At first glance I suppose the limits of this particular forum might seem stretched by delving into road etiquette. Stick to lobster and loafers, I can hear more devoted readers chiming. But isn’t there some connection behind the appreciation of good clothes, nice food and etiquette generally? That we should practice some elevated sense of the latter when captaining a one-ton machine seems logical. And what is the point of any personal upkeep if there is no aspiration toward style? Physical fitness, a pleasing diet, even the maintenance of a clean and well-fitting wardrobe is easy. But the intangibles are always a truer measure of character. In short, driving well is absolutely an expression of style.
Now before criticism arrises suggesting that I am in favor of draining the fun from driving, let me say this: I almost cannot believe that there are still speed limits on the deserted and largely straight highways that hash this vast land, and little appeals like the combination of a short-throw manual, six cylinders and a winding road. But there is a vast chasm between savoring the drive and driving like a high school senior in brief possession of his father’s sedan. If the latter is to be avoided, low-hanging fruit is plentiful. Here are a few easily corrected missteps.
1) Four hundred (plus) horsepower is only as useful as your ability to maintain a constant rate. Most have witnessed the highway driver who hammers along for a few thousand yards only to drop back while fiddling with the onboard electronics. Noticing he has fallen behind, he punches the accelerator again, his capable engine rocketing him ahead of the pack once more. This continues until his destination is reached—about five minutes after drivers capable of keeping their feet on the gas have reached theirs.
2) That short lever mounted on the right of the steering column is an indicator. I’m almost certain its neglect is the result of its name, which connotes courtesy and predictability—two qualities that have fallen from favor, especially, it seems, in the minds of those traveling at speed on the highway. I always have to shake my head and smile when I see a fast German import sliding, un-indicated, across three lanes of traffic. Doesn’t the driver realize that his indicator is designed for high-speed autobahn driving? If the time had been taken to understand his vehicle he would have learned that an extended finger can nudge the indicator without having to remove a hand from the wheel; the exterior lamps will flash three times before shutting off—ample warning to other experienced drivers. Poor fellow: what other pleasures of his excellent car does he go without?
3) Speaking of the autobahn, another lesson from those venerable roads goes unheeded in this country: the lanes on a highway are not just three identical, forward-moving options to be selected at random. The left-most is for passing at speed, the center for general travel and the right is for entering and exiting the highway. This is such a simple concept and yet if the question was asked at random I’d wager no more than 10% would answer correctly. I’m not an expert, but it seems most heavy traffic could be avoided if this rule was rigorously enforced—say a month-long suspension of your license for toodling along in the left lane or trying to pass on the right.
4) That generous swathe of white paint spanning the road ahead of you is a pedestrian crossing. If there are pedestrians present (these are people who have lost their cars) you are required to stop before the paint and permit passage. I must admit that this is a particular peeve of mine. As an inveterate walker I, along with other like-minded individuals, have lobbied for the installation of crosswalks in my immediate neighborhood following a series of frightening hits and near-misses. Lo-and-behold, it worked: paint appeared, and along with flashing lights and little flexible signs between the lanes all looked solved. Sadly, a few months on and only one of those center-lane signs remains—the rest have been mangled or launched into the foliage by drivers who had never before encountered this strange new “pedestrian crossing.”