Whatever the rationale behind the license-free fishing day, I think Minnesota decided to offer the same one-day free pass to unlicensed drivers today. I do realize that anyone who drives in any kind of traffic every day regularly encounters their fair share of morons, assholes, and incompetents, but truly, today the ratio of normal, attentive driving to jackassery was entirely skewed beyond belief. And so in response, I offer a few tips... a public service tutorial, if you will... a refresher course on some rules and standards for respectable driving behavior that I think we'd all appreciate everyone abiding by. Ready? Here we go.
- The left lane of each half of a divided highway serves two main purposes: passing and driving at least four miles per hour above the speed limit. If you are doing neither and there is ample space for you in the right lane, move the hell over.
- Littering is littering, no matter how small the item you're tossing. Yes, ashtrays are gross and I imagine cleaning them out is a nuisance, but so is smoking itself (gross and a nuisance). The world is not your ashtray; quit tossing your butts out the window (particularly if they're going to bounce squarely onto the windshield of the car behind you when driver of said car is already in none-too-friendly a mood).
- The longer, skinnier one on the right is the gas pedal. The pressure and frequency with which you press it affects the number that the needle reaches on your speedometer. Those rectangular white signs with numbers on them on the side of the road indicate the speed limit. Do what you need to do to make those numbers correlate. Ideally, the number you shoot for on your speedometer should be at least a few notches higher than the number on those signs, but I realize not everyone sees things that way. There was an episode of "Growing Pains" once where Mike, Carol, and Ben's grandma, upon being chastised for her slow driving, responded, "Fifty-five is the limit--the limit! It doesn't mean you have to go that fast!" Don't listen to Grandma Seaver. The speed limit is just a suggestion--a guideline, really.*
- When your half of an intersection has a stop sign or a red light and the cross traffic does not, you do not have the right of way. It is not OK to just pull on out into the lane of oncoming traffic and assume that traffic will slam on their brakes to wait for you. I repeat: not OK. Frankly I can't even believe I have to mention this.
- On the flip side, when you arrive at a stop sign and it's unquestionably clear that there's no car in sight from the intersecting directions, a brief stop is really all that's necessary before continuing onward. Delaying any longer makes me wonder if you're seeing imaginary pedestrians or if perhaps you're just a hopelessly slow reader. ("S-T-O-P... Oh. It says 'Stop.'" Yes; yes it does. Now GO.)
- As long as we're talking about stop signs, let's review the rules of conduct for four-way stops, shall we? First, as you approach the intersection, pay attention. Look around. See who's approaching at the same time as you and who was already there before you arrived. If you have that information, the procedure for who goes when is really pretty simple: (a) Anyone who reached a full stop in front of their stop sign before you stopped at yours goes first. (b) If you reached a full stop at the same time as anyone else, look to your right. That person gets to go before you. If someone to the right of that person stopped simultaneously as well, that person goes first. It's that simple, really. You don't get to skip ahead and not wait your turn just because you're quicker with the gas pedal or you had a bad day or your great aunt's hairdresser's third cousin is the Queen of England. Wait your turn. Likewise, if it is your turn and you have the right of way, take it. I know it's Minnesota and we're all supposedly nicey-nice and "Oh, no, you first; really." Stick with the program. It's so much easier.
- Back to stop lights for a minute. When the light is red at an intersection with no left turn lane, you cannot assume that everyone in front of you is turning left and pretend the right shoulder is an actual traffic lane that you can use to skip ahead of everyone. I know there's some confusion as to whether and when it's acceptable to go around a car rather than waiting for him or her to turn. In no circumstance, however, is it OK to go around seven cars who may all be proceeding straight.
- You really do need to check your blind spot before changing lanes. I know, I know--we all slip on this one sometimes. But it's important. Really. Check it!
- Turn signals aren't for sissies. They're helpful cues. Use them, would you?
- If you don't know where you're going or think you may have missed your turn, do the rest of us a favor and pull over while you figure it out. Oh, and by "pull over," I mean properly pull over--out of the lane of traffic and completely onto the shoulder or parking lane. Oh, and use your signal when you do it; don't just hit the brakes and sort of drift on over. Got it?
* Update: The more I think about this, the more I think it was actually an episode of "Roseanne" where this transpired, not an episode of "Growing Pains," as I originally remembered. Regardless, whether it was Grandma Seaver or Grandma Conner, don't listen to her!