Apr 5, 2011

What Is It With Drivers?

There are some basic driving maneuvers, call them steps in the choreography of the road, that every driver should know and practice.  California drivers have been ignoring these basic steps for some time and I'd like to offer a little refresher course here.  This is a gentle nudge to do the right thing.

1) Lane changing.  The changer should use his turn signal to indicate a lane change.  But here is the crucial step, usually missing from the lane change dance, and the main reason so many otherwise good drivers have abandoned the turn signal: the driver in the other lane should be receptive to the change.  He should alter his foot's position on the gas pedal, not by accelerating and preventing the merge as so many are wont to do, but by gently lifting the foot enough to allow the car to enter the lane.  This seems to be the big point of confusion here in California: lift the foot gently to allow merging, don't hit the gas to protect your position like a 300 pound tackle trying to stop a touchdown, like a Rottweiler keeping the mailman from coming through the gate, like a jealous child clutching a toy and screaming "Mine, mine!"  Oh, the metaphors could keep coming but you get the idea: just let the guy in your lane!  He's not stripping your masculinity; he probably just wants off at the next exit.

2) The Zipper.  The Zipper is used when a whole lane needs to merge into another.  The unwritten rule is that a one-to-one merger is done.  One car from lane A, one car from lane B, etc., just like the teeth of a zipper meshing together, thus the name. Do the drivers in lane A ever, ever let the drivers of lane B merge using the one-to-one choreography?  They do not.  You get some nice people, of course, and then you get some real schmucks who stare straight ahead and pretend they haven't even noticed the twenty or so cars that have merged ahead of them.  What? Your lane is gone over there? Why I hadn't noticed! Well, couldn't you just ride along on the berm there with the broken glass, the dead raccoon, and the shredded tire for a few hundred feet or so and then take a right turn and get out of my sight? Couldn't you just drive off a cliff? Boy, they have perfected that staring ahead business, haven't they?

3)  Turning right on red.  This is a great rule, being allowed to turn on red.  Not every state allows it. Right on red means drivers don't have to sit and wait at a red light while no one is around to take advantage of the green light.  However, right on red does not mean sneaking your little ass in there when the patient cross traffic drivers are trying not to block the intersection. No, no, no, it does not.  If your light is red and there is a long line of drivers with a green light who have not entered the intersection, it is not a signal that they wish you would go ahead.  They do not think you are the most worthy driver in the world.  After you, after you, most esteemed driver.  No, they are waiting to cross when they won't get stuck in the intersection.

Well, these are a few basics.  You probably have some maneuvers of your own to share, pet driving peeves.  Like those people who drive fifty miles an hour on the freeway, and the lane darters, and the people who think the world is their parking lot, and, and, and...all those wacky drivers out there.


  1. Hi Cathy! Great blog!

    You might want to ask your geekier friend(s) about this -- when someone comments and then does a refresh backward to the original post, your blog goes all the way back to today's post. Which is a pain if you're leaving a comment several months in.

  2. Hi M. I'm glad you like it! I think refresh on any tool bar would take you back to the URL, right? Is that what you mean?

  3. I checked all the ways to move forward and backward. If you use the Newer Posts and Older Posts options at the bottom of each page, that should take you forward or back one blog post at a time.

  4. Cathy,

    Perhaps I should start a blog. You may copy this if you want or need or can invent a reason:

    Someone up here had the gall to write a letter to the editor saying that people who merged early (from two lanes to one) were lemmings (I think that was his word) and that he sped up to merge at the last second (that behavior is "normal" in the Bay Area...). Virtually everyone who responded said, in one way or another, "Sir, you are rude."

    My brother-in-law, from Boston, was driving here once and came to a Stop sign behind another care that had stopped. When the first car went through, he followed right along without coming to his own stop. Phyllis was his horrified passenger, and he explained to her that since the previous car had stopped, and so had he, so.... I think he said this was normal in Boston. More of this behavior is occurring in California nowadays.

    The right on red is now universal in the US. It happened a few years ago when the National Highway Administration (or some other US acronmymic alphabet administration (USAAA) mandated that, in order to receive Federal Highway dollars (FHd's), states had to allow this unless posted, which explains why virtually every Boston intersection has a "No Right Turn on Red" (not shortened there to NRTOR). Another exception that I know of is that in New York City (not state) it is illegal to turn right on red anywhere in the city, even though it's not marked (and they don't have staggered lights either). In the west, the Right Turn on Red makes better sense, especially towns laid out in grids. The farther east one gets, the less grid-like are the city streets. Or, as some have said, in Boston, three right turns don't bring you back to the first corner. And also, in Boston, a street "square" is only an intersection, not a geometric street layout (unless you count a splatter as a square).

    The scariest thing (for bicyclists and pedestrians especially) is that some California legislators have drafted legislation to permit right turn on red WITHOUT stopping (well, it saves gas, right..? Right....? Right.).

    Let's not get me started on texting/sexting/computing while driving (or bicycling); or speeding past, cutting in, and then getting off at the next exit or corner (this happened at 65 mph to us once, accompanied by a droll stare from the pick-up truck driver).

    From Daryl, (who sent this to my email)

  5. And further from Daryl:

    Actually, I miswrote about right turns. The legislation (Schwarzenegger vetoed) reduced the fine for making a right turn without stopping: