Driving Friendly

— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on  11 May 2014, was last revised on 19 May 2014. © Govinthenews Vol. 5:05(1).

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The Texas state motto, Friendship, was adopted by the Forty-first Texas Legislature in February 1930. The motto is appropriate, because the word Texas (alternately spelled Tejas and pronounced “TAY-hoss”) is the Spanish pronunciation of a Caddo Indian word which, when translated into English, means “friends” or “allies.”

During the early 1970’s, the slogan “Drive Friendly, the Texas way” began showing up on bumper stickers affixed to Texas automobiles. Years later, the welcome signs at every major highway entering Texas from surrounding states began displaying a shortened version, “Drive Friendly,” and today all such welcome signs are required to contain that slogan. Today’s TXDOT slogan is “Drive Friendly. Drive Safe”. That, too, is apropos, as driving in a friendly manner usually results in much safer travel.

One might presume from the foregoing that we Texas drivers are a friendly bunch. Sometimes we are, but — sad to say — not as a rule. A case can be made that native Texas drivers are more friendly than others, but these days Texas roads host drivers from all over the world. The evidence suggests that driving habits, worldwide, are generally atrocious. In point of fact, they are, as drivers from practically everywhere willingly attest. Statistics bear that out, but some places are unusually friendly places to drive. If you live in Israel, Sweden, and a few other countries where driver courtesy is a way of life, you are indeed lucky in this respect. But most other places are quite different. Why?

Back in the 1960’s when I first moved to Texas I was struck by how courteous Texas drivers were then. Mind you, I was arriving from New York, where drivers were — at the time — quite discourteous. Even today, the idea that native Texas residents tend to be friendly and respectful of their fellow drivers continues to persist, in — for example — advertisements for the Texas-based Frost Bank.

The Frost Bank motto is “We’re From Here”. It’s true, as that bank has served Texas residents, exclusively, since 1868. In one of that bank’s most iconic TV commercials an old pickup is shown driving down a winding Texas road. As the driver meets a series of vehicles coming the other way, he raises a couple of fingers in a friendly salute, and the oncoming drivers, one after the other, reciprocate in a way that suggests they do it all the time. I’ve practiced that friendly courtesy, on narrow, low-speed Texas roads, many times. Much of the time the other drivers respond accordingly. Drivers everywhere do the same, I suspect. Which means, to me, that driving friendly is something all of us can do, once we understand why it is so important.

Why Driving Friendly is so Important…

In the lives of most human beings, common courtesy and respect for one another is ingrained into our spirits. Yet, when the average person takes hold of a steering wheel and drives onto the streets and thoroughfares of America, those traits practically disappear. In their stead are fierce competition, disrespect for others and the law, and a panoply of egregious discourtesies.

The price for this curious transformation is what we tend to call traffic accidents. Yet, most “accidents” are anything but; they result from deliberate acts that can and should be avoided. Often the consequences are serious injury or death. As such they are totally preventable. That’s what driving friendly does; it prevents accidents. And the injuries and deaths that occur when automobile accidents take place.

This Article’s Focus

While this article may, from time to time, address how Texas and other American drivers actually behave behind the wheel, focusing on that alone would be unfriendly. Our primary focus, though, is on how we ought to drive, which is quite another story. The logic behind good, friendly driving behavior is compelling. It has saved my life more than once, and it can save yours, too. That’s a worthy goal, so, let’s get to it…

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How to drive friendly

Share The Road: The Golden Rule Come’s First…

The Texas Department of Transportation asks Texans to help keep our roads safe by “sharing the road”. That sounds pretty simple, but what does it really mean? First of all, it requires us to recognize that we are not the only drivers on the road, and it means that our rights and needs are no greater or more important than anyone else’s. That’s the lesson of The Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you), and the logic behind it is obvious. Why, then is its practical application lost on the majority of today’s drivers?

Rather than dwell on the negative, let’s ask the positive:

How can each of us apply the Golden Rule to our own driving habits? The first thing we must recognize is that the act of driving an automobile is not an intuitive behavior. We have to learn and practice good driving habits, and that is not as easy as we may think, especially if we’ve been driving for years and believe we know all there is to know about how to drive. Good, life saving driving habits require us to:

