Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interstate driving, do it right...or don't do it.

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Spring is near. While the weather may not lend credence to that, the calendar says that spring is just around the corner.

As more and more people escape their winter hibernating spot, they will be begin to take to America’s highways to explore, vacation, or maybe, just to go to work every day.

I spend a fair amount of time on the Interstate highways. Not as much as some, but enough to know that our Interstate system has become one of the most dangerous places to be.

All of our highways are becoming more congested with each passing year, but it may be most evident on our controlled-access highways. If you also factor in that the Interstate Highway system, begun in the 1950s at the direction of President Dwight Eisenhower, is aging faster than highway crews can repair and upgrade, you can see that we have a recipe for disaster.

One would assume that a driver on the Interstate would have an increased level of awareness as they navigate among other vehicles at speeds that require greater concentration, but it is not hard to see that, in fact, the reverse seems to be the case.

After getting on the Interstate, many drivers, freed from the stop-and-start driving and traffic signals on other roadways, put their car, and their mind, on cruise control.

I can think of few things more dangerous than an inattentive driver, traveling at 70 miles per hour, less than 20 feet away from several other vehicles moving at the same speed.

Perhaps the most aggravating part is the arrogance and sheer stupidity of many drivers, especially on the Interstate.

For Interstate highway travel to go smoothly, a precision, almost choreographed, smoothness must be maintained. I am beginning to believe that a special endorsement on one’s license should be necessary before a driver can operate a vehicle on an Interstate highway.

The art of entering and exiting an Interstate highway is, in itself, a vital part of just living to drive another day. Not a day goes by that I don’t see, and usually end up following, someone who does not understand that the entrance ramp is designed to allow one to accelerate to highway speed and smoothly merge with traffic. Instead, this person will maintain a steady 35 - 40 miles per hour, then find that they cannot enter traffic flow without getting run down. They don’t know, or don’t care, that they are also endangering those traveling behind them, and those already on the highway.

Sharing equal guilt are those inconsiderate drivers who stay in the right-hand lane and refuse to move over to allow others to merge onto the highway. More often than not, when one of these drivers passes, I will see that they are chatting on their cell phone, oblivious to what is going on around them.

The ever-increasing number of semi-tractor trailer rigs on the highways is another danger. Truck drivers form “wolf packs” and create havoc as they travel two and three abreast, holding up traffic for miles behind them.

I am sure that truck drivers are equally frustrated with “four wheelers” who weave in and out of traffic as they catapult themselves down the highway at breakneck speed. Drivers of cars need to be aware that semi drivers are operating vehicles that don’t stop on a dime. They can also be very dangerous to attempt sudden lane changes as shifting cargo can spell disaster.

Much of this seems to be associated with a growing segment of our population who only worry about “me.” The prevailing attitude among too many Americans is that they are going to do what is good for them, with no concern about how their actions may affect others.

This attitude is not only sad, it is dangerous.

I love to drive. I used to love driving on the Interstate as it was a road to an adventure of some sort. It might be for a day, or a week, but the Interstate spelled adventure. Now, I still love driving, but being on crowded highways, not knowing if the next danger posed is a pot hole or a pot head, is far more stressful.

Driving on the Interstate is actually an art form. It is sad that the highway is only as safe as the least experienced, or perhaps the dumbest and most inconsiderate, driver out there at any given time. Think about it. Your life, and the life of your family, may lay in the hands of the worst driver on the road at a given moment and place. Do you still want to drive with your brain in cruise control or while talking on your cell phone?

My advice is to learn to drive properly on the Interstate, or stay off it.

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