Of all the things I learned while in driving school, one sentence stuck with me: "Driving is perhaps the most social experience you'll have in a given day."
The more I drive, the more I find this true. Sadly, the more I drive, the more I realize that I'm the only person on the road that acknowledges this.
My argument is many fold, but can be simplified down to two words: Pay. Attention.
During the three hours that Chicago traffic can flow relatively unobstructed, drivers tend to forget that they're surrounded by others. Lane changes are sudden and unannounced, speeds vary by 20 mph for no reason, and yielding seems to have disappeared entirely.
Like I said, driving is a social exercise. Everyone is on the same road, piloting tons of metal and glass at speed, trying not to smash into one another. It's social because your interactions with the surrounding folk can mean the difference between driving down the road and gliding roof-first along the concrete barrier.
That being said, here are some pointers:
-Not all lanes are created equal.
On most highways, there tend to be three lanes – a left one, a middle one, and a right one. When traffic is free to choose any lane, most people are overloaded with choice, like a child at Toys'R'Us with $100 and no parental oversight. However, there need to be ground rules.
The right lane is (obviously) the slowest. If you tend to putt along at a flatfoot-friendly 55, or if you hop onto the expressway only to hop off two exits later, the right lane is perfect. All you have to worry about is traffic entering the expressway from the right. Sure, there's some additional mingling with 18-wheelers involved, but if you're going to go slowly, that's the price you pay. Sorry.
The middle lane is the most versatile. Driving on the highway for more than a few miles? Driving above the speed limit? Plant yourself in the middle! Sure, the middle requires more attention, as traffic can move through your lane from two directions at any time, and there are trucks to worry about, but overall this is the lane for the majority of drivers.
The left lane is the most improperly utilized of all the lanes. Some people believe that since they're speeding by a not-totally-unreasonable amount, the left lane has become their playground. This is where acknowledgment of the social aspect of driving comes in. Look – you're not the fastest thing on the highway when you're doing 70 in a 55, and you need to acknowledge that before the guy doing 95 acknowledges your bumper.
This lane's main function is to allow those in the middle lane to overtake legally; its other function is to keep the real speed junkies free of obstruction and potentially lethal lane-change maneuvers. I'll admit right now that it's not necessarily safe for people to be doing upwards of 90 on an expressway, but the fact of the matter is that it happens. And if you want to stay out of their way, and if you want them to stay out of yours, you'll let them have the left lane. Don't be selfish, since that mentality could cause serious problems for somebody else.
To sum it up, stay out of the left lane unless passing or hooning. If it's good enough for the Autobahns, it's good enough for you.
-Measure twice, cut once.
Remember, driving is social; occasionally, you have to interact with people that might not be going the same speed as you. Keep an eye on your mirrors. Don't just look once – keep checking.
Let's say you're in the middle lane, doing about ten over, and you're approaching a slower car. A quick glance at the mirror shows a car in the left lane, ten car lengths back. He's pretty far back, you think, I've got this. By the time you actually move over, you're temporarily blinded by bright lights in your rearview, accompanied by frenzied honking. You don't know how many times I've been driving in the left lane only to have somebody pull out directly in front of me, like they hadn't even noticed me. Thankfully I don't hit them, but they might overreact, swerve back into the middle and cause some other unforeseen issue.
Gauging the speed of other cars is an important skill. Giving more than a cursory glance into your mirrors can differentiate between a car moving at an average rate of speed and Michael Schumacher executing a late-brake overtake.
Don't get complacent in thinking that everybody drives like you.
-To ‘coast' does not mean to hang out on a yacht, listening to Vampire Weekend and perusing a J. Crew catalog.
When traffic thickens, everybody tries to maintain their speed, keeping their gaps intact. When some people see that their gap is closing at a rate of one foot per fortnight, they instinctively tap on their brakes. Then the person behind them overreacts in a similar manner. After twenty cars in a row sustain this daisy chain of overreaction, the last car in line has basically stopped, all because one person took their foot off the gas pedal for half a second. This is where basic knowledge comes in - When you take your foot off the gas, your car will coast, it will not speed up, you will not die. If your gap starts to close, try coasting rather than instinctively going into a gas-or-brake situation. Your rate of speed will decrease, and you might not need to brake at all.
Brake lights freak people out. Keeping off the brakes can keep everybody more content and less on-edge. That isn't to say they'll stop paying attention, but people may have fewer car crash vignettes shooting through their brain as they panic brake and start screaming.
-Side-by-side pacing makes you a bastard.
You're causing unnecessary traffic jams. Stop it.
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