  • First and foremost, be the adult on the road: That means not being childish. Recognize that your presence on the highway has one object, getting you safely to your destination. If you have any other reason for driving, your priorities need to be adjusted. Children let little things make them angry; adults ignore the little things, and do their best to manage their displeasure even when big things are involved. It is childish to consider your fellow drivers as competitors; safe driving is not a competition, it’s a cooperative effort on everybody’s part. Adults overlook rude behavior on the part of others, especially while driving, because taking rudeness personally leads to dangerous confrontations that not only put you and the other driver at risk, but endanger everyone driving nearby as well. Be the adult. Ignore slights caused by others, but always be ready to give your fellow drivers the benefit of a doubt, even when they seem to be misbehaving. Adults naturally drive friendly
  • Drive the speed limit: Can you drive very far without exceeding the limit? If you can, you are one in a million. Dare to be different! Try driving the speed limit in any lane you happen to be in. Don’t exceed the limit in the fast lane, and try not to drive under the limit while in the left-hand lane of a multi-lane roadway unless absolutely necessary. Once upon a time the speed limits on America’s highways were much too low. Today, at least in most of Texas, that’s no longer true. Now we can drive 75 mph on long stretches of Texas Interstate highways, and 80-85 on some of our toll-ways. In a few places, the speed limit seems too low still, but even there I drop my speed to the posted limit just to remind me that the law should be obeyed even when it seems to be a bit off-kilter. If anything, it gives me and my fellow drivers incentive to talk to TXDOT and our county commissioners about the reasoning behind the posted limits in certain places. After a while, changes get made, and that’s the way it should be. Nobody can complain if you are driving at the posted limit under normal driving conditions, especially if you are doing so in the slow lane. But, unless you are in a marked Department of Public Safety cruiser, equipped with lights and siren, and carrying a badge and a sidearm, don’t try to make everybody else obey the speed limit by hogging the fast lane and driving the posted limit. It’s not your job to enforce the law unless that’s what you are trained and paid to do. When other drivers pass you by at high rates of speed, don’t judge them. They may be on their way to the hospital, one way or the other. Judge your own driving first, and determine to stay out of the hospital emergency room at all costs. That’s driving friendly.
  • Hog the slow lane: What a novel idea! Yet, if you drive the speed limit you will also have to stay out of the fast lane most of the time. The two behavioral traits naturally go together. Try staying in the right-hand or middle lane except to pass or when preparing to exit the roadway. Then, after passing another vehicle, return to the right-hand or middle lane as soon as it is practical to do so. Hogging the fast lane, regardless of what speed you drive, is one of the most discourteous acts you can perform as a driver. It not only angers your fellow drivers, but leads them to behave discourteously to you and others as a result. Think that over. If you do the unthinkable, and hog the slow lane, you not only obey the law, you exert a strong positive influence on your fellow drivers. How many lives might you save in the process? Again, think that over. That’s what friendly drivers do, save lives. That’s really driving friendly.
  • Don’t unwittingly run red lights and stop signs: You probably do your best not to wittingly run red lights and stop signs, right? What if I told you that, if you are like most drivers, you do that all the time? It’s true. Did you know you’re supposed to stop before entering an intersection on a red light or a stop sign, without intruding on the intersection boundary marker? Most intersections are marked, for the lane in which you are driving, with a broad, white intersection boundary marker painted directly on the pavement in thick, white paint. Technically, if your front bumper projects past that broad intersection boundary marker when you come to a stop at a red light or stop sign, you have “run” that intersection, because it is unlawful to enter the intersection without stopping first. Try stopping without projecting into the intersection. It’s the law, because each intersection is designed to provide maximum safety to all drivers when everyone stops behind or at the intersection marker.
  • Do “run” green lights when preparing to turn left at an intersection: When approaching a green light at an intersection where you want to turn left, but oncoming traffic prevents you from making a left turn immediately, you should normally proceed into the intersection with your left-turn indicator on and wait there, either for traffic to clear or for the light to turn so you can then legally make your left turn against a red light once oncoming traffic has come to a stop. Many drivers think that once the light turns red they cannot turn left, but that’s only true if you have not already entered the intersection. Once you enter the intersection legally, on a green or yellow light, you are permitted to proceed with a left turn as soon as oncoming traffic clears. Now, is this important? Yes, in fact it is, because at most intersections the drivers who obey this rule enable two to three or more cars to turn left at the intersection during every cycle of the traffic light. At many intersections, that increases the efficiency of the traffic pattern by as much as 10-30%! It saves time, speeds up the flow of traffic, and makes driving less stressful. On the other hand, drivers who know and practice this simple rule do a  slow boil while sitting behind a driver stopped before the intersection on a green light, who lets the light turn yellow, then red, and waits patiently for the green arrow before turning left. Have you done that? And when you did it, did you think you were the good driver? Think again. That’s the exact opposite of driving friendly…
