An open letter from one columnist to another  

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dear Gillian Pollock,

Your column, “Rules of the road apply to all,” in the Washington Daily News on Jan. 8 was right on target. Even my husband applauded your discourse, and I can assure you it is seldom a WDN columnist gets the nod from him (except for me — he reads everything I write before it hits the paper).

You termed your column a “tirade.” Sweetie, a tirade gotta hit you over the head! Your accurate, modestly phrased thumping of drivers who need to obey the rules of the road, and use common sense, was convincing —but it wasn’t a tirade.

Let me help you out a bit; I’ve a few words to add to your worthy recourse on drivers’ sins on the highway, and other places.

This is a message for the commuters between the cities of Washington and Greenville. U.S. Highway 264 has two lanes of travel in each direction. The lane on the right is for driving; the lane on the left for passing. You all know that many (yes, many) drivers insist on driving in the passing lane, setting up situations that end up as accidents that wreck vehicles, send injured folks to the hospital and kill others. Do not drive in the passing lane.

All motorists know the rule about night driving: When using your high-beam headlights and you meet an oncoming car, switch to low-beam headlights. Night driving is difficult enough without oncoming motorists having to guess where the pavement is when blinded by those high beams’ awful glare. You forget to switch to low beams? Hogwash! It’s as simple as remembering to fasten your seat belt. Oh, you don’t do that either?

Let me insert a little story about night driving in India that my husband and I experienced when we were volunteers in that country for the International Executive Service Corps. When we had our first after-dark ride in an Indian vehicle with an Indian driver, I was OK as he drove, quite sedately, with his lights on low beam — then appalled when we met an oncoming car and our driver switched to high beam, tromped on the gas and whooshed past the approaching vehicle.

Somehow we managed to reach our destination safely, at which time I chastised the driver about his driving technique. He was quite amazed that I considered his driving unsafe and insane. He assured me all Indian drivers drive in that fashion at night. I couldn’t poll all the drivers in the country, but from what I observed in the state of Kerala in south India, the man was right. And we thought American drivers crazy.

Now, not only do drivers too frequently go down (or up) the wrong way in the lanes of a parking lot, but they also park by taking up two spaces. You know how annoying that can be, especially when the parking lot is crowded and you can’t find a place to leave your car.

Some of those guilty of this practice explain that by using two spaces there is less chance that the vehicles parked next to them will swing open their doors, banging into the adjacent cars, which are often pricey and posh. And then some people are just sloppy-careless about getting their vehicles parked between the lines. When I come across a vehicle parked in this manner, I’m tempted to leave a calling card, like a flat tire or a bent windshield wiper. But I don’t.

As for motorists being in the correct lane for whatever maneuver they contemplate, I saw one unbelievable bit of navigation recently. The motorist was in the left-hand turn lane, with signal flashing, on Market Street at the intersection of John Small Avenue. The light was red. When it turned green, this driver stomped on the gas, darted in front of both other lanes of traffic and made a right-hand turn.

Mr. Policeman, where are you when we need you?

And don’t get me started on bicyclists; there does not seem to be one single bike rider who has any idea he (or she) should be adhering to the traffic rules of the road.

And so, dear Gillian (may I call you Gillian? I am a fellow Yankee — make that damn Yankee), you made the right call when you used the word “knucklehead” in referring to those drivers who have their own sets of rules of the road. We just have to put up with them, keeping alert and vigilant, recognizing that any driver on the highway can be the cause of an accident. And hope for the best.