you is trying to kill you, and make a mental game of how to keep them from doing it.”
This suggests a need for awareness, hyper-vigilance, even. “Keep your head on a swivel,” Mike, of Gaithersburg, counseled. “Always know what is in front, behind and beside you.”
Ruth Arnold of Alexandria learned to drive in England, where her instructor boiled safe driving down to two things: “Anticipate. Concentrate.” (Plus a third: Check your tire pressure.)
David Ames of Crofton sent in three suggestions: “1. Slow down. 2. Courtesy towards other drivers. 3. Patience.”
The p-word — patience — showed up in a lot of readers’ recommendations. It isn’t a technical skill and can seem at odds with the very act of driving. We take the car because we’re impatient, because it’s faster than walking. Still, it’s probably a good idea to keep a bit of Zen in the mental glove compartment.
Something I’ve never understood is why some drivers are unwilling to use their turn signals. It’s like they worry it will wear down the lightbulb.
“Mike from Millersville” is similarly annoyed. His driving advice: signal!
“Every turn. Every lane change. Every merge to/from an acceleration/deceleration lane,” he wrote. “And not as you’re turning/lane-changing/merging, but a couple seconds (or more) before.”
Wrote Mike: “The blinker is not to convey ‘I’m coming over now!’ The blinker means ‘I would like to come over when it’s safe to do so.’ ”
I’ll add this: If you see someone signaling, let them in if it’s safe to do so. The karma will accumulate.
Dan and Debbie Cline of Columbia have driven across the country more than a dozen times, with no accidents or tickets. Debbie wrote that they drive using “the OAR method”: “Observe what is going on down the road with drivers out in front of you. Anticipate what those drivers might do (change lanes, hit the brakes, exit). React, be ready for anything (don’t be texting, looking at GPS or talking on the phone).”
In last week’s column, I mentioned the “three-second rule.” That’s where you stay far enough back from the vehicle in front so as to be able to count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi” before you pass the same object — a bridge, a tree, a dead raccoon — that the vehicle ahead did.
“We also stress adding more distance ‘seconds’ under certain scenarios,” noted Cynthia Salvatore, an instructor at Greg’s Driving School in Rockville. “Example: add an additional second for rain, fog or snow, thus making it a ‘four-second rule.’ ”
Speaking of which, Tara Smith Whitworth from Alexandria sent the reminder that when your windshield wipers are on, your lights should be on.
“It’s the law,” she wrote. “In rain and at dusk, several car colors blend into the road and make those cars nearly invisible unless the lights are on.”
Fred Bloch of Reston wrote, “How about these two oldies but goodies: Right turn on red after stop. Drive right, pass left.”
I worry that some of these tips sound a bit obvious. Several readers included these admonitions: drive sober, and follow traffic regulations. But maybe we take such things for granted at our peril.
Pat Duffy of Laurel grew up near Buffalo and started his driver’s ed class in January. Wrote Pat: “On the first day, the instructor’s lesson was, ‘Anyone can learn to drive in snow but nobody can drive on ice. Learn and respect the difference.’ ”
Paul Mackell of Silver Spring has driven an ambulance in the Washington area for 30 years, so I imagine he’s seen a lot. His reminders: “Put the phone down while seated in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle. (This would be my Number One tip.) Pay attention. Do not get distracted. Wear your seat belt 100 percent of the time. Yield to emergency vehicles. (Move to the nearest curb lane, and come to a stop.)”
Teddy Klaus of Bethesda wrote in with a mind-set more than a tip: A good driver, he wrote, is “one who cares for others on the road.”
Simple, but true. Don’t forget: To everyone else on the road, you’re the other driver.
While we’re on the subject, I still recall a sad story I read years ago in The Washington Post about a fatal accident involving a teen driver. When she realized that she had drifted onto the right-hand shoulder of an interstate, she overcorrected and wound up careening across traffic to the median, where her car was hit and she was killed.
A police officer said he had seen that before. In that situation, he said, it’s better to come to a stop on the shoulder, compose your thoughts and reenter traffic when it’s safe to do so.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.