Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driving 101

It's that time of year again when I have to write a post about how to drive mountain roads and rural highways. There were more out-of-state license plates on the road today than otherwise, and one of those drivers nearly killed me. I was driving home from work on a two-lane mountain highway (one lane in each direction) with no passing lanes. The speed limit there is 45 MPH with an occasional 35 MPH on a tight curve. I and dozens of other poor fools got stuck behind a tourist who was too busy enjoying the scenery to drive the speed limit. This guy was going 35 MPH on the straight-a-ways and 20 MPH around each curve. The law states that if you have a number of vehicles lined up behind you on a two-lane highway with no passing lanes, you must pull over at the next vista.

This guy, being oblivious, just kept cruising right past vista after vista despite people flashing their lights at him. Finally, the people between him and me couldn't take it anymore and crossed over the double yellow line (illegal) into the oncoming lane (dangerous) just to get away from this annoying driver. People were making desperate moves to pass him. When it was my turn to deal with the inconsiderate driver, we were approaching an intersection where we would turn onto a 4-lane highway and I could pass legally. I decided to wait for that opportunity to pass safely.

We came to a fork in the road and he started to go right while I started to go left. He suddenly decided he was going in the wrong direction, and flew right over the center divider at the side of my truck. I had to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid getting hit. You can bet I leaned on my horn and had a few choice words. I finally woke the guy up and made him realize that he was not the only driver on the road, so he pulled over, which is what he should have done half an hour earlier when he drove past the first in a series of vistas.

Once I got off the mountain and into some valley driving, it didn't get much better. I was now on a 4-lane highway. If you are from a big city, you are used to driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Freeways are more like log jams. It doesn't matter which lane you get into, because they are all at a standstill. However, when you come to visit your cousins in the country, you discover that the roads aren't as crowded and you actually have some space to maneuver around. Therefore, we country folk have a rule that you drive in the right-hand lane and pass in the left-hand lane. There's always going to be someone who is driving slower than you and someone else who is driving faster than you, so pass the slower driver, but then get back over into the right-hand lane so that others can pass you.

I got stuck behind a guy who was driving 15 MPH under the 65 MPH speed limit in the right-hand lane. Just when I was about to pass him, the guy behind me pulled into the left-hand lane, drove right up next to me and stayed there for miles and miles and miles. I couldn't get over to pass the guy in front of me. I couldn't get over if I needed to make a left-hand turn. I had nowhere to go if a deer or dog ran out in front of me. I was boxed in, despite not another driver being behind me or in front of the guy in front of me for miles. Here were these three drivers all clumped together moving at 50 MPH in a 65 MPH zone. I felt so frustrated that I almost pulled over to the side of the road just to get out of that unwanted group hug.

My husband taught me the trick of drifting into the other driver just enough to scare him so that he gives you some space. I tried that with this guy but he must have been on drugs or half asleep, because he didn't notice my truck drifting closer and closer, nor did he notice my turn signal. So, I was just stuck in that spot for a good 15 miles. My honking policy is that I only use my horn when another driver is about to hit me. I don't use it to urge people to pass me or go faster, because I don't want to scare someone into an accident. If the accident is already happening, that's one thing, but if another driver is just being mindless, I keep quiet and pray to get away from him.


1. Drive in the right-hand lane.
2. Pass in the left-hand lane.
3. Use your turn signal and look over your shoulder BEFORE turning your steering wheel.
4. Pull over if you see that you are causing a bottleneck.
5. Be aware that though you may be on vacation, the rest of us still have places to go and things to do.
6. Realize that a vehicle is a weapon and can kill.

Sometimes I think if more drivers felt the fear that us horseback riders feel when riding a young, inexperienced horse, they'd be safer, more thoughtful drivers.


fernvalley01 said...

Amen to that! Do you think we could have that posted on thier windshields? shouldn't matter about the visibility ,half of them aren't looking at the road anyway!

lytha said...

NM, *NEVER* come to Seattle. It will make you crazy! People do not have the "left lane for passing" rule at all. In fact, I'm still learning it here, on the autobahn, where it is of utmost, utmost relevance to get the frak out of the way of the light-speeding BMWs (they're going way faster than my 160 kph (100 mph)).

In fact, the middle lane, if there is one, is a delicate situation too, where you should only be passing if you're in it. I am from Seattle, and the Germans tease me when I "sit" in the middle lane, only barely faster than the right lane cars. Oops. Gotta stop that.

Basically, driving here is all about changing lanes continually, adjusting for people going slower or faster. It's extremely nerve-wracking to be on the autobahns. I swear, driving a horse trailer helped me, because you have to be ultra-vigilant. Here you must drive a lot from your rear-view mirror. Someone slides up behind you suddenly, usually a BMW, and you almost cannot even see their headlights they're so close, and if you don't get over instantly, they flash you, and when you do get over, get ready to slam on your brakes cuz the other lane is going so much slower.

No speed limit is nice when you need it, but you need strong nerves.

I hear Italy is worse, so I don't plan to go there. Happily, whenever my man visits America, he gets behind the wheel and has no problem at all adjusting to our laid back ways. The Seattle drivers make everyone crazy, but the lanes in America are so wide, and 65 or 75 mph feels so slow, it's a relaxing experience to drive back home.

OH, you mentioned honking - you have the total Seattle honking philosophy down. We only honk when a collision is imminent! Seriously, we are the politest drivers in the world. Also, we are usually talking on the cell phone, so that hand is taken.

Thanks for the fun post, I'm still getting the hang of this.

~lytha in the land of treacherous autobahns

Saddle Mountain Rider said...

That delay of vehicles on mtn highways in this neck of the woods is enough to razz my berries. These people are such knuckleheads.
gets me riled up just thinking about it.

Leah Fry said...

Oh man, I hear you! I got stuck behind someone doing 50 in a 70 zone last night on a 2 lane, and there was plenty of room for him to pull over. Courtesy, people!

deserthorses5 said...

I hear 'ya about driving on mountains roads! The road I drive up to see the horses is a 2 lane, VERY NARROW and curvy road. It is one of the deadliest roads in the nation. Motorcycles drive by at over 80 mph and several have been killed. Sometimes drivers don't pull over and that is extremely frustrating when they don't know the "mountain rules"...i.e. PULL OVER at a turnout! There aren't many turnouts and when some IDIOT is driving 20 mph (I believe the speed limit is 40, along with some 30 mph curves), cars get impatient. As a courtesy, I ALWAYS pull over if there are more than 2 cars behind me! My cousin counted the curves one time...66 of them from her mountain home down to the desert!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

lytha - Ha ha! I thought you might have some commentary on the autobahn. It really is all a matter of perspective, isn't it? Thanks again for bringing a bit of Germany to me.

Andrea said...

It is a hassle when people don't relize the rules of the road. I hate it when people get really close behind me and flah their lights. One lady did this to me the other day. I was going 70 in a 60. And there was a car to my right. It was a construction zone, so I wasn't about to go any faster. She kept tailgaiting me and flashing her lights. If she really had an emergency she should use her hazzard lights. Until then, she can wait for me to pass the car to the right of me. I was already speeding. Ugh....

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Andrea - I agree that as long as you are passing, though you may be passing slower than others might in the left-hand lane, people need to be patient. I just don't want people to drive next to others for miles and miles, thus blocking everyone behind them from being able to pass. Tailgaiting is dangerous, but so is driving right next to other vehicles in a rural area where animals jump out into the road.

sue said...

I don't know about "mountain driving" but having lived on the ocean for most of my life.. I know exactly what you are talking about... on the road, the tourist are slow, uncaring and don't even seem to know that some of "us" live there and have things to do... on the other hand, meet those same people in the grocery store, and they run their carts up on your heels, put their groceries on the belt right behind yours, or groan and carry on because you are being too slow and after all "they are on vacation and need to get to the beach".... no pleasing some I guess... but I am awfully clad that you weren't killed or had your car wrecked!!!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sue - Yes, I've noticed that people from different areas have different supermarket etiquette as well. For years I've been thinking about writing a book on supermarket etiquette... like if you need to think about your selection and read labels, pull your cart off to the side so people can pass. If someone needs to reach for something where you parked, push your cart forward or back to let them in. If you see someone you know and want to talk, don't do it in the middle of an aisle and ignore all the people trying to get around you. Give people their space in line at the counter. Let them punch in their PIN code without having you looking over their shoulder. Let them put their change away and get their receipt before pushing them out of the aisle at the register...

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Whew I hear ya girl.

My pet peeve is when yhou;re supposed to merge onto a road or a highway, and there is even an extra labe, empty added for his purpose, but still the person/s in front of you don't merge into th lane...No. THEY STOP. Jeez!

Do you know that I haven't driven in almost 3 weeks. And it will be at least abother 2-3 weeks before I'll be allowed to drive.
Weird saying that. I can't quite grasp it. haha