Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Motorist 101

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.

Vehicle Controls:

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.

Good Excuses:

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.

In Conclusion:

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.

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Blogger Coelecanth said...

Funny. The last paragraph had me laughing out loud.

I was investigated once for slapping the hood of a guy's car. He was waiting to cross a busy road and I dared to walk in front of him. He popped the clutch as I passed jerking the car forward a few inches, scared the daylights out of me. I responed with an open hand slap to the acre of 60's muscle car hood and went on my way.

He was waiting for me when I came back. Yelling and claiming I dented the hood. I took a look and couldn't see anything, he claimed you had to crouch down and look across it. Whatever. I told him that I worked across the street and he could do whatever he wanted.

The next day he showed up with a 6'4" friend in mirrored sunglasses and had an estimate for $350 to fix this dent that I couldn't see. I refused to pay. He called the cops.

The officer who showed up said that in order to see the dent they had to take the insulation out of the hood and look across. Apprently it was about a millimeter deep across by 60 or so centimeters across

After work I went and gave a statement at the beat-cop office and they told me they weren't going to press charges of mischief because there were no witnesses. I left and after walking a couple of minutes turned back, I'd forgot to tell him that I'd be out of town for the next few weeks, I didn't want this getting any more out of hand.

As I came back in, he was hanging up the phone. He told me that the car owner really wanted me charged. "Uh, oh" I thought, "They're going to do it." but when the cop told the owner that he could take it up in small claims court, the idiot responded "No, that's ok, I'll take care of him." He threatened me, to a cop!?

All of a sudden I went from being the bad guy who got away with it to a citizen in need. The cop explained what I could and coundn't do if the guy came after me and gave me his card.

The whole episode felt like an express trip down a rabbit hole.

The lesson learned: never, ever, touch their car.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Thanks for that Fossil Fish. It's a good story and good advice.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Did anyone point out that the car driver assaulted Seelah?

Car safety equipment does lead to greater safety for the car occupants. Which, because of risk compensation, results in more dangerous driver and, hence, more dangerous conditions for those outside the car.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...

Ah Fritz, I did indeed point out that I had to move my leg to keep from getting hit. The cop litterally rolled his eyes at that. Not, I think, because he didn't believe me, but because there was no evidence and no witnesses to back my claim.

What they did have was a barely visible dent and my admission that I had indeed struck the hood. They let the mischief charge go because they couldn't prove that my intention was to do the damage rather than warn him of my presence.

As to safety equipment and risk compensation, dude was not wearing his seat belt. :)

No, I think his aggression was innate. He was very abusive and confrontational from a half block away. When he got up close and realized I had about 30cm and 20kg on him his tone modified somewhat. He was still angry but the personal slurs stopped and he was careful to never get too close to me.

Not to buy into pop pschology too much but there might have been a reason this guy was driving a really large V-8 car.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I hope I never encounter someone like that when I'm walking. My left ankle doesn't work properly if I overbalance, and I can topple over if conditions are right. I literally couldn't get out of the way and I'd end up on the car's hood. On rough ground I still need a cane or a walking stick.

Imagine what a 220 pound impact would do to the hood!

4:13 PM  

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