It’s that fresh-start time of year, when the unscribbled new calendar seems open to all sorts of delightful possibilities. As we sweep away tinsel or tote the fruits of decluttering to charity shops, we ponder changes that will affect our well-being, boost physical health, make life more pleasant and do more for others.
Also known as New Year’s resolutions.
These personal pledges generally involve our bodily health, careers or household management — but there’s no reason they can’t extend to our motoring selves as well. Many of the most common clean-slate vows translate readily to the way we own, care for and operate our cars and trucks.
For example, the top resolution for 2017 is “Be a better person,” according to a recent survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, a unit of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. That noble thought has even edged out the perennial promise of weight loss and exercise as the prime goal for the coming 12 months.
It’s a virtuous sentiment indeed and one that can apply to legions of motorists. Hot off a couple of holiday road trips, I can attest that many drivers out have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to consideration for the health, safety and comfort of their fellow citizens.
No. 1 in the rank of inconsiderate, unsafe behavior: Changing lanes by swooping in to fill up the margin of safety someone has left between themselves and the car in front of them. This is really a breathtakingly selfish and obnoxious act, and it was perpetrated on me at least two dozen times over the course of 200 miles on Interstate 94.
It’s particularly obnoxious when there’s no car behind mine for at least a quarter mile, but the lane-changer can’t be bothered to look back and instead barges into the couple-hundred feet I’ve left between my car’s grille and the taillights of the leading vehicle. That inability (or unwillingness) to assess multiple courses of action and choose the safer, saner one puts all of us in danger.
Last week, the driver of a dark blue Volvo sedan cut me off like that, causing me to brake sharply at 75 mph to avoid him — and then he startled another motorist by darting back into another small right-lane space.
About 10 miles later, traffic slowed and passed on the shoulder to evade a just-happened crash. Fortunately the occupants of the two sedans looked OK but pieces of their cars — one facing back the way it came — were scattered across all three lanes. And guess who was parked awkwardly on the side of the road, staring dumbfounded at the chaos? Mr. Blue Volvo, the guy who believes in selfishly barging in to others’ safety zones.
Perhaps he’ll think differently from now on, and try to “be a better person” on the road. But meanwhile, assuming the scenario played out the way I think it did, others are paying the physical, emotional and financial toll for his selfish actions.
Similarly, the driver of the semi-truck who was a breathtaking five or six feet behind the white SUV, trying to menace it out of the way at 65 mph, could benefit from a refresher course on both physics and road safety. So could the person in the red pickup who hovered a few feet off my compact car’s bumper, repeatedly flashing his lights, apparently begrudging the few seconds of buffer space between me and the Honda up ahead.
For their information, an average car needs 304 feet of stopping distance at 60 mph, not the eight or 10 feet they apparently envision. That’s 132 feet for driver reaction time, plus another 172 feet for actual braking and deceleration, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Add plenty more if you’re driving a larger passenger vehicle.
That works out to about 5.4 to 6.4 seconds, the NACTO said, and interestingly noted that actual braking distances are far greater than what automakers claim — because most motorists don’t have the perception and driving skills to achieve optimal stopping times.
“Virtually all current production vehicles’ published road braking performance tests indicate stopping distances from 60 mph that are… slightly less than half of the projected safety distances,” NACTO writes. “While the figures are probably achievable, they are not realistic and certainly not average; they tend to be misleading and to those that actually read them, they create a false sense of security.”
When you’re speeding along the freeway, note when the car in front of you passes a road sign, mile marker or bridge, and then count aloud “one thousand one, one thousand two …” until you pass the same landmark. If you get there in less than six seconds, you’re too close, period. Add more time for wet pavement, a downhill slope and other factors that affect vehicle control.
Still feeling macho, impatient or territorial, and think a few ticks of the second hand don’t matter? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that a toxic combination of following too closely and driver inattention are responsible for 90 percent of the 2 million or so rear-end collisions in the United States each year.
Resolve to add those two or three extra seconds to your safety zone each year — and allow others to do the same.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.