It seems obvious, but a lot changed when the pandemic struck. One of the most difficult and lifechanging adjustments was entering quarantine—which we all did to varying degrees. And what happened when everyone was forced to stay home for months?
People stopped driving.
Now, this had a lot of positive impacts; we reduced our general pollution, traffic disappeared, road construction projects continued and finished quickly. Personally, I enjoyed not paying for gas quite as much. But there’s a downside to a mass change like this, too.
People forgot how to drive.
I am being generous with the word “forgot” since we all know that there were people who weren’t great drivers before quarantine. There were also those drivers who took advantage of the empty roads and got comfortable speeding without other drivers present. As quarantine has eased up, and as we continue to navigate pandemic life (that means getting your vaccination and continuing to follow CDC guidelines), more people are returning to the roads. And it doesn’t look great.
As restrictions have loosened and more people are vaccinated, my partner and I have taken to road trips as a safe way to travel and see his family and friends. That means I drive two six-hour stints every few months, and when you do long-distance driving, you start to understand the rules of the road more, and why they’re relevant.
The way I see it, driving is parsed into a few basic principles:
- Drive clearly and predictably so no one crashes
- Drive collaboratively so we can all move faster
- The flow of traffic is the top priority
Maybe you’ve seen that one car that’s flying down the left lane, and you think, “Wow, someone’s in a rush.” I’ve definitely judged those people. Until I was on a 12-hour drive, maintaining a flow of 80 to 85 mph, and became one of those people. Keeping lanes open and moving, and reacting to each other on the road appropriately, is key to maintaining the flow of traffic and protecting everyone’s sanity (not to mention safety).
With that in mind, here are some road reminders so we can all drive more easily with less traffic and frustration.
- It's the PASSING lane, not the fast lane.
Yes, I know, we all refer to it as the fast lane; you know, the lane on the far left where cars are usually zipping by. It’s so tempting to click on your blinker, slide all the way over, and tuck into that speedy lane. But here’s the thing: that lane is supposed to stay empty. The second-to-left lane is the “fast lane” where cars not immediately exiting can flow and continue their journey. The left lane—the PASSING lane—is so that if you’re behind a car going 60 mph, and you want to go 65 mph, you can shift over, speed up, and move back over so you can drive at the speed you want. If there’s a stretch of three cars you need to pass, go ahead. Pass them all. So long as you’re passing other cars, you are justified in being in that lane. HOWEVER. If someone is behind you in the passing lane, wanting to go faster, you need to get over. Even if just briefly. But let them pass. If you are in the passing lane, they have no lane from which to safely pass you. You can always get back into that lane after they speed by to continue your own passing. But please. PLEASE. Understand what that lane is for and use it appropriately.
- It's not personal.
You’re in the left lane, going plenty fast, and I come up behind you. I come in a little close to let you know that I want to pass you. What do you do? You brake check me. WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous that is. We’re moving 70+ mph and you want to brake check me? Are you trying to force my car into yours? My proximity isn’t personal. I’m not judging you or trying to provoke you. I’m trying to communicate in the only way I know how while flying down a road in a big hunk of metal. I’m asking you to move over so I can pass. It’s a driving thing. It’s not personal.
- Communicate clearly.
This one is relevant to life as a whole, but has special relevance to driving. In your hunk of metal, verbal communication with other drivers isn’t really possible. Sure, some people like to speed match, unroll their windows, and try to shout at you—but let’s be real, how safe is that? And can you hear someone through the roar of 60 mph winds? No. But the cool part is that we’ve designed cars with some basic means of communication. The biggest would be the blinker. You use it to signal that you’d like to change lanes or take a turn. Brake lights for, “Hey! Everyone is slowing down! You should, too!” High beams for when it’s seriously dark outside, or to flash another driver who maybe hasn’t noticed that you’d like to pass, or forgot to turn off their own blinker. We’re equipped to communicate on the road for safety. So do it.
- The goal is to always keep traffic moving.
This goes back to all my brake-checkers out there. Unless traffic is slowing, or unless someone does something that requires you to brake (like quickly moving in front of you), you should not be braking on the freeway. Driving, particularly on major roads, is about moving forward. When you approach a merge from an on ramp, you should be accelerating to match the speed of traffic. When you go to change lanes, you should accelerate to your spot, not brake to slip behind (unless it’s necessary). Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic. Nobody wants to get caught in a car crash. Nobody wants their drive to take any longer than it needs to. When we understand that we all share these wants, it becomes a lot easier to collaborate on the road and keep traffic moving.
Driving can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. And driving can be dangerous, but again, it doesn’t have to be. If we follow these basic moves for driving, and if we can all keep our egos off the road, the future of driving can be magnificent. Everyone’s insurance can look spectacularly collision-free. But it takes all of us. And if you can’t drive well, take an Uber.