Even allowing for the likelihood that most people overestimate their driving skills, I'm probably better than the average driver: say, 60th or 65th percentile. As evidence, I offer the following:

  • I have received no tickets for moving violations in the past twenty-five years.

  • My insurance provider is happy to extend to me the maximum discount they allow for this sort of thing.

  • In 1985, a petroleum tanker making a left turn around a narrow corner didn't see me and attempted, quite involuntarily, to prove the law of physics that says that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time; not only did I survive, but I was able to drive away from the carnage with less than a deductible's worth of damage.

I hasten to add that I don't reckon myself to be among the best drivers: I have no business, for instance, entering an auto race, or trying to land a job as a staffer, even a gofer, for a car magazine. I am not always pleased with my performance behind the wheel, and I downrate myself accordingly. There are some things I have learned, though, which I think are worthy enough to qualify as Reasonable Advice, and I pass them along to you with the caveat that your mileage may vary.

1.  Don't do anything obvious.
Getting from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time with the minimum amount of hassle requires that you not do anything that calls attention to yourself. If you don't believe me, ask Macaulay Culkin, who was busted on Interstate 44 in Oklahoma City near the Kelley Avenue exit back in the fall of 2004. Culkin's real crime, as it happened, was carrying some of those evil Controlled Substances, but local news reports harped on the fact that Culkin and friend were doing 70 mph in a 60 zone. Anyone who's ever driven this stretch of 44 knows that everybody is doing 70 mph in a 60 zone; what attracted the attention of the police, it turns out, was a badly-executed (legally, "improper") lane change. Had the guys demonstrated a little more finesse, they never would have had to pay a visit to the local Greybar Inn.

2.  Always have a Plan B.
It looked simple enough on the map: pick up Highway So-and-So just long enough to get to Exit Whatever, and you'll save yourself ten miles. What the map didn't tell you is that you're entering So-and-So from the left, and Exit Whatever is on the right, and there are four lanes of NASCAR-level traffic you have to get through in the space of three-quarters of a mile. This might actually work if you played Frogger a lot as a kid, but you need to be prepared for what happens if, or more likely when, you miss your exit. So don't just study one corner of the map; look about two or three miles ahead, and prepare yourself for the worst.

3.  Exercise caution when getting behind someone.
Obviously, this means you shouldn't tailgate, and indeed you shouldn't, and that business on the trailer up ahead about IF YOU CAN'T SEE MY MIRRORS I CAN'T SEE YOU is true, but some vehicles are statistically more likely to be carrying members of the Anti-Destination League and will eventually lead you perilously close to violating Rule 1. Some of the worst offenders:

  • Lexus ES 300: Most Lexus drivers are stand-on-it kind of folks and will not impede your progress significantly. However, ES 300 owners, perhaps dimly realizing that they paid an extra ten thousand bucks for a freaking Toyota Camry with an L badge, tend to drive as though they were counting the depreciation, mile by mile. (Actual Camry drivers generally don't suffer from this problem.) I have insufficient data for the newer ES 330, but I have no reason to expect it to be markedly different.

  • Buick: According to General Motors marketing research, the average Buick driver has been dead for eighteen months. Do not get behind one of them if you can possibly help it.

  • Ford Crown Victoria with dog-dish hubcaps: Should be obvious.

  • Anyone who has had a ticket in the last 29 days: It's impossible to know this for certain, but if you're behind, say, a BMW 5-series plodding along at 5 mph below the speed limit, either the driver has been recently busted, or he still hasn't figured out that damned iDrive controller. Either way, he's a hazard.

4.  Maintain your vehicle in something resembling proper condition.
There was an old TV commercial in which the mechanic removed the bolt and then watched in horror as nothing drained out of the oil pan. You do not want to let yourself get into this sort of situation. The manufacturer makes those recommendations in the manual (you do have the manual, don't you?) for a reason. And if you're wondering if maybe these tires are worn out, you're almost certainly correct.

5.  Do not attempt to repair an exhaust manifold with duct tape.
And do not ask why I know this.

The Vent

  21 May 2006

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 Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill