Road Rules To Live By

Nobody’s perfect behind the wheel – from the best of us to the worst of us. But it’s not difficult to avoid making common mistakes when driving.

No special skills or training are needed. Just a little forethought — and a little common sense. Here’s a list of particulars — the to do’s (and not-to-do’s):

Maintaining Lane Discipline
All this means is using the left lane to pass — and when you’re driving faster than the traffic around you. Otherwise, stay in the middle or right lane – and always yield to traffic that’s moving faster than you are, even if you’re doing the speed limit. It’s true the car driving above the limit may be breaking the law — but if you’re impeding the flow of traffic, so are you. Besides, it’s not your job to enforce the speed limit — and by allowing cars that want to go faster to get by, you’ll defuse tension (yours and theirs) as well as contribute to a smoother (and therefore, safer) flow of traffic.

Look Left, Then Right — And Then Look Left Again
More than a few accidents that didn’t have to happen happen because a driver pulling out into traffic didn’t look left again before making his move. In the time it takes to make the first left-right scan, a car (or motorcycle) may have (and often does) appear “out of nowhere” coming from the driver’s left. That’s why it pays to look left again – just in case – before you proceed forward.

Headlights On If It’s Raining
Visibility is key to avoiding accidents. When it’s raining, especially. If your car doesn’t have automatic headlights, a good rule to follow is to turn them on whenever it starts to rain. In some states, it’s the law – but it’s common sense everywhere. Also: Don’t be chintzy with the wipers. Use them. That’s what they’re their for. And reduce your speed. That should go without saying. Not only is visibility lower, stopping distances increase and tire grip decreases on wet surfaces – even if you have all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive.

Watch The Yellow Line — And Stay On Your Side Of It
It’s a common sight to see the car ahead wandering across the double yellow – either because the driver’s too busy talking on his cell phone, trying to get something out of the glovebox — or is just plain old addled. On country roads with blind corners, this can lead to disastrous accidents — especially when motorcycles are coming the other way. And even if it’s just sheetmetal that gets mangled, it’s something that didn’t have to happen. An accident, properly defined, is something that was pretty much unavoidable. Allowing your car to wander across the double yellow and into the path of other cars isn’t.

Think About Stopping Before You Need To
If you anticipate the need to slow down – and begin to do so early — you’ll not only save money by decreasing wear and tear on your brake pads/shoes, you’ll be better able to control your car — and keep your passengers comfortable. Just pay attention to the ebb and flow of traffic ahead; when you see the cars way up there beginning to slow, you can gradually lower your speed without having to jam on the brakes. In city/suburban traffic, watch how traffic lights are sequenced. It’s often possible to pace yourself so that you either make it through all or most of the lights without having to speed up/slow down (which also wastes fuel) or, if you need to stop for a red, you’ve got plenty of time to do so gradually – and thus, more safely.

Look Before You Back Up
Many new cars (and especially, large SUVs) are coming with back-up cameras, but that doesn’t mean you can forget about checking your six the good old-fashioned way. To lower your risk of fender-benders (or worse, actually running someone over), scan your mirrors before you touch the shift lever. Then, with your foot on the brake, put the transmission in reverse, so your back-up lights come on and give people nearby a visual cue as to your intentions. Now scan the mirrors again – and if the area behind the vehicle (and to the sides) is clear, slowly begin to back up. The key here is slowly. No “Rockfords” out of the parking lot. Even if the coast seemed clear, by moving slowly and deliberately, you’ll give people and animals you might have missed ample time to get out of the way — and if you do bump into something, the impact is less likely to be catastrophic.

And finally – the Big One:

Avoid Driving Tired — Or Angry
By law, over-the-road truckers may only drive so many hours in a row without time off/sleep. There are no such laws for ordinary motorists – who by and large haven’t got anything approaching the skill or experience or judgment of an experienced OTR trucker. But just because it’s not illegal to drive 12 hours straight with only pee and gas stops doesn’t mean it’s smart. We all have different levels of endurance before our reaction times and perceptions begin to suffer; know yours – and drive within your own limits. Better to take two days to make a trip than spend eternity in a box six feet under. For the same reason, don’t drive when you’re furious. It’s in just such a state that you’re prone to a lapse in judgment you might live to regret.

Or maybe not.

This is a guest post by automotive columnist Eric Peters, check him out on the web at

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