Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First rainstorm of the season

... and why you shouldn't drive fast.

It's amazing how much of what I learned in life is through mistakes that I have made.  I'm probably one of those few individuals that is bound to repeat history because I cannot learn by example.  My driving is one of them.

I actually used to "think" I was a very good driver in high school -- and drove fairly carelessly.  I had many reason that made me believe that.  I learned to drive as well as took my exam on a fully manual vehicle -- stick/manual transmission, no power doors, brakes, steering, windows.  I mean, the car didn't even have a stereo.

Unfortunately, I was a horrible driver, as most teenagers learned sooner or later.  I got into two big accidents in my car during the first 6-months of driving.  One of the accident was from an individual who ran a red light and t-boned my car, so I guess there is only one accident that was my fault.

Being careless, and late for school, I wasn't paying attention when I made a left turn on the driveway into high school and I tagged an undocumented Mexican worker riding his bicycle to Stanford.  Fortunately, I wasn't going so fast.  The worker probably saw it as a lottery and being inexperienced and young I actually drove him to his work where the worker's manager proceed to convince me to admit fault, then called a Stanford officer who wrote me up with 2-points on my license based on the worker's statement alone.  Lastly, the worker tried to sue my parents.  Thankfully, our insurance company took care of all of it.

This was a very important lesson for me though, and I have spent the rest of my tenure as a driver never getting in another accident with anything that can sue me.  I have, though, hit a deer, coyote, and a bird -- though none of them were my fault.

Here are the lessons I have learned during my 13-years as a driver.
  1. Drive slower in the rain.  This is especially true when it's the first rain of the season.  Grime and grease from vehicles collect in the asphalt all spring, summer and early fall.  The first rain of the season brings this slick onto the surface of the road.  Driving on this sometimes can be like driving on black ice -- you don't know when you will hit that "patch".  Better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Don't make sudden movements.  Usually, it's aggressive and sudden movements that cause the car to loose control.  The less traction there is on the tires with the road, the more likely you will crash.  Rain, snow, fast driving, aggressive maneuvers, can all contribute to less traction.
  3. Don't tailgate.  Do don't honestly think in an emergency you can stop in time if you're only 2-3 feet behind the car in front of you, do you?
  4. Pay attention.  Don't be doing your makeup, or watching TV, or texting while you are driving.  I had instances where I almost got rear ended by an individual who was on the phone and not paying attention to what was going on in front of them.  Don't get me wrong, I am guilty of that as well once in a while, but it's not a good habit to get into.  You are driving a vehicle that's likely over 3,000 lbs -- and very dangerous.  I don't think a text, or applying a mascara, is worth possibly you going to jail for the rest of your life, do you?
  5. Be aware.  This plays more into being a defensive driver.  Pay attention to what is going on around you while you are driving.  Be aware of the individuals who are not paying attention, of the car that's about to merge, of vehicles that may or may not be in your blind spot.  Plan out exits.  In a sudden emergency, you will react much faster because you don't have to spend the extra time to figure out who's around you, where you can go, etc. 
  6. Drive slower in the evening.  Kind of self explanatory.  Your headlights is not a great substitute for sunlight.  In the darkness, your vision is limited, and one has to react much more quickly.  Going slower buys yourself more time to react. This probably would have kept me from hitting the coyote and/or deer. 
  7. Don't cheap out on tires.  Your car's tires are the only contact points your vehicle has to the road.
  8. Don't merge into a faster lane if you are slow.  If you are significantly slower than oncoming traffic, and do not plan to speed up, don't merge in front of someone suddenly just because you don't want to be in the right most lane.  That's just asking for an accident to happen.
  9. Left lane only to pass.  Don't you hate idiots who hog the left lane and then go slow?  I loved my experience in Italy.  Drivers are required by law to let traffic pass if they are too slow.  In addition, they leave left lanes open only for passing.  This actually makes driving much safer.  The risk of collision comes when the slow driver forces other traffic to try to navigate around them.
  10. Stay away from bicyclists and pedestrians.  This translates to drive SLOW when you are in anywhere residential or local.  Why?  This is because you cannot afford to hit any bicyclists or pedestrians.  They will never follow the law, yet they will always win (and you will always get sued or go to jail) if you ever hit them with your vehicle.
  11. Also, get to know your car.  The car you drive, whether it's a Yugo or a Ferrari, will communicate to you and let you know when you are approaching the vehicle's limit.  The limits for each vehicle is unique and change depending on the weather and road conditions.  Cars are designed to stay on the road, and if you start pushing the vehicle a bit too much you can actually start to feel the vehicle get unsettled and uneasy.  Learning how your car communicates will also help you become a better driver.
Hopefully this will create some safer drivers out there.   I'm a strong believer that responsible speed (at least on the highway) isn't what kills, but drivers who don't pay attention and/or respect fellow drivers that share the road with them.

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