Tailgating is no party for highway drivers


May 04, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TAILGATING IS subjective: What's too close for me may be within someone else's comfort zone. But there have been times when I couldn't see a car's headlights in my rearview mirror: Now that's tailgating.

Barb Shepard believes that tailgating, as defined by James Tibbs in the April 13 column, is unrealistic on today's highways. Mr. Tibbs said in that column that there should be one car length for every 10 mph. Traveling 60 mph, there should be at least six car lengths of empty space between your front bumper and the rear end of the car in front of you. Anything closer is tailgating. Defensive driving courses still teach this rule, as did my driver's ed course when I was in high school, oh so many years ago.

Ms. Shepard is not alone in her dissent; she is joined by at least 99 percent of other drivers on our highways. "I don't know if James Tibbs has been out on the highway of late, but if you leave more then one car length, several cars soon fill it up. So if you continue to try to do this, you end up being back where you started," she said.

While the consequences are not that dire, her e-mail challenged me to try the rule and stick to it. Sure enough, she was right. Car after minivan after sport utility vehicle swooped in front of me. It was like watching them park a car going 65 mph.

Round and round

Howard County's roundabouts are a favorite topic for this column, and I've discussed them often. One of my primary complaints is how they are marked. Many of them are clearly two lanes wide and can accommodate two vehicles, but without lane markings inside or signage as you enter, most drivers take their half out of the middle.

That about wraps up my complaints about these circles.

Allen Ross recently noticed a welcome change, so we all owe sincere thank-yous to the State Highway Administration. "In past traffic columns, you have discussed the two-lane-wide traffic circle at Route 104 and Route 100 and the confusion brought about by it. A few weeks ago, new signs were installed on both directions on 104 that show what lanes can be used for what exits from the circle," he said.

"I find it interesting that the southbound sign shows that people in the right lane can either exit at westbound 100, or continue on to southbound 104. That violates the usual circle rule that the inside lane should always exit at the first possible egress," he said. "But I still applaud the signs. They help remove the confusion for drivers, particularly ones encountering this circle for the first time."

Here is a review of basic roundabout rules: For all the circles in Howard County, incoming drivers should yield to drivers already in the circle. And for Pete's sake, if you're already in the circle, don't wave in someone waiting to enter. That is misguided courtesy that could have dangerous results.

And in general and unless otherwise indicated by signs, exit a roundabout from the right lane.

Worst places to drive

Matthew Hahn has some concerns about Dobbin Center Way, calling it the most hazardous part of his journey.

"Since Starbucks opened, drivers come flying out of the parking lot with their lattes, making a left at a T-intersection without a stop, without a signal, without a thought in their heads. At the red light on Dobbin Road, cars make rights on red without yielding to cars that have the green light," he said.

But wait. There's more. "And even cars parked in the lot pose a hazard, parked against curbs painted yellow as though it is just decoration and turning a two-lane way into one. Do these people really think that their cars are safer there, where they can be sideswiped by somebody in fourth gear?" he asked.

Eric Buckner takes issue with the hazards of Interstate 70. "My commute each morning takes me across I-70 to [U.S.] 29 to downtown Columbia. It amazes me that the speed limit of 65 mph on I-70 is totally ignored and largely unenforced. I enter I-70 from the Security Boulevard park and ride direction," he said. "On most mornings, it is very difficult to negotiate changing lanes (you enter [I]-70 from the fast lane) to get to the slow lane where I usually drive between 65 and 70 mph. Most commuters average 75 to 85 mph and higher, make dangerous lane switches at high speeds, and tailgating seems to always be in vogue even in the far right lane. [U.S.] 29 is not much different."

Mr. Hahn and Mr. Buckner have shared their worst places to drive. What are your nominations for the area's worst places to drive for Traffic Talk's coming Top Ten Countdown?

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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