Rules of holiday traffic survival


November 25, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MORE THAN 30 million Americans will join the road's weary motoring masses during the days before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving - more than at any other time of the year. I dread driving during the holiday season so much, in fact, that I eschew the four-hour drive to relatives, and generously invite them to dine at our table.

What makes it worse than it needs to be is that perfectly pleasant people can suddenly make that Jekyll-and-Hyde change the moment they turn the key in the ignition. We can't change their behavior, but we sure can fix ours, so here are some unwritten rules to live and drive by. These are the rules that everyone should know, but clearly many people don't. Feel free to hand a copy to your spouse before pulling out of the driveway.

You can't go wrong with a bit of courtesy. Let others merge into traffic in front of you, and use your signals before turning or changing lanes. If the *#@!! driver won't let you in, calm down - you're probably better off behind anyway. Keep right unless passing another vehicle. If the vehicle behind you flashes its headlights at you, move to the right rather than blowing your gasket. An instinct for your health and longevity should dictate this bit of common sense.

If you come up behind a slowpoke cruising in the left lane, give that driver a moment to notice you and move over. Politely flash your lights to encourage the slower driver to move to the right. Don't flash anything else. Only then consider passing on the right. Or slow down.

Be patient. Don't let yourself be provoked by another driver's aggressive behavior. Just mark it down to a sad lack of etiquette and keep traveling. Getting angry or showing your anger only makes it unpleasant for your passengers and possibly dangerous if the exchange escalates. Your goal is to share the holidays with your loved ones. The best way to get there is to drive peaceably.

Merge at the speed of traffic when entering highways. If traffic is flowing at 35 mph on a 55-mph road, don't let your crankshaft get twisted up about it, just go 35 mph. But if traffic is flowing at 65 mph in the lane you are entering, you risk being rear-ended if you enter at 50 mph. Match the prevailing speed. If it is faster than you want to go, you can slow down gradually over the next mile. The key here is to prevent surprising other drivers.

We've all been stuck in Thanksgiving-related heavy traffic. I wish that every holiday traveler out there would somehow miss the worst of it. But if you do find yourself in heavy traffic, stay with traffic. Don't leave the same amount of space in front of you that you would if you were traveling at the posted speed limit. Leaving too large a space only invites other drivers to cut you off, which they will do (you can count on it, just as you can count on death and taxes).

If you're crossing a busy intersection, scoot up as close as possible to the car in front of you to allow the driver behind you, and possibly the driver behind him or her, to get through the intersection, as well.

Remember that those truck drivers you're cursing probably were the ones who delivered the turkey you're about to eat to the supermarket. They've got blind spots around their trucks the size of some ball fields, so don't get too close. The Law of Tonnage applies here (heaviest vehicle wins, regardless). If they're signaling to change lanes, let them over.

And finally, leave yourself plenty of time to get there. In fact, leave very early. Long lines at tolls and the sheer number of fellow road warriors trying to make it to dinner on time can add up to temper-fraying delays. Don't let it happen to you, unless, of course, you prefer to arrive just in time for the apple pie.

Next week, we'll return to everything you wrote to me about: bare feet, cell phone yakkers, and our daily commutes. Meanwhile, drive safely, drive nice. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information, or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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