Apologizing for driving error isn't always enough


April 20, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BILLY DIXON responded to a column I wrote last month about aggressive driving, in which I recalled an episode in my driving history that involved careless and distracted driving that offended another driver.

"I want to correct a myth that has been allowed to become fact," he said. "I have found if you do make eye contact and apologize for the infraction, the other driver will give you the wave off and the peace is kept. I have kept note of this and can tell as fact when I don't apologize things can get ugly fast."

For the record, I always try to "apologize" with bashful eye contact or a wave and mouthing the words "I'm sorry" when I'm in error. But that's not always enough for some drivers, and it wasn't for the lunatic who did his best to run me off the highway.

Mr. Dixon also suggested a way to dissipate road rage. "There would no road rage if we would go back to the old rules of the road," he said.

They are:

Slower traffic keep to the right.

Flash to pass (don't do this; flashing lights is illegal in Maryland and several other states).

Bring back the defensive driving campaign from the late 1960s.

Teach people how to get on and off highway ramps.

Highway-lane management: right lane, slow; center lane, moderate; left lane, fast.

While I don't agree that Mr. Dixon's strategies would help in all cases, his suggestions have merit. But please don't flash your headlights at cars you want to pass: As discussed in several previous columns, flashing lights is illegal in Maryland and several other states. And when you're in the wrong, do your best to apologize. But beware: Innocent hand gestures may not seem so innocent to the wronged driver.

I heard from Charles Leonard on April 13. For those who have wiped that April-showers-grow-sodden-May-flowers day out of their memories, it was, in Mr. Leonard's words, "a messy day to be driving on highways."

He noticed a number of drivers who did not have their lights on in the rain. "Although they may be able to see without their lights, it really does help the other drivers to see them, especially on cars that tend to blend into the rainy, misty, gray environment. Also, I believe that there is a law now on the books that requires drivers to turn on their lights when their windshield wipers are on. I often wonder what these drivers must think (or not think) when they see the majority of cars coming towards them with their lights on and they do not have their lights turned on," he said.

Mr. Leonard is correct. Maryland, like many other states, requires drivers to turn on their headlights when their windshield wipers are on.

Jim O'Connor responded to comments by Kate Carter that were included in last week's column about people speeding up or not making any effort to accommodate her as she tries to merge into traffic.

"The magic of the blinker! `I have turned on my blinker, so GET OUT OF MY WAY!' [People who think like that] have no concept of `Yield' as defined by the MVA handbook [Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration Driver's Handbook]. If a person is on the highway, in traffic, and traveling at 65 mph, why should you expect them to stop to let you into traffic? At that point," Mr. O'Connor said, "you are most likely moving at 20 mph below the traffic flow and will impede traffic. Another line needs to be added to traffic manuals: `If you have the right of way, take it and get out of the way.' People who slow down in traffic to let slow-moving vehicles in are a hazard."

Merging onto busy highways often involves a complex give-and-take between the entering driver and the driver on the road. An aware driver can ever so slightly decelerate or accelerate to ensure an oncoming car can smoothly integrate into traffic without impeding the traffic flow. But an aware driver entering the highway should also be watching and gauging his or her speed to openings in the traffic flow that would allow a safe merge. No one entering a highway should expect a golden invitation to get in front.

But I do share Mr. O'Connor's dislike of those who dramatically brake to allow much slower drivers to enter. Hello out there: For optimum safety, when you enter highways, you should enter at the prevailing speed. In some cases, that is the speed limit.

If you enter a highway at a tedious 45 mph, and the rest of the traffic is zooming by at 70, don't be surprised when you suddenly become a hood ornament.

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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