It has occurred to me that perhaps the large number of incompetent drivers on the roads just need some clear tips on how to drive. As someone who has been driving for eight years without incident—aside from a few close calls mostly caused by other drivers—perhaps I am qualified to write a rant on the matter.
This will mostly concern the proper way to drive in heavy traffic, as I have noticed many bad habits that only help to make the problem worse.
First, following distance. Seriously! If you’re traveling at 88 feet per second in a two-ton collection of predominantly metal parts, don’t follow me so closely that if I were to utilize my awesome brakes to avoid hitting an unexpected obstacle in the road, you would slam into me literally before your brain has time to tell your foot to move. It doesn’t matter if you want to go 20 mph over the speed limit and I’m only going 5 mph over in the fast lane, that’s still no excuse to tailgate me. And in heavy traffic, leave at least enough space for two or three cars to safely merge in front of you, even if traffic comes to a stop.
Don’t zoom up behind the slow-moving traffic and then stop. You create a stopping point, which is less efficient than moving at a slow but steady pace. If traffic ahead of you comes to a stop and then almost immediately starts moving again, you can erase the stopping point by slowing down and eating up your following distance (assuming you actually listened to the previous paragraph) while the cars in front of you wait to get going. Everyone behind you will continue moving, instead of being forced to stop.
If you are driving all the way through the congested area, keep to the left to allow more room for people getting on and off the road. If you live in one of those strange cities where there are a lot of exits on both the left and the right, stay in the middle if there are at least three lanes.
Unless you absolutely must change lanes, stay in your own! Reasons to change lanes include: your exit or turn is coming up, your lane is ending, you forgot to keep to the left. Reasons to change lanes do not include: the other lane is going faster. Merging traffic aside, if you are in the slowest lane, chances are everyone else in your lane will try to move over and your lane will end up becoming the fastest one. Changing lanes is inefficient, especially in heavy traffic.
In light traffic, the previous two points don’t exactly apply. Many states have laws stating you must keep to the right unless you are passing. Obviously, in heavy traffic you are constantly passing people and staying in the left lane can be helpful. But if traffic is light and you’re cruising along at the same speed as someone else, conspiring with them to block both lanes, you are likely breaking the law. And if you’re going the speed limit or lower, you’ll piss people off.
If a lot of cars are merging into your lane and you can’t move over, this is where the following distance becomes important again. Two lines of cars with bumpers just five feet apart cannot merge into one line very well. Don’t be selfish and stick to the bumper of the car in front of you, because that will only make things worse. Those people merging really need to merge, and that will only happen if people like you make space for them. If the space is already there, you won’t have to slow down as much.
Pay attention to road signs. Usually there are plenty of them in advance, so you can get into the right lane for your exit. I’ve seen too many people veer across multiple lanes at the last minute and cut into an exit beyond the actual exiting part. In most cases your arrival time is probably not a matter of life and death, and the next exit is usually just a mile or two farther, so keep going and turn around if you must.
One way to pay more attention: ignore your phone. I have had several people run me out of my lane, into oncoming lanes, off the road…because they changed lanes while talking on a phone.
Use your turn signals. If I see you start wandering into another lane without some blinkage going on, I’m going to assume you’re a distracted, drunk, or idiot driver and keep the hell away from you. On a similar subject, if you’re driving on my mountain roads and you are over the yellow line going around a curve, don’t just continue on your illegal trajectory and honk at me. Get back on your side of the road.
Oh, and speaking of curves, there’s no need to slow down to 20 mph when the yellow sign suggests 40, unless perhaps your car is falling apart and you’re on your way to a mechanic. Or if there’s ice on the road.
Ice is scary to drive on, there’s no doubt about that. So please, carry chains, get snow tires, and maybe even learn how to drive on it, before you venture out and become one of those people in a ditch.
Finally, sometimes people make mistakes, so don’t be a jerk to them when they do.