A bit of driving advice was not just the ticket


December 09, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TIME TO take care of some responses to recent columns. The day after Thanksgiving "G. Smith" sent a flaming e-mail. Because I can't print most of its contents, I'll summarize: Apparently he followed advice I provided in the Thanksgiving week column, which provided unwritten rules for holiday travel and received a ticket for his trouble.

One of those unwritten rules is, indeed, written down in various states' traffic laws, including those of Maryland and Delaware. Except it is the opposite of what I advised you to do.

Here is what the offending column said: "If you come up behind a slowpoke cruising in the left lane, give the driver a few seconds to see you and then politely flash your lights at him to move over." Mr. Smith's ticket cited him for speeding (which I certainly don't advocate) and "flashing lights illegally."

I also heard from Marilyn Pontell, who told me of her husband's experiences. "Well, my husband did that exact thing [flash headlights] on I-95 a little while ago and was pulled over. The officer said that flashing your lights is aggressive driving and warned him not to do it again. He only [got a] warning, but has not done it since (but has had tons of occasions when he would have liked to). We would like to know if in fact it is permissible. And if not, how can we get our message to the slowpoke in the left lane?" she said.

I spoke with Sgt. Lisa Myers in the office of public affairs for the Howard County police. The ticket and the warning tell the story. "While it is often considered a courtesy to flicker headlights at a slower vehicle in front of you, flashing lights is illegal," she said.

Unfortunately, Ms. Pontell, I don't know of any other way to politely encourage slower drivers to move to the right. Instead, I recommend that everyone play it safe and slow down. For the record, I apologize for providing incorrect information. I'll be more careful in the future.

I also received lots of flack about a comment that was in the Nov. 18 column. In answering another question, I mentioned that barefoot driving was one of the joys of summer.

Of course, you all couldn't let it pass. I received several e-mail messages questioning the legality of driving without shoes. Carol Linnard said, "Why would you tell people it's okay to drive barefoot? It's dangerous and illegal." Bob Thompson said, "I would have thought by now you knew that driving barefoot was against the law." John Leone provided an interesting link to www.urbanlegends.com, which says that the idea that driving barefoot is illegal is a myth.

And indeed it is, at least in Maryland, according to Myers. "There is nothing in the law about wearing -- or not wearing -- shoes," she said. "But drivers need to keep in mind when moving their feet between pedals that they will need traction."

And I agree. But I have better traction in my bare feet than I do in many of my shoes, especially the more expensive ones with spikey heels.

And now for a question that has nothing to do with what was published in previous columns: "I wonder what the rule is on the following situation. Can you help?" asked K. Sherrie in a recent e-mail.

"I was coming out of my street onto a main road. A school bus had stopped, to my right, and the back of the bus was about a car length from my street. The cars behind the bus, however, had stopped before my street (leaving several car lengths behind the bus). Could I have come out and made a left, behind the bus, never passing the side or front of the bus?"

If you are less than 25 feet away (letter of law), then you must stop and wait: Kids may be coming up around and behind the bus. Spirit of the law would dictate that you stop and wait, even if your stopping point is farther away because cars are stopped beyond the 25-foot radius. They are not stopped that far away out of courtesy to you, but out of courtesy to the bus driver and the children. Don't take advantage of their courtesy.

You also might open yourself to a ticket if a police officer sees you turning left so close to the stopped school bus. However, you could possibly argue your way out of a ticket by citing the distance between your travel space and the bus if there is more than 25 feet in between. But if making that left turn takes you within 25 feet, you should stop and wait until the bus begins moving, even though your stopping point is not within the 25 feet.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, 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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