Eagle