  • Load up on blinker fluid: Once, years ago, my oldest son noticed I was not always using my turn signal every time I turned. His snide comment cut me to the bone. “What’s the matter dad?” he quipped, “Running low on blinker fluid?” I took the hint, and started trying to do better. Today, years later, I think I’ve finally gotten into the laudable habit of using my turn signal at practically every turn I make. Back in the old days, before that habit became ingrained, I used lots of excuses for not signaling. The all-time best excuse was “Whenever I signal, the other guy pulls up to keep me from turning.” Sometimes that happens. These days, when it does I slow down until the next guy, or the one after that, deigns to let me in. I try not to judge those who don’t seem to notice my signal. If they are so important that letting unimportant me in would make a dent in their ego, I’ll accept that. Maybe they are more important. If not, well, they’ll eventually figure that out and hopefully change their ways. Using your turn signal every time you turn is a way of proving to yourself and your fellow drivers that you value safe driving over inflating your sense of self-worth. Those who refuse to use their turn signals habitually signal something else, that they favor being a bully over being a friend on the highways and byways of life. Driving friendly is more important than bolstering my ego; I hope it’s more important to you, too…
  • Don’t cut other drivers off at intersections: You probably do your best to stay out of the oncoming traffic lane, right? Maybe, maybe not. Most of us do that well when driving down the street, but how well do we do when turning at an intersection? Do you make an extra effort to stay in your lane, and not cut across the opposing lane during the turn? Many drivers, maybe even you, do not. As a result, they cross into the path of drivers in the opposing lane during the turn, and risk causing a serious accident. Next time somebody does that to you, ask yourself if you might be doing it to others. Then start trying to make an effort to stay in your lane throughout every turn at an intersection. It isn’t easy to do, but practice makes perfect. And your fellow drivers will actually notice that you make that extra effort, and — lo, and behold — some, if not most, will even try to emulate your example next time they turn into an intersection. Be a good example for others to follow. That’s driving friendly in a very special way.
  • Avoid confrontational bumper stickers: If you insist on your right to free speech, regardless of the consequences, disregard the following. On the other hand, if safe travel and a long, happy, and fruitful life trumps the momentary joy you get out of ticking off people who think differently than you do, read on: Let’s say you, as the adult on the road, want your fellow drivers to treat you with the utmost courtesy, because you realize that courteous driving is usually the safest. Good, then don’t push your fellow drivers’ buttons with opinionated slogans on your bumpers. The highway is no place to push an agenda that is likely to offend. A bumper sticker touting your political leaning will, today, make about half of your fellow drivers instantly dislike you. Some of your fellow drivers will refuse to give you the right of way just because they disapprove of your politics, your position on gun control, your religious preference, your sexual orientation, or your opinion on the rights of the unborn (either pro-life or pro-choice). Save impressing others with your beliefs for other times, not when you are driving, because it isn’t worth the risk. Not long ago I had a Texas state flag placed on my rear bumper with the words “Don’t Mess With Texas” inscribed nearby. Shortly afterward, while driving on the Interstate at the posted speed limit of 75 mph, a driver of a minority race pulled in front of me, slammed on his brakes, and pumped his fist angrily in the air. A rear end collision was narrowly averted. Over the next several weeks a number of similar incidents, in that same vehicle, made me suspect that other drivers were reacting badly to what I considered a really great slogan. Reluctantly, I removed the words “Don’t Mess With Texas,” leaving the Texas flag, and watched to see what would happen. Nothing. Not one sign of anger from anyone surfaced once the slogan was gone. Evidently a lot of people get their shorts in a knot when someone pushes the idea that Texas is not to be messed with. I still believe that, as strongly as ever, but I don’t advertise my belief on my car’s rear bumper, simply because I can do without having irate, childish people misbehaving on the highway because they disagree with me on that subject. Life is too short… and I’m more into driving friendly than into flashing my personal opinions on my bumper…

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) asks all Texans to help keeping Texas roads safe by (1) sharing the road responsibly with pedestrians and bicyclists, (2) exercising caution in work zones and (3) driving at speeds appropriate to road conditions. Give careful thought to what that really means. It’s more complicated than it seems at first reading.

Today the old “Drive Friendly, the Texas way” slogan has been modified to read “Drive Friendly. Drive Safe.” In other words, driving friendly means driving with safety — not just for you but also for all those you are sharing the road with, i.e. fellow drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists — as your primary objective. But many drivers remain unaware of or choose to ignore traffic laws and the resulting safety issues. These factors, when combined with drivers who exceed the speed limit or don’t pay attention to road conditions, lead to increased vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities that can have devastating consequences for all involved.

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