Open Letter to James J. Baxter, President NMA
As always, I wait with great anticipation to reading the NMA bi-montly publication to its members: Driving Freedoms
While some of our members/guests may feel, that since I am in the business of traffic enforcement countermeasures and am a proud supporting member of the NMA, that I would simply be a monolithic cheerleader of all of the NMA's 'causes' or 'campaigns.' ...And they would be wrong. I am an independent
thinker with my own opinions and perspectives (aren't we all?)
To wit, in their latest Driving Freedoms publication (Volume 19 - Issue 1) I must take exception with their stated positions on this issue of laws governing the approach to road-side hazards.
While I certainly agree with the president of the NMA, Jim Baxter, that 'a common act in our driving culture is to move left [or right as the conditions dictate], as far as practical and necessary, to give a little extra room to vehicles that are stopped along the side of the road' for whatever reason: flat tire-changer, police officer aiding or ticketing a motorist, tow truck loading a disabled vehicle, or a broken-down tractor trailer or bus as a simple matter of common courtesy.
I must respectfully disagree that mandating such behavior (in an enforceable law) is a misguided solution to aid in the reducing of the potential for accidents from inattentive drivers who may otherwise collide with the roadside hazard, if they do not.
While I can respect Jim's unfortunate [and unmentioned] personal experience, I still maintain my counterpoint position.
The reasons are simple and based upon my own personal experience (most of them favorable).
One of Jim's concern is that 'ultra-law' abiding driver may cause mayhem by 'veering' into the other lane to give the individual involved with the roadside hazard an appropriate berth.
And I would agree that veering may not be a generally safe maneuver on a crowded highway/road. But there are other alternatives to simply veering, which suggest that no signaling is made by the approaching driver(s). This effect could be mitigated by an more responsible lane change (the kind that is done to overtake a slower moving vehicle) which implies the proper use of directional indicators (turn-signals) and a check in the rear-view mirrors that the area is clear enough to make such a lane change as we all do when we appropriately pass another vehicle ahead of us.
Jim further suggests that the action of 'abruptly' hitting the breaks can in and of itself create a traffic hazard for those following behind.
While that may be true, in certain cases, the simple fact is that people should be driving attentively and with an appropriate distance from the vehicle immediately ahead of them, so much so, that the following vehicle should always have a clear line of sight on the vehicle immediately ahead of them and the vehicles that are ahead of the vehicle that is ahead of the vehicle he/she is following. That's not only common sense, its courteous and safe driving behavior that we should all be engaged on a routine basis.
I also disagree with the notion that the supporters of such laws are actually 'biased' troopers and truckers who obviously support this notion of enforcing laws to mandate this behavor [of giving a wide-berth].
I also can't make the connection that these laws are similar in spirit to the ones which arbitrarily double speeding fines (and other moving violations) in areas that either have posted higher speeding limits and or are active construction zones.
In the end, enforcement for gross abusers of driving etiquette or no courtesy, can serve as a deterrent to the behavior.
Why do I believe this?
I had the pleasure many years ago driving (on the wrong
side of the road) in England and on the major M4, M5, and M25 Orbital roadways. I'll never forget what happened. One day I was commuting towards Heathrow on the M4 in the center lane of a three-lane highway. The carriageway was virtually devoid of any automobiles save for one rapidly approaching BMW 7 series who was approaching me on my left (which is the slow lane, by the way) in England. I noticed from my rearview mirror, that as the BMW approached closer, he signaled once and then made a measured lane change directly behind me, waited a moment, and then signaled again for a right lane change (which was now the fast lane) and then proceeded to overtake me in the appropriate fast/passing lane.
I will never forget it, because having driven in the US for such a long period of time often on three lane highways, I was used to drivers passing on either the fast or slow lanes (which technically makes it an undertaking).
I commented to a professional colleague of mine the following day how impressed I was with the driver's maneuvers and he proceeded to inform me that in Great Britain, the driver was mandated by law to drive in that fashion...a courteous and responsible one.
Do drivers undertake in England from time to time, yes...but its considered poor driving and carries a certain stigma to it (assuming you don't get caught) and fines and demerit points if you do.
Driving around the countryside of England toward Dover and back to London, I noticed another behavior, I found pleasantly notable as well. Drivers slow down to allow other drivers to make turns in front of them off the carriageways (even though they would technically have the right away). Again it is considered bad form not to allow a stopped driver coming the other way not to be able to turn in front of you to exit the carriageway because failing to do so, creates a traffic congestion area for the other cars that would otherwise be forced to stop until the stopped vehicle is permitted to exit the carriageway.
In Italy, drivers using the fast lane of the autostradi
leave their directional indicators on to indicate that they are intending to stay in a particular lane to inform approaching drivers of their intentions. That's a damn good idea and one that I use frequently here on this side of the pond.
After driving in England for some time, I found when I repatriated back to the states, how disappointed I was to observe the selfish anything goes mentality
that pervades our roadways (and other places).
I believe this is due to with several factors: too much of a sense of selfish entitlement of each driver, poor driving training, no enforcement of practical courtesy laws
- Using of the passing lane for passing only, regardless of speed
- Proper use of directional indicators with ample time for other drivers (both following and ahead) to observe and be prepared for the impending lane change.
- One lane change at a time, not two or three, not veering, not floating.
- Increased safe following distances, which are consistently enforced
- Driver Inattentiveness Laws (like Cell phone usage)
There are others, but I trust, you get the point. Notice how I left out
'speeding' as it is my firm believe that in and of itself, speeding is not a leading cause of accidents, driver inattentiveness is, as is lack of courteousness and/or aggressive driving.
Candidly, I would prefer to see traffic enforcement for safety sake focus more on discouraging poor-courtesy related behavior than mere speeding, as in and of itself, speeding is not a major contributor to accident rates as these other issues are. Furthermore encouraging good behavior (by discouraging bad behavior) will most certainly have further reaching positive implications to general highway safety than merely punishing 'speeders,' especially with automated photo enforcement
There's one other dimension of this that I have yet to cover and that is the perspective from the would-be state troopers, truckers, and construction-zone workers who would be subject to being hit if such a [no move, no slow down] policy were widely adopted.
The fine men and women of law and traffic enforcement take their lives in their hands every time they are involved with assisting and ticket issuance. These folks are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers like you and I who work at their job for a living. Unfortunately. in todays climate, the dangers are high enough with the simple traffic stop (risk of being shot and killed), why on earth would we want to make matters worse for them by encouraging another health/life risk to these professionals?
I have personal friendships with a number of individuals who are traffic safety and traffic enforcement officers, and I believe that I understand their perspective on this issue. Frankly. if an accident were to occur, I'd take the vehicle to vehicle one over the vehicle to pedestrian one every day of the week and twice on sunday.
My advice is that we, instead, focus on the underlying
causations of such accidents, driver inattentiveness and poor driving habits
and work towards improving driver education (by improving uniform consistency, skill-demonstration, courteousness) and safety (by that improved education) without increasing the already dangerous environments of our finest in blue
My suggestion for those supporting this policy, work a day or two along side the roadways (especially crowded ones) and then re-evaluate your position.
Veil Guy Supporting NMA Member