Rules Of The Road

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to pass off a still reliable Honda Civic to two nephews that were just turning driving age. I also wanted to pass along some wisdom that I learned through decades of driving. So I wrote a few things down. Below is an updated version of what I made them read, and sign that they've read, before I handed over keys to the car.

Rules Of The Road

  1. 1. Don’t Drink And Drive
This means don’t drive impaired, whether from alcohol, medications, drugs, severe emotional distress or from just being too tired. It is just not worth it. Sleep it off. Or better yet, when you are driving, make sure you are not in any of the aforementioned conditions. When someone else is driving, make sure they aren’t either.

  1. 2. Always Wear Your Seatbelt
This is just too simple to ignore. When you get on a roller coaster, they have some pretty advanced seat belt systems. Roller coasters typically reach speeds you drive everyday in an automobile. Grant it, you probably aren’t changing directions as quickly or going upside down, but it you are in an accident, you will be. A seatbelt will save your life. Make sure your passengers wear them. Even the ones in the rear seat.

  1. 3. Pay Attention
With the advent of iPhones, iPads and I have an attractive person sitting next to me, it seems like it is easier to focus more on those things than actually driving. You need to focus on the road and the things around you. If you pay attention, you can avoid accidents. You can avoid looking up from that quick text message and seeing that the person in front you you has come to a stop you you are about to rear end them. Pay attention. Be aware of the cars around you. Look for people driving erratically because they are lost, drunk or LOLing. Watch for deer, dogs and potholes that could eat Cleveland.

  1. 4. It’s Not A Video Game
You only have one life. There is no restart button. You do not have multiple cars. Even if you did, it still costs to get them fixed. And the people you wreck only have one life. And they will not be happy if you total their car. One story from when I was young (I really was). I had just gotten my first car. It was an arrest me red Honda Civic with a stick. It handled like a go cart. I was going to visit some friends and I rev’d up the engine and aggressively merged onto the highway and cut someone off to get into the left lane. I remember cutting him off. I zipped through the Schuylkill expressway with reckless abandon. I got off my exit and went up the ramp and stopped at the light at the end, feeling cool, hip, dope, foshizzeled or whatever you call it these days. The person who I cut off pulled up to me a few seconds later. He was about my age now. He looked over at me, then shook his head. The light changed. He drove off. He didn’t yell, flip the bird or anything like that. He just shook his head. It hit me then, that basically I had taken a lot of unnecessary risks to get to where I was going, for just a couple of seconds. To sit at a traffic light. Not worth the trade off.

It can be fun to race, go fast, etc, but save it for a go kart track or video game.

  1. 5. Take Care Of Your Vehicle
Discovering your vehicle has an issue while you are out on the road is not ideal. Check fluid levels and tire pressure on a regular basis. Check for leaks. Get underneath the car periodically to see if anything is wrong, or about to go wrong. Really check it before you go on a long trip. Also, be prepared if you get stranded, like some water, a cliff bar and a blanket.

  1. 6. When Lost, Pull Over In A Safe Location
If you are driving somewhere unfamiliar, try to look at a map beforehand to get a lay of the land. Do not be trying to figure out where to go when you should be focusing on driving. Pull over someplace. If you miss an exit, do not try to reverse down the emergency lane. Grant it, there may be times where it could be necessary, just realize there is an awful lot of risk to that and make sure the few minutes you think you might be saving is worth the tradeoff. In most cases, it isn’t.

  1. 7. When A Ball Rolls Into A Street, A Child Will Be Right Behind It
Or a dog. This always happens. Always be on the look out for kids and animals. They don’t seem to know that cars are coming and they will step out in front of you. Drive extra cautiously in neighborhoods. They seem safe, but are actually driving risks.

  1. 8. Use Your Turn Signals & Hazard Lights.
Some people actually pay attention to them and will slow up if they see you are making a turn in front of them. It can help you from being rear ended. Also, if you are driving abnormally slow due to some reason (road or weather conditions), put on the hazards. A person some up on you at a high speed might not pick up on you if you are driving slow and rear end you. This is especially true in foggy conditions.

  1. 9. Left Turns
Left turns deserve particular mention as they are where a lot of accidents occur. In fact, UPS programs their shipping routes to minimize left turns. The reason is because you are turning to cross over oncoming traffic. So take routes that minimize left turns, especially dangerous ones. Also, if you are making a left, keep your wheels straight until you actually make the left, that way if you are rear ended, you will not be pushed into oncoming traffic.

  1. 10. Motorcycles
Motorcycles are inherently unstable. Give them more leeway than you would a car. I know several motorcycle riders and they all say they get nervous when a car comes too close to them. They lose the focus on the road and focus on the car. They could miss any hazard (gravel, pothole, etc) and easily get in an accident. Give them some extra leeway.

  1. 11. Trucks
Trucks take more time to brake and accelerate. They have blind spots. They typically can be traveling areas they are not familiar with. They are much bigger than you. Give them some leeway as well. They will appreciate it.

  1. 12. Parking Lots
Parking lots suck. I park far away and walk. I do it for three reasons: First, you are less likely to have your car get dinged when no one else is parking around it. Second, it is easier to get out of your parking space when no one is around. Third, we all need to walk more.

13. Headlights & Speed
(Courtesy of Mark Eckert) - Don’t outrace your headlights. In rural areas, you will only be able to see so far in the dark via your headlights, even with high beams. Don’t go faster than your ability to make a controlled stop before the end of your headlights, even if you know the road. Deer, or other things, have a tendency to pop up unexpectedly at night.

14. Positioning Of Side View Mirrors
(Courtesy of of Click & Clack, aka Tom & Ray Magliozzi) - People typically position their side view mirrors so they can see that rear corner of their car. I did this for years (ok, decades), but after a couple of near misses due to me missing something in my blind spot, I had to find a better way. And I did, via
Click & Clack (check out their radio show/podcasts). Basically you should try to position your three mirrors (the two side view and one rear view) as one continues mirror, where if a car behind you leaves one mirror, it enters the other. What this means is that your side view mirrors are typically positioned further/wider out, where you no longer see the back corner of your car. You will however see more of you blindspot, and probably eliminate it. You won’t miss seeing the back of your car. Trust me, it will still be there.