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ABOUT DRIVING IN THE REAL WORLD

Driving in the Real WorldTM is currently a blog about driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people to properly handle the complex challenges of everyday driving. DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your on-the-road awareness and may even save your life. In future months, this blog will become part of a much larger website that will feature exciting apps, games, community forums, and a whole new way to learn about street driving.

My hope is to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. We need to rethink how we drive, how we teach it in America, and make safety and cooperation a far higher priority, but in fun, enjoyable, and practical ways. And many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other parts of life.

Thank you for visiting. I invite readers to share their own experiences and reflections on driving, to suggest ideas for my upcoming book on the subject, and to follow me on Twitter (@DrivingReal).

—Mi Ae

 

Entries in passing (3)

Monday
Dec232013

23 Winter Driving Tips They Don’t Tell You About: Part 3

This is the third and final part of a 3-part series on winter driving tips that are often not mentioned or discussed in enough depth.

17.  Clear snow and ice off your vehicle before you start driving. Most winter driving tips include this one. But it is mind-boggling how many folks neglect to clear their back windows, mirrors, or even their side windows, leaving them essentially driving blind. Not to mention the huge piles of snow off their roofs, hoods, and deck lids, which often blow off in chunks in the most inopportune moments to the detriment of those traveling behind them. And if you see a vehicle that has not been properly cleaned off, assume that its driver may not see you—and watch out for it accordingly.

18.  Drive your own path, not that of others. One well-intentioned tip sometimes offered is to drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you if fresh snow is falling, to take advantage of slightly better traction and to use the tracks as a guide. While this can indeed be helpful, the problem is that it tends to cause your eyes to drop to the space right in front of you to follow the tracks—and not up way ahead down the road where you should be looking. It also can lead you to unwittingly repeat whatever errors the vehicles ahead are committing—improper lane positioning, even veering off the road. Avoid blindly following others.

19.  Keep your wheel wells cleared. Some cars are prone to significant snow buildup inside the wheel wells, especially at highway speeds. The snow can accumulate to the point that the extra unbalanced weight causes the vehicle to shimmy or wobble, similar to a flat tire. Always keep a long-handled tool such as a shovel or sturdy snowbrush with an ice scraper handy in the car for scooping out this extra snow.

20.  Get around snowplows and big trucks—but give them enough room. There’ll be times, especially on highways, when you will need to pass snowplows and semi-tractor trailers, or they’ll want to get around you. Such huge vehicles often travel slowly and kick up enormous amounts of blinding snow, which make seeing and passing them very tricky. The key is to give them plenty of room. Don't zoom right up behind them, then shoot out sideways into their snow clouds to pass them. A surprising number of snowplow-vehicle collisions occur on American roads, usually the result of inattentive or impatient drivers.

  • Never attempt to pass a snowplow on the right; newer plow technology uses wider wings that can clear both the lane of travel and the shoulder simultaneously. Billowing snow clouds can prevent a driver attempting to pass on the right from seeing this blade until it’s too late.
  • Plan your passing early and carefully—starting as much as a quarter mile behind to give these vehicles a wide berth. Wait to pass until you see that the left lane is reasonably clear of major ice and snow that could interfere with your vehicle’s tracking during the passing phase. And never pass on the crest of a hill or any place with a limited sightline.
  • During the actual passing, stay as far away from the snowplow or semi truck as possible but not so far as to risk veering off the road or shoulder. Keep your speed cautious but steady—hesitation and quick acceleration are not your friends today. With big trucks you may feel a draft coming off them that can sway your vehicle a bit as you pass, and there’ll be a few moments when you can’t see the road with the snow cloud, but don’t be afraid and don’t panic. Taking a deep breath and exhaling forcefully in these moments can help you relax.
  • After passing, the worst thing you can do is slip right back directly in front of big trucks and snowplows. They can’t stop as quickly as you can in dry weather—what makes you think they can in worse conditions? 

21.  Don’t use cruise control and keep both hands on the wheel. By now it should be pretty obvious why.

22.  Get winter tires. If you live in or anticipate driving regularly in areas with icky winter weather, one of the best safety investments you can make is to get winter or snow tires. The two are slightly different—snow tires have less highway stability and are noisier but have better ice traction than their winter tire counterparts. But both differ from regular all-season tires in that they’re made with softer rubber compounds that don’t become as hard and rigid in very cold temperatures, they have different tread designs that “bite” better in snow and ice, and they tend to be wider. In fact, a quality winter or snow tire on a front-wheel drive car can make it just as good as an all-wheel drive vehicle. And winter tires paired with an AWD or 4WD vehicle can make an almost unbeatable combination. Since I started using winter tires five years ago, I’ve really noticed the difference at both low and high speeds. Studded tires, however, are less advisable, unless you live in really extreme conditions. They destroy asphalt and can actually make stopping more dangerous on regular pavement.

