Getting on the Interstate
Where better to start than at the place where an innocent city (or country,
y'all) driver first enters that winding sea to sea (or border to border) river
of asphalt that will take them to destinations unknown?
The important thing to remember is that the Interstate is really just a
really big long road. You know how to drive on roads, right? Right. So when
you drive down that entry ramp, make sure you're going the ramp speed, usually
45mph, and remember that since the ramp goes on to the Interstate, that speed
is also the speed limit on the Interstate until signed otherwise. Under no
circumstances should you speed up; after all, giving other drivers a chance
to test their brakes helps them in their own personal quest for safety,
too. As soon as possible, you should - while maintaining speed - move into the
left lane so that drivers can enter at upcoming exits.
Here's one place where Interstate driving is different from city driving.
In the city, some of you might be inclined to use your signal to tell those
around you of your intentions. Don't do that here!3 If you
let people know you're coming, they'll block you, because hey, how dare you
try to come into their lane, in front of them?
Alright. So now it's just a matter of not bothering to check your blind
spot or mirrors, and turning the wheel. A piece of cake. See, I knew you'd
get the hang of it in no time.
Some of you have expressed concern about my advice above about not
signalling, worried that this will cause your vehicle's signal mechanisms to
atrophy and then not work when you need them - especially if you do a lot of
Interstate driving. Well fear not! There's an easy solution: just put your
indicator on when you enter the Interstate, and leave it on. It's
a great way to practice mechanical vehicle safety.
How fast should you go on the Interstate? Easy question, and the answer's
right at the side of the road for your convenience. Under no circumstances
should you exceed this limit. It doesn't matter that only once in the history
of the world has anyone been pulled over for doing less than 10mph over the
limit; it's there for your safety so observe it.
Now since this is a limit, you're perfectly within your rights to go
slower (some fascist states have minimum speed limits, but most don't).
Sometimes you might want to match speeds with someone in the right lane (you
are driving in the left lane like I told you, right?), so that you can
drive together and help each other out if one of you has a breakdown. Some
other cars might even drive close to you to join your "safety group"; the more
the merrier (speaking of merry, some might even light-heartedly tootle their
horns; feel free to tootle back). Make sure that whatever happens you don't go
faster or slower than your "Interstate Buddy"; it could very well be that the
instant you are apart one of you will have engine trouble, and not be able to
help each other out.
There may come a time that you need to pass someone, say perhaps because your
Interstate buddy has started to speed up, often while making indecent gestures
in your general direction. Here's the low down.
Passing is actually a lot of fun. You can - only for a moment, mind you -
drop that safe driver veneer, and let the Mario Andretti within come out.
Start by getting as close as you can to the car in front which you wish to
pass. (Some people say give 'em space in case something unexpected happens,
but hey, you're a good judge of distance, and your quick reflexes can handle
any sudden slowdowns.) Quickly pull into the other lane (HEY! don't even
think about signalling; what if the person being passed has read the
next section? Then where would you be?!)
It's important not to surprise the other driver by going past him too
quickly. Usually you want to match his speed and ever-so-carefully
nudge your speedometer up about a half a mile-per-hour faster than him (this
works great with cruise control). That way you can slowly let the other
driver know you're passing him, for the safety of all. If you need an example,
watch two trucks4 passing each other.
When you're past him - remember not to waste precious space by going too far
past - turn that wheel again and move in front. Feel free to slow down some;
you're done passing, so he has to follow you now.
Since passing is so much fun, you may want to pass a particular car several
times. This can be awkward if the other vehicle is maintaining an even speed
(especially if they use cruise control), but just slow down a little, let them
roll on past, and repeat the above steps. Hours of fun - just what you need
to break the monotony of driving.
Avoid at all costs. If someone is approaching in your rear view like a bat
out of hell, too bad; you're going 50mph because it is a Safe Speed, and if they
want to pass you that badly they can go around you. This goes
double for trucks, all that stuff about it being harder to stop them is just to
keep people from lucrative and exciting truck-driving careers; in reality they
handle like sports cars and can stop on a dime.
When the passing vehicle (heh heh, I mean would-be passing vehicle)
gets the hint that you aren't moving, and decides to go by you on the right,
that's the time to give a little gas... match his speed. After all, he could
be another potential Interstate buddy, so you don't want to let him get away.
Even better, watch in your mirror for his signal and manoeuvre, and mimic it
(except for the signal, of course). This takes real talent; good hand-eye
coordination is essential.
Then, you play. Let him pass. Pass him. Slow down. Follow him into rest
areas and leave when he does. It's endless fun for all. He'll thank you for
making his driving experience more fun.
I only mention these in case you might be driven to stop at one for any
reason other than for a quick washroom break - like, perhaps, to rest, or,
heaven forbid, get a map (real men - and women - know where they're going). If
you do want to look at the map, you should already have one, so you can look at
it as you drive. And remember - caffeine is your friend (think bulk
chocolate-covered coffee beans).
Stopping to sleep is for the weak. It shows a lack of dedication and a lack
of faith in your God-given ability to drive for hours on end without stopping.
Not to mention that the people you've just spent hours passing will now be able
to pass you! If you do start feeling tired, other drivers will be happy
to obligingly serenade you on their horns when you start sharing their lanes,
and at either side of the road the blind driver strips5 give plenty
Leaving the Interstate
When you get to where you're going (or a reasonable approximation thereof),
it's time to go back to boring ol' city driving. It's time to leave the
Interstate, that shining river of people and communities and... er... sorry.
I always wanted to be a poet.
Remember when I said the Interstate is just a big road, except wider and
faster? Good. Getting off is sort of like getting on, but in reverse.
First, figure out where your exit is. What you want is a sign saying the name
of the exit with an arrow; ignore signs that have distance information, they're
just trying to confuse you and make you lose contact with your Interstate buddy.
As soon as you see that sign, change over to the right lane. Since you're on
the left, this could mean moving over several lanes at once; that's OK. Just
turn quickly and smoothly as soon as you see an opening as wide as your
vehicle is long (or maybe a few feet more; remember, safety first).
Slow down. You don't want to miss the exit, do you know how much gas
you waste when you have to go back an exit? Think of the environment! (Sorry.
So many causes, I can hardly restrict myself to just one at a time.) Your
brake lights will be adequate warning to other drivers that you're slowing
down, and again they will thank you for letting them test their brakes,
sometimes by melodically tootling their thank-you trumpets at you.
Come to a complete stop close to the exit ramp; then put on your signal (it's
OK now, since you're blocking the ramp so nobody can get in your way).
After waiting sufficiently for those around you to become aware of you,
slowly drive into the exit ramp. Go down the middle if it's wide (you don't
want to drive off the edge, especially if you're all hooped up on cola), and
make sure the dotted line is between your wheels. When you get to the end,
slow down and read the signs and decide where you want to go; since you're in
the middle, you can postpone your choice as long as you like.
And that, gentle reader, is how to drive on the Interstate.
1 I bought my car, a '98 Toyota Camry, in November 2001, with
73,408 kms on it; now it's just over 117,000. Most of the distance has been
put on since March, when I moved from near Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, to
Memphis, Tennessee, USA2, and have, on various weekends and
holidays, driven in or through the following states: TN, AR, LA, TX, MS, KY,
OH, IL, NY, MO, PA, VA, and WV.
2 I am in no way suggesting that the US has a monopoly on bad
drivers; we have our fair share in Canada, too (but they're politer about it ;).
I will say beware the I-55 in AR and drivers from NC....
3 At least in Tennessee, it is illegal to change lanes without
signalling on the Interstate. Let's get some cops out of the speed traps and
into patrolling for real violations....
4 Not to slam trucks; the rate of idiot drivers is probably
far lower among truckers (I'd estimate under 10%, versus about 70% among the
sheep^H^H^H^H^H general populace). Give 'em lots of room when you pass and don't
drive in their blind spots.
5 The ruts at the edges of the road that make a noise when you
drive over them... what, you didn't know that they were for blind drivers?
The Interstate is accessible to all, now, in this modern age.