I've covered the basics of walking and cycling in Walking 101 and Cycling 101. Presumably there are some cyclists who may wish to learn how to drive a car. Motoring 101 is an introductory-level course in learning to operate one. Long-time cyclists may be unfamiliar with the concepts inherent in owning and driving a motor vehicle, so the following is aimed primarily at them.
One rule of thumb: The newer and more expensive the vehicle, the fewer laws that apply. Once you've seen the advantages a new car owner receives, it makes little sense to buy a used one. If your budget will cover only a dingy, dented old car or truck, you might be better off to continue as a cyclist.
First, you'll notice that a car is much larger and heavier than your bicycle. It cannot turn or stop as quickly. In fact, cars are about as nimble as a brick, so it's imperative that you learn their limitations. This means that cars are fairly boring to drive since they can't dodge around potholes, patches of glass, and other road debris. Basically, you just sit there and keep the car going straight down the road without wandering from side to side. You find yourself staring at roadway that changes oh-so-slowly. It's like watching a video game where nothing exciting happens.
How to enhance your motoring experience:
Modern automobiles are equipped with high-power sound systems, so you can listen to music at deafening levels. The sun visors are equipped with vanity mirrors so you can check your makeup, style your hair, or insert your contact lenses while you're behind the wheel. A cellular phone will let you keep in touch while driving, and a small television can be propped up on the dash. All modern cars have cup holders, so you don't have to juggle a drink and a sandwich. Also, the dash is convenient for placing Chinese take-out, though eating with chopsticks is best left to advanced drivers. Practice your technique in light traffic. Older, less technologically astute drivers may enjoy reading a book or magazine to relieve the tedium.
You may ask, "What are those pedals down on the floor?" The brake pedal is easy to understand. It performs the same function as the brake on a bicycle. But the other pedal makes the vehicle accelerate; therefore it's called the accelerator. It's much like the pedals on your bicycle. Pedaling makes it go, and the accelerator has the same function. You'll notice it's larger than the brake pedal, because the accelerator is more important than the brake. This is a crucial concept. Motoring enjoyment comes from the use of the accelerator, not the brake. Car ads on television always show someone zooming along on an open road. They never show a car braking heavily to avoid a collision. The accelerator exists to allow you to go as fast as possible whenever possible, so don't be afraid to use it.
The horn can be used as a signaling device to warn other motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists of your approach, but it's more commonly used to voice your displeasure at encountering another road user who doesn't defer to your superior vehicle, superior attitude, and superior life style. The proper way to do this is to blare the horn as long as possible. If weather permits, it's also good form to lean out the side window and curse at the offender. This is especially important if that person is a child, an elderly woman, or someone in a wheelchair who won't get out of your way fast enough.
Turn signals are often misunderstood. Don't bother to use them.
Helmets are not necessary for motorists, neither are those annoying seatbelts with their buzzers and warning lights. In fact, nearly all the so-called safety equipment in a modern automobile exists mainly to enrich the manufacturers and their lawyers. Ignore all of it.
Driving in Style:
Speed limit signs are merely advisory. Remember - the most important part of your car is the accelerator, and speed limits imply that you must use the brake pedal. The accelerator takes precedence, so ignore those signs.
In school zones or residential areas, you're likely to encounter numerous children. Again, your accelerator takes precedence, but be prepared to blare the horn and yell curses out the side window as you narrowly avoid mowing down some child or a mother pushing a stroller.
All new drivers should learn the two-foot driving technique. To do this, put your right foot on the accelerator and your left foot on the brake. Apply light pressure to the brake pedal intermittently. This will flash your brake lights while the car continues traveling at speed. The technique causes other drivers to think you’re unpredictable, and naturally they give you more space on the road. This is similar to the cycling practice of riding up and down off the sidewalk, cutting through parking lots, and jumping curbs in front of moving cars. It makes drivers very nervous, and they treat you with greater respect as a result.
And speaking of sidewalks, just like riding a bicycle, it's possible to drive on a sidewalk if it's wide enough for a car. Just go slowly if pedestrians are present and give them a chance to scurry for cover while blaring your horn. Most municipalities have antiquated laws prohibiting this, but they're seldom enforced.
Most of the time you'll find it's necessary to park your car in an actual parking lot, preferably within the neatly painted lines. If you have a new car, it's permissible to park diagonally across those lines, occupying several parking spaces in order to prevent anyone from parking next to your new, cherished vehicle and possibly denting or scratching it. You may want to park like this near the front of the lot, so that others can admire your new car too. If you're in a hurry or you're far more important that the mere hoi polloi, park directly in front of the entrance or even up on the sidewalk. When it's raining or snowing, all rules are off.
In our increasingly restrictive society, on-ramps offer the best opportunity to try out your new skills and discover the performance parameters of your new vehicle. Remember, the accelerator pedal takes precedence, so accelerate hard, signal your intention to merge with traffic at the top of the ramp (if desired), lean on the horn and yell something scathing out the window if you have to either change direction or decrease speed. On the other hand, if you're already on the highway and someone tries to merge from an on-ramp, refuse to give them any space, blare your horn, and yell obscenities out the window.
In general, it's a good idea to exit from a limited-access road on a formal off-ramp, but if you're in a hurry, an informal off-ramp can be used too. These are merely grassy areas adjacent to another road. Simply drive across the grass to make an informal exit. If the area is sloped, your tire tracks will eventually form ruts that lead to erosion. Complain loudly about public money - your tax money - being wasted on useless landscaping, unless the erosion undermines the roadway and you drive into the resulting pothole. In that case, complain loudly about your tax money being diverted from road maintenance.
Stop signs are only defacto yields, just like on a bicycle. No one stops for stop signs unless there's cross traffic, not even cops. So you can safely ignore them.
Red lights are slightly different from stop signs since they're usually located at busy intersections, but you can ignore them most of the time too. Stop only if there's cross traffic. The police can't be bothered ticketing you for running a red light on your bicycle. It’s no different for a motorist. Unless there's a cop present at an intersection, you can ignore red lights with impunity. Traffic laws only apply to the meek.
Despite the obvious superiority of a new driver with a spankin' new car, some Neolithic police officers insist on stopping and ticketing them. In the unlikely event you should encounter one of these benighted officers, here are a few tried and true excuses that will prevent him from tagging you with a violation.
"He came within ten feet of my car and almost scratched it! I had to defend myself!" This is a near-universal excuse whenever a pedestrian or pesky cyclist is in the way. After you've bunted one of them, use it when an officer responds. He'll most likely praise your attention to civic duty, and you'll drive off with his admiration and respect. Then he'll go to the prostrate body and kick it off the road.
(In all honesty, I once watched as a motorist complained to a police officer that someone had collided with his truck while it was parked in front of the gym. This guy was down on his knees behind the pickup, explaining to the officer that if he got down low and had the sunlight hit the chromed bumper just right, he could see where the offender contacted it. At best, there may have been a small scratch or even a smudge, but it speaks volumes about the near-crazed ego involvement some people have with their motor vehicles. The cop wasn't about to get down on his knees. He gave the guy a withering look and said he couldn't see anything that warranted writing a report. Basically, anal guy was wasting his time.)
"He swerved in front of me all sudden-like." This can be used in conjunction with the excuse above, but it also stands quite well on its own. However, it's not recommended if an officer is conducting a field sobriety test and the driver has already admitted to seeing two of everything. "Honest, officer, there was two of them cyclists wandering all over the road and I just tried to drive between 'em!"
Alcohol and motoring do not go together for the very same reasons that alcohol and cycling do not go together. As you know, a drink or two are very effective at improving kidney function, necessitating frequent stops in order to alleviate all that bladder pressure. If you’re forced to park the car and then get out to find a convenient tree or bush, your travel time increases. So if at all possible, avoid drinking and driving.
"He needed killin'!" This is a catchall phrase that covers a wide variety of Oklahoma mayhem. While it's not very effective regarding bludgeoning, shooting, or stabbing, it may work when a motorist runs down a cyclist or pedestrian, using a ton or more of steel and glass as a battering ram against flesh and bone. Be aware, however, that the driver may have to pay a nominal fine.
You'll discover quickly that a new car is almost an extension of your body, and that this new member is both highly sensitive and deserving of protection. You'll swell with pride whenever your hand strokes it. A new car makes the owner proud. You'll stand taller and more rigidly erect. Thrusting it into traffic makes you feel more alive, more aware and far more sexy, leading you to do it again, and again, and again, until you reach that climactic moment, a release of motoring pleasure that is so overwhelming it feels as if the whole planet moved beneath you.
Just try not to be a dick about it.