23.  Take a winter driving clinic. Some car clubs, automakers, and motoring organizations offer winter and ice driving clinics where, with the help of qualified instructors, you can practice emergency braking, slalom steering, drifts, slides, and skids. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for how your vehicle behaves on less-than-ideal surfaces before an emergency situation arises, and they can be a whole lot of fun as well. The lessons learned in these clinics can save your life. But a word of caution: Don’t get too overconfident as a result. Remember, always drive for the conditions, know the limits of yourself and your vehicle, and don’t underestimate the risks.

Do you have any other winter driving thoughts or tips to share? Questions? I'd love to hear them. Continue the conversation by commenting below or emailing me directly at miae@whatnowdesign.com.

Have a safe, happy holiday and New Year!

 

Thursday
Apr072011

Lane Hygiene Primer, Part 1: On the Highway

One problem I see constantly on the road are drivers not knowing how to smoothly and safely navigate their lanes. This is such a ubiquitous issue, one that involves safety, timing, traffic flow, road rage, constant near-misses, and accidents, that it warrants explanation on what the different lanes are for and how to drive in them. Lanes work differently for highway and urban city driving, and this rather long entry will cover highway usage, to be followed next time by city driving.

By highway usage, I mean roadways with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, and especially areas where there are more than two lanes of traffic going in the same direction. Most urban highways contain at least three, and sometimes up to six lanes, depending on congestion levels.

Passing Lane

Most of us remember from driver’s ed that the right lane is for slower drivers and those exiting or merging, while the left lane is the “fast lane,” for passing only. The middle lane, if there is one, is often recommended by motorist handbooks for the smoothest driving. If there are only two lanes, then they recommend staying in the right lane only except to pass.

These are excellent guidelines that should be regularly heeded. But real-world driving is often messier than this, and to follow such rules rigidly sometimes also makes for difficult traffic flow. All drivers should practice what I call good lane hygiene—that is, being aware, cooperative, and not impeding traffic.

On many quieter parts of the interstate, there are often only two lanes in either direction. Slower vehicles (such as tractor-trailers, RVs, or vehicles pulling trailers) usually occupy the right lane. Faster-moving vehicles usually travel in the left lane, sometimes only for passing, and then they often move back into the slower-paced right lane. But sometimes there is so much traffic in the right lane that the faster vehicles never return back to the right lane and just continue to travel in the left lane. This also happens on many urban highways where congestion clogs up multiple right lanes and traffic naturally sorts itself out between faster- and slower-moving strings.

The trouble comes when people forget that the left lane is really meant to be a passing lane. In other words, you probably shouldn’t be in this lane unless you’re passing, period. Many states have signs to remind motorists of this fact. 

Many drivers, having forgotten this and who are also not in the habit of being situationally aware, squat in oblivion in the left lane and profoundly annoy the people who are in fact trying to pass, causing long lines of traffic to bunch up behind them or faster traffic to attempt to pass on the right, which is considerably more dangerous. Other drivers exercise their self-righteousness, proclaiming that as long as they are doing the speed limit, they are justified in staying in the left lane and morally obligated to make other less law-abiding drivers do the same.

 

 

In this case, it is not your place to make other drivers obey speed limits; leave that for law enforcement and state patrol. Many states have statutes that make it illegal to fail to yield to traffic that seeks to overtake in the left lane, or to create any other "obstruction" in the passing lane that hinders the flow of traffic, regardless of the speed at which the motorist in the left lane is traveling. Many state patrol officers do not ticket for this because they prefer to spend their time enforcing more dangerous infractions: speeders, drunk drivers, etc., but they acknowledge the traffic-flow and potential safety problems that left-lane squatters cause and they can legally ticket for this offense.

But what if the right lanes are congested, and traveling in the left seems to be a safer way to drive more smoothly and steadily, given the fact that it might be more dangerous and disruptive to constantly change lanes back and forth? I would say that in this real-world case, traveling longer distances in the left lane is perhaps permissible, but ONLY if you are constantly monitoring that you are not impeding the flow of traffic. In other words, you should be checking your rearview mirror constantly, at least every few seconds (and you should be routinely doing that anyway as part of safe driving), and move over promptly to the right to let traffic behind you continue unimpeded. And don’t get in the habit of regularly traveling in the left lane just because you want to be lazy.

 

Example of carpool or HOV lane, with the diamond icon in the roadway. Photo taken over Interstate 91 in Connecticut. Source: en:User:Rhobite 10/1/2004.

HOV or Carpool Lanes

Another type of lane is the carpool lane, or HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane. These are lanes (usually the far left but sometimes the far right) that are used by buses, carpools, and sometimes decaled electric vehicles and motorcycles on urban freeways that experience significant congestion during peak traffic hours (such as commuting times). Regulations vary, and you must pay attention to how and when you use these lanes. Most require only two passengers in the car (and no, pregnant women do not count as two people), but some require three or more. Some are considered HOV 24 hours a day, while others are HOV only at certain hours of the day but are unrestricted outside those times.

HOV lanes are not considered passing lanes, and single-occupant vehicles are never allowed to legally enter them to pass slower traffic. Confusion (and resulting annoyance) sometimes arises when carpool traffic of varying speeds use the far-left HOV lanes. Just as with non-HOV lanes, if you see that you are significantly impeding the flow of traffic, it is probably best to move over to the right to allow faster-moving vehicles to pass.

 

A better look at the green and blue (express lane) signs along Highway 401's collector/express system. Source: James Bancroft (Truvelo).

Express Lanes

This is another type of lane that typically exists on urban highways where there is heavy traffic in certain directions at regular times. As an example, these lanes, which are often physically separated or barricaded from general-purpose lanes, open for one direction during the morning, then temporarily close, and then reopen for traffic traveling in the opposite direction in the afternoon. Typically express lanes have much more limited exit options than general-purpose roadways, so know that if you enter them that you may not be able to take your usual routes off them. Just as with regular highway lanes, these lanes may be open only for carpool and HOV traffic or for single-occupant vehicles. All the same passing rules as for regular highway lanes apply.

 

Not one of the best merges ever undertaken. Source: http://forums.vwvortex.com.

Merging and Planning 

If I had one wish that I’d want drivers to follow, it would be to properly plan for merging drivers. In other words, if you don’t need to be in the right lane where you know a jillion (or even one) motorists are going to be merging onto the freeway, then don’t. Be nice and move over to the middle lanes and give the mergers plenty of room to join the flow of traffic. If you need to be in the right lane because you yourself are exiting, then anticipate for mergers by slowing down accordingly and giving them room. The idea here is to avoid unnecessary braking, which in turn impedes traffic flow; a single putting on of brakes may ripple backwards in traffic and trigger unnecessary slowdowns. But if you modulate your speed precisely enough to avoid applying your brakes, you will be doing traffic behind you a favor by causing it to adjust their speeds more smoothly in turn.

When you are merging onto highways and other high-speed roadways, it is very important to accelerate to a speed that matches what other traffic is going at the point at which you join it. This may be very counterintuitive and downright terrifying to new or inexperienced drivers (it was to me when I was in driver training), but few things will cause an accident quicker than if you crawl into fast-moving traffic too slowly or worse yet, stop suddenly before merging. Driving is an activity of assumption: Other drivers will assume that you will be merging onto a highway at a reasonably fast speed and will be watching out for you. It is your job to meet that expectation of traffic flow, and to be equally alert for any sudden slowdowns, lane changes, or acceleration of traffic in front or behind you. Take equal care to merge smoothly, not abruptly, into traffic.

In the next entry, I will cover how to drive smoothly in city traffic and what to watch for in different lanes in these more challenging environments.

 

Thursday
Feb102011

10 Ways To Improve Your Driving Immediately

Don't try this on the move, like I've seen some people do. Scary.

This week I am in the middle of both packing for an impending move and getting ready for a long road trip to the frozen Midwest. So this post will be short and sweet, but hopefully you’ll find it useful.

Regardless of your skill level, here are 10 ways to immediately improve your driving:

1.  Learn to scan the road at least a quarter of a mile ahead. This will help you anticipate and strategize for changing conditions and traffic.

2.  Don’t be a road potato and hog the left lane. Move over to the right and let faster drivers pass.

3.  If you’re behind a tall delivery truck or a semi on streets with traffic lights, don’t follow it too closely. If he runs a yellow light, you may not see that the light has turned red until the top of his vehicle clears the light and you’re smack in the middle of the intersection.

4.  Regardless of what else you may be doing in your car while driving, don’t take your eyes off the road for more than a second at a time. Less is better.

5.  Hesitation or indecision can be deadly at intersections and when changing lanes on the freeway. Be decisive and prompt in your intentions and actions.

6.  If you’re stopped for a red light at an intersection, quickly look both ways before you go on the green light to check for red-light runners.

7.  Don’t brake unless it’s really necessary. Don’t accelerate unless it’s really necessary. Keeping a light foot on both pedals saves both gas and your brakes.

8.  Never, ever text when you’re driving. Texting has been proven to be more dangerous than  driving under the influence of alcohol.

9.  Think twice at intersections. Every time you push a yellow light, you may be forcing someone oncoming who is caught in the middle of the intersection to go on a red.

10.  When you parallel park or do a 3-point turn, crank the steering wheel in the direction you want before you start moving the car. It makes all the difference in the world.