Road to heaven is paved with intentions


October 16, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER

A colleague at The Sun, upon hearing of this column on local transportation issues, suggested I weigh in on the subject of tailgating.

Recently relocated from Missouri, this gentle soul has been appalled by the degree to which Maryland drivers attach themselves to the rear bumpers of the car ahead of them.

"It seems like the bigger the vehicle - think pickups and Humvees - the worse the offense," she wrote.

Well, with all due respect to my colleague, it's time she gets a grip and learns the local rules.

This also goes for the rest of you who have recently relocated from Oregon, Minnesota or one of those other namby-pamby states where everyone's forever being so "polite" (until they feed each other into wood-chippers).

Forget everything you've learned about rules of the road back home. You notice all those deer and possum and groundhogs lying along the highway? Each was a courteous creature before launching a career as road kill. Don't make the same mistake.

As a veteran of driving on Maryland's roads for more than 30 years, the last two of them as a reporter covering transportation issues, I can assure you that there is a well-defined set of protocols for driving here. You won't find them posted on the Motor Vehicle Administration Web site, but they are emphatically in force - with reciprocity agreements through most of the Northeast. (Actually credit should go to New Jersey, where, as legend goes, they originated.)

So here, for newcomers and those needing a refresher course, are the Ten Commandments of Maryland Driving - annotated for your deeper understanding.

1. Thou shalt not yield the right of way that is thine. If thou art in a lane, with the right to stay there, it is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord to allow another driver to merge ahead of thee. It shows weakness, for which there is no forgiveness. (Among some sects, this commandment is shortened to "Thou shalt not yield. Period.")

2. Thou shalt not permit more than two car-lengths' space to exist between thy vehicle and that ahead of thee if it is proceeding a rate of speed not to thy satisfaction. No dispensation shall be given to vehicles driving at the so-called "speed limit." Tractor-trailers may employ the Mini Cooper car-length standard.

3. Thou shalt not slow for a yellow light. The driver behind thee will plow into thy rear and hold thee to be at fault.

4. Thou shalt not permit road conditions to affect thy rate of speed. Neither rain nor snow nor salt truck shall slow thy progress to Happy Hour. When the sign says 65, that's the snowstorm minimum.

5. Thou shalt brake abruptly when proceeding uphill in snow, and sacrifice thy traction unto the Lord. The Lord will also appreciate the involuntary sacrifices of all the drivers behind thee.

6. Thou shalt make full and righteous use of the shoulders of highways when the travel lanes are blocked by accidents. The Lord is trying to call a soul home to heaven and those siren-jockeys are only interfering with divine will.

7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's Prius. Isn't it about time we phased out that quaint concept of a passenger car?

8. Thou shalt multi-task. Waste not time fixing thine eyes endlessly on the road ahead. Spread good cheer over thy cell phone, and beautify thyself in thy rearview mirror.

9. Thou shalt not signal. The other driver is thine enemy, and to signal a lane change is to give away thine intentions.

10. Thou shalt have one more for the road. With all the other drivers following the first nine commandments, thou shalt need the kind of courage that cometh in liquid form.

Obviously, the full scope of Maryland's unwritten laws of the road cannot be contained in 10 laws. There are a host of corollaries and subchapters I have no doubt omitted. My hope is that readers will share some of the other rules that truly govern Maryland's roads.

Meanwhile, the floor remains open for nominations of the dumbest highway interchange designs in Maryland. Readers have identified some real stinkers, but I know there are even worse out there. So give me your nonexistent merge areas, your corkscrew ramps, your sudden splashdowns into the Autobahn lanes.

Extra credit goes to the reader who can name Maryland's peculiar claim to fame in the history of now-obsolete - but once cutting-edge - highway design. Hint: Woodrow Wilson was president when it happened.

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