For the last five years I have been commuting about fifty miles each way to work. This is the equivalent of driving for one hundred and four days in a row, except that it’s not in a row. I’m not thrilled about spending ten hours a week driving, but it does involve a lot of sitting which I excel at. On the other hand it also involves interacting in a strange automotive dance with other drivers, which I admittedly struggle with. Thankfully in two weeks I will be starting a new job working from home, but before I leave the commuting world behind I wanted to share a detailed list of useful observations I painstakingly compiled over the years as I watched and learned from other drivers. Unfortunately I lost that list, so I came up with this stuff instead:
- When in stop and go traffic it is important to speed up to the maximum possible velocity when cars start moving, then brake hard each time they stop again. It is proven that this results in a quicker arrival at your destination. Additional evidence strongly supports the idea that the closer you get to the car in front of you before braking, the more time you save on your overall trip.
- When in the fast lane of a two lane highway pace your speed around 1-2 MPH faster than the posted limit. This will be enough to pass some slower traffic. It also ensures that the way ahead of you is clear by boxing other drivers in behind you. If a big enough opening occurs that a driver attempts to pass you on the right, match their speed exactly so that they are unable to get ahead. If you are on a highway with more than two lanes try to parallel a car beside you as this can also produce the improved safety conditions described for two lane highways.
- Turn signals are completely optional. If you decide to use them the best time to do so is about halfway through your turn. The maximum recommended number of flashes you should allow your signal to be active is two. The only exception being that rare occasion when you decide to use a signal during highway lane changes. In this case you should leave the signal on after the lane change for no less than five thousand flashes. You may want to turn left from the leftmost lane into the median at some point, having your signal on could save precious time.
- Always Tailgate. What the irritated driver in front of you does not know is that while you are benefiting from reduced drag and a feeling of superiority by pinning your bumper inches from theirs, they are also benefiting. It only takes a passing interest in the most basic study of physics to realize that the closer two cars are together, the less force an impact between them will incur, minimizing potential damage. When on the highway tailgating also has the additional effect of psychologically forcing the driver in front of you to move over to the right lane. When this happens don’t speed up. As they approach slower traffic they have no choice but to veer back in front of you worried about how close you are, or hang their heads in shame by joining the large group behind you. It’s a good test of character for them.
- When choosing to exit a highway it is crucial to wait until the last possible moment to change to the exit lane, preferably after the dotted lines change to solid, and not necessarily from the lane adjacent to the exit ramp. It is important to note that other drivers do not have the demanding schedule and incredible responsibilities that you do so the question of whether it’s acceptable for you to lose seconds off your commute waiting in line for an exit ramp is a no brainer.
- You should turn right on red instinctively, especially when you see three distinctive “no turn on red” signs scattered throughout the intersection. If someone is in front of you restricting your ability to turn right feel free to honk at them liberally. If you think they are looking back in one of their mirrors raise your shoulders and hands in a “what the hell are you doing?” manner.
- Roundabouts/Rotaries are put in place to allow you continuous travel through intersections without concern for other drivers. Do not slow down when approaching one as this will just create confusion. If your destination is three-quarters or more around, a good shortcut is to go opposite normal traffic flow and use the roundabout as your own personal go-any-way-you-want area. Chances are low someone is coming the other way during the short time you are zipping through.
- When entering a highway remember that you are now setting the tone for all the other drivers. The speed of existing vehicles must adjust to what you are bringing to the table. The recommended approach is to pick a speed about five MPH less than current traffic, look unwaveringly straight ahead as you merge, then lurch into the fast lane without speeding up.
Staying safe on the road is a topic so comprehensive it cannot be limited to one blog post. In part two we will tackle additional important situations such as frequent lane changes, how to handle bike lanes and crosswalks, as well as the age old question: “who’s road is this anyway?”.