Thursday, July 14, 2022

Why Johnny Can’t Drive

View from The Tail of the Dragon on the Tennessee end. 

This isn’t really aimed at anyone named Johnny, or John, or Juan, or Jhonny, or anyone in particular. But, like an old saying Why Johnny Can’t Read, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the state of driving in the USA in 2022.

With a full week off this summer, we headed out on the Interstates and backroads from NY to SC, by way of some fun driving on the Blueridge Parkway in Virginia, and the Tail of the Dragon way out on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Oh, things were great on the Blueridge and the Dragon; no issues, and the drivers there were very safe and well behaved. It’s out on the Interstate highways that makes you wonder what new drivers are being taught these days.

Here’s a few basic driving concepts  that make us all safer on the roads, but it just seems that a lot of drivers either don’t know these tips/rules/laws, or they're just what my Army Drill Sergeant would call "knuckleheads."

Blueridge Parkway view in Virginia

1: If it’s raining, turn on your headlights. 

As a matter of fact, in many states this is a law, so you’d think that maybe everyone would be happy to turn on those headlights in the rain. The reason for turning on your lights in the rain is that it makes YOU much more visible to the OTHER drivers. Your headlights just might help YOU see in the rain, but that's not the main safety idea. As an example, and I wish I had video of this, we hit a heavy downpour on I-77 in South Carolina. As I was driving along in the right-hand lane, back behind a semi-truck, we both had our lights on and slowed down since the water on the road was causing a bit of aquaplaning. Then, a pickup truck (with its headlights OFF) in the left-hand lane came by me, and just as he’s about equal with the rear of the semi, the semi changes lanes into the left lane to pass whoever is in front of him. So, the pickup hits his brakes really quickly to avoid going into the much larger semi-truck. I’ll guarantee you the semi driver would have seen him if his lights were on, but without those headlights, and given all the spray on the road, there’s no way the big 18-wheeler could see this dude. I'm glad no one got hurt, but it was just a real-life textbook example right in front of me on using those lights.

Fun Fact: Some states have signs reminding you to turn on your lights in the rain with the phrase “Burn Lights.” Whether or not you use that phrase for turning on a light, we all know you don’t literally BURN them on fire, but feel free to come up with a joke about burning your lights. 

Route 129, AKA The Tail of the Dragon

2: The left lane is for passing. 

Whether or not this is a law, it’s a great idea that makes everyone safer, more predictable, and keeps traffic flowing more smoothly. What you’re supposed to do is keep right on a multi-lane highway, unless you are passing another vehicle. Then, once you’ve passed the slower driver, get back over to the right with your turn signal in a safe and controlled manner. It’s really easy, and a very big deal in Germany on the Autobahn where some grandma in a station wagon will surely be on your bumper going over 100mph if you linger in the left lane too long. On one stretch of Interstate during our trip, there was a van from a laundry service just cruising along in the left lane for a good 20 miles for no reason. The end result of driving like this that then you get some hot head speed-racer wannabe come along, and they just start passing Mr. Left Lane Only on the right and weaving in and out of traffic. That just increases the risk factor for all of us. It’s not rocket science people.

The dam from the movie The Fugitive, not far from the NC end of The Tail of the Dragon. 

3: Speeding. 

OK, we’re all great drivers, and everyone loves driving as fast as humanly possible, but let me say this one more time for the people in the back, and in the words of musician Junior Brown in his song Highway Patrol: “If you wanna race then get on a race track.” With new cars having 300, 400, 500, and even more horsepower, you just aren’t going to use all that power on a public road. NMS encourages you to take that mechanical beastie out on a drag strip, local race track, or a friendly autocross course somewhere and drive your heart out in a safe manner. It’s really fun, and just a whole bunch safer!

Stay safe out there!

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