Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Driving Lessons from a Yankee

It's not that I think drivers in the south are bad, per se. They're just not good.
I learned how to drive from an angry gym teacher and an aged rock & roller. The class and the actual time spent driving were odd, to say the least, but both men gave me really good tips about driving, and helped form me into a decent driver.
Here are some safety tips and - y'know - advice based on actual driving laws from a Jersey girl.
1. Oh, you southerners are so polite! I love it ... most of the time. But not when it comes to breaking the law while driving, just to be nice.  
DON'T stop in the middle of the street to wave someone out who was waiting at a stop sign.
DON'T let about 50 cars on 1 side go when you're at a 4-way stop.
Basically, DO follow the laws of the road, even if you think you're being impolite.
True story: if you are waiting to turn onto a road or cross the road, and some "polite" person who is ON said road stops in the middle of the road and waves you to come out, don't do it. It's a trick. You WILL get hit by another car that has not read that person's mind and is actually following the rules of the road. Even better? If you're in a state that gives fault in accidents: you're at fault (of course you are! You should know better!).
2. 4-way stops are hard! False.
Come to a complete stop. If there's no one else at the 4-way stop, you're golden. Go.
If there's only someone directly across from you, and they are also going straight (or they or you are making a right), you're golden. Go.
If there is someone on either side of you, the person who got to the stop sign first gets to go.
Here's an efficiency tip: you don't ALL have to take turns. Just each side of the "cross". If the person to your left was the first person at the 4-way stop, they get to go AND (if they're going straight or turning right), the person directly across from them can go at the same time (if they're going straight or turning right). Same with YOU: when you go, the person directly across from you can go at the same time (if you both are going straight or turning right).
For people making a left turn at a 4-way stop, please come back another time for the advanced lesson.
3. When it rains, it pours, and drivers in South Carolina suddenly have a death wish. A raindrop will not kill you, and it will not harm your car. No need to slam on the brakes at the first drop of rain! If the rain impairs your ability to see the road, turn ON your headlights and turn ON your windshield wipers. Slow down to a manageable speed. But DON'T slam on your brakes when you're in the fast lane (see #5) on I-85.
4. So a raindrop won't kill you, but you know what will? Black ice. Icy or snowy roads are dangerous, so this IS the time to slow down. In New Jersey, our parents take us out to an empty parking lot when it snows so we learn to maneuver a car in the bad conditions. It's good practice, because everything is different on ice. Braking, turning, accelerating (but why? why would you accelerate?) -- everything is different. Try it out in an empty parking lot -- seriously.
5. The fast lane -- that exists in the south, right? I mean... you know there's such a thing? Because I really can't tell if you do. Here's what it means:
On a highway, once you merge (see #6), you're usually in the right-most lane, unless you really did some crazy merging there. This is the exit/entrance lane. This is typically the slowest lane because people are just gaining speed when they enter, or slowing down as they exit. The middle lane is for normal driving. The left lane - "the fast lane" - is for passing. You pass on the left. Always. It's actually a law, friends. As in, you can get a ticket for passing on the right.
5. Merging -- this is where southerners refuse to be polite, to my astonishment. When YOU are entering the highway and trying to merge, YOU have the right of way. Surprised? You shouldn't be. It's because when you're entering, you need to build up the speed, so that you're not a safety hazard to the other cars on the highway.
Here's the catch:
When YOU are driving on the highway, and you're in the right-most lane (the exit/entrance lane), YOU DO NOT have the right of way. This means you must let the mergers in. Again, it's actually a law. A few ways to do this: switch lanes safely - using your blinker and checking your blind spot, so that you are not even in the exit/entrance lane; slow down (without slamming on the brakes!) to allow the merger in front of you; speed up (safely, and in plenty of time) to pass the merger before he/she makes it onto the main part of the highway so that he/she merges behind you.
6. You can't be a real Jersey driver unless you release some aggression while driving. We've got what a friend has dubbed the "Jersey arm" which is when you wave a clenched fist in the general direction of the offending automobile. Then there's my brother's favorite, shouting at the top of your lungs with the windows closed, so that the person may or may not hear you, but they can see your angry face. Or take a lesson from my father and call someone a dope: "Oh! Nice directional, ya dope!" Really, it's all about style. Find what works best for you.

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