Ten Tips from a Recovering Motorist

At my current phase of life, my car probably accounts for 10% of my in-town transportation. The rest I am able to accomplish with my bike, or by walking or taking transit on occasion. It was not always that way, though. As I turned 16, I jumped on the first opportunity to take my driver's ed course, complete the training hours, and be among the first of my friends to get a license. I enjoyed being the one to give rides, or to drive around town for errands. But as I got older, I realized there were other ways.

As this website grows, a fair amount of the writing I post may come across as automobile-bashing. I make no apologies for that. In my view, the culture of acceptance of traffic crashes (It's just an accident), gridlock (I'm stuck in traffic again), free parking (It's my right to free storage in public space) and air pollution (It's unhealthy to be outside; stay indoors, but don't stop driving), needs to be put in check. However, I am not intending to shame anyone who needs to drive to accomplish their daily tasks, or simply enjoys the pastime. To that end, this post is addressed to the everyday driver, and is intended to provide some new perspectives on what the privilege of driving can sometimes make us blind to. The following are ten tips on making a drive more pleasant for yourself, and everyone around you, from one recovering motorist to another.

1. Know you are a visitor.  Even if you are just passing through a town (say, Stockbridge, on the way to Great Barrington), you are a visitor for those few minutes and making an impression on the locals who see you drive by. Do what you can to earn their respect.

2. Be humble.  It might be tough to lower your guard while looking down from your lifted F-150, but remember that when you step out (or climb down) from your vehicle, you are a human and a "pedestrian" as well.

3. Don't slow roll. If you are stopping for a person crossing the street, come to a complete stop. It is very intimidating to watch a car inch closer while one is making their way across the street. That goes for turning onto another street, as well. Do not start the turn until everyone has cleared the crosswalk.

Painted yield line, or "shark teeth."

Painted yield line, or "shark teeth."

4. Don't jump the shark (teeth).  Many mid-block and unsignalized crosswalks are accompanied by yield lines, often referred to in the trade as "shark teeth." Those lines are there to provide a comfortable separation between the grill of a car and the rear-end of a pedestrian. If I can reach out and touch your hood while I'm crossing, you stopped too closely. Make every effort to stop before those lines, and know that you are making someone's walk a bit more pleasant.

5. Watch the stop line.  Continuing with street crossings, make sure that you allow your car to stop before the stop line of an intersection, and not on top of a crosswalk. Nothing is more unpleasant on a walk than having a set of wheels stopped in the crosswalk and a humming grill within arm's reach. Take an extra second to make sure there is no one about to cross in front of you, and then pull forward (if at a stop sign), to get a better sight distance.

6. Use indoor voices.  It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a passing driver will make a noise or shout (sometimes innocently) out their window while passing someone walking or biking. Please know that your words will not be heard at 30+ miles per hour, and the experience will be very distracting or intimidating for people on the street. It's better for everyone to just hold your tongue, or chat at the traffic light.

7. Know how speed works.  That isn't meant to come off as insulting intelligence, instead it is important to understand what effect different speeds have on the environment outside your car. It goes without saying to obey the speed limit, but I want to try and convey the effects that an increase from 20 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour has on the surrounding neighborhood. There could be a whole post about this topic alone, but for now I will say that 20 is plenty in any residential neighborhood.

8. Leave the light on.  Daytime-running headlights can really make the difference in the "see and be seen" game. When I'm looking in the rearview mirror on my bike handlebars, or just doing a quick scan of the environment, a pair of headlights will still stick out the most clearly at any time of day. Consider turning them on all the time as a habit.

9. Pass with care.  If overtaking someone biking or walking in the road, there are several options available. If there is a second lane in the same direction, FULLY move into that lane before passing. If the next lane over is not available (or there is only one lane each way), then hit the brakes. Slow down if you cannot provide comfortable passing distance. Many states now have a 3-foot passing law, whereas a driver must provide a 3-foot passing clearance to the side of a bicyclist or pedestrian in any situation. This should be accompanied by a slow-down as well, regardless.

10. Get out on the sidewalks. Observe the effects that careful and careless driving have on your own community firsthand. Many a bumper sticker has helped to elevate the phrase, "be the change you want to see in the world."