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Commentary | April 3, 2006

Offensive driving is not a good defense

By Senior Airman Christian Michael 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Not a week passes by when I am not amazed at the driving inability of the residents of Hampton Roads -- military or civilian, transient or native.

Seeing cars make right turns in left turn lanes, pulling out in front of large vehicles or stopping in the middle of a highway for seemingly no reason is not only a common sight, but an expected one here in southeastern Virginia.

Hampton Road’s size in conjunction with never-ending construction projects and narrow bridge-tunnels cause a lot of problems, but must we as motorists suffer from those who so blatantly disregard laws and simple driving etiquette?

Most folks say that everyone else is the problem -- complaining about slowing down when entering the tunnel or getting over into a merging lane at the last possible moment, but when motorists don’t account for other reckless drivers, it only encourages bad motoring all around.

So, next time you’re on the highway, keep a few things in mind:

1. Leave space between you and the car in front of you. The National Highway Administration suggests leaving two seconds of open road between you and the car in front of you. Leave a little more space as you go faster and for inclement weather.
Unless you really need to feel like you’re sitting in his back seat, just leave some stopping space, regardless of if someone takes it or not. Don’t be afraid to allow space to cushion your car against stupid drivers. They’re out there, and they’re not watching.

2. Use your turn signal. It doesn’t take more than a half-second to flip it. And do it before you decide to turn, not while or after turning. It’s not much use at that point anyway.

3. Look before you turn, change lanes or merge. There’s almost a 100 percent success rate of not hitting someone when you actually take a moment to make sure there’s no-one there to hit. Veering into the other lane blindly is not a good way to drive.

4. Red means stop. Even for you in your 80,000 pound, gasoholic Ford Thundertanks. It won’t kill you to slow down. Just try and judge your speed, weight and stopping capability. If you run red lights because everyone else does, you’re no better than the drivers you complain about.

5. Last but not least, tunnel etiquette. First of all, the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is a foot narrower in each lane than the bridge lanes. Any smart driver will slow down in such confining conditions. Also, turning your lights on can help you see when the driver in front of you decides to stop for no reason. It also helps in case the tunnel power goes out unexpectedly.

Don’t assume the driver in front of you drives the way you do -- expect them to drive according the worst possible scenario -- then drive defensively to counter anything that might come your way. And that goes for anywhere you drive, not just in Hampton Roads.

Remember that driving is a privilege, not a necessity or a right. We could all still be using horses and buggies, but technology has blessed us with faster, more comfortable and more enduring modes of transportation. Instead of being angry at everyone else, try to enjoy the ride, view the scenery (but watch the road) and stay safe. It’s not rocket science, but you have to apply what you know, so you can keep what you have.