Unwritten rules are not written for good reason


July 10, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TWO WEEKS ago, I asked for suggestions for unwritten rules that we should live and drive by. I received quite a few, which I will be sharing over the next few weeks.

But Jon Merryman thinks I should put the brakes on this idea.

"The problem with unwritten rules is that many people have their own set of rules they think everyone else should follow to mesh ever-so-nicely with their own bad habits," he said. He worried that with all these different sets of unwritten rules, road rage will result. He correctly noted that, in fact, there are written rules to cover most every circumstance on the roads, and those should suffice.

"If everyone follows those laws, we won't need so-called `unwritten rules.' Our problems aren't usually in the rear or side view mirrors, but rather in the vanity mirror," Mr. Merryman said.

That said, he offered an unwritten rule that he wishes drivers would follow: "Set the example for your children each and every time you get behind the wheel," he said.

Keep your suggestions for unwritten rules of the road coming!

`They've been warned'

Ralph Pratt responded to last month's column on tailgating, noting that he typically drives about 10 mph faster than the speed limit, usually in the left lane. "On the back of my pickup truck, I have a bumper sticker stating, `You tailgate? I slow down.' They've been warned," he said.

"If a person tailgates, I pump the brakes just enough to flash the brakes without slowing down. A lot of people understand that they are riding too close," he said. "But if the idiot still tailgates, I slow down to about 5 miles below the speed limit. If [the other driver] doesn't back off, I jab the brakes for a second. Then I do about 10-15 mph below the speed limit."

Mr. Pratt notes that this method is effective. "Rarely do I have a problem with them staying behind me for any real distance. They get [angry] and ride real close for a short distance occasionally. But after about 1/2 to 1 mile at 10-15 mph lower than the limit, they'll [pass on the right]. Then I speed up to what I was doing before."

He noted he often receives an unfriendly gesture.

I don't doubt it. Your method of dealing with tailgaters is incredibly dangerous, not to mention illegal. Maryland law insists that you yield to faster drivers - even if you're already speeding. Even if they're tailgating. Just move your vehicle and your ego to the right and let them by.

If someone is tailgating me, if I can, I move to the right. If I can't yield, I often give the tailgating driver a friendly wave (if they're that close to me, surely they must be a friend or relative, right?). The friendly wave (and I mean friendly: all five fingers close together, but not balled up into a fist) seems to work: The driver usually backs off. In fact, I think tailgating is often the result of inattention, or perhaps just different opinions about how close is too close. I don't purposely tailgate - I just don't have the stomach to risk my life on something so foolish. But sometimes I realize the driver in front of me thinks I'm too close. If you think I'm tailgating, I'd appreciate a wave to let me know to back off a bit instead of a stupid display of driving behavior.

A safe distance

Speaking of too close, Alan Starr responded to last week's suggestion to leave two seconds worth of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. "When I took driver's ed, it was a seven-second rule. Think about it: If the car ahead of you slams on its brakes, how long will it take you to avoid hitting them? Not only that, you should have an `escape route' that allows you to swerve if you need to," he said.

Good points. But have you ever left seven seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you? In no time at all, three other vehicles have slipped in, and suddenly your seven-second buffer is back down to two seconds. I've been experimenting lately. About three seconds worth of space - at 55 mph - is about all other drivers will allow you in rush hour traffic. Any more, and they cut in front of you.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.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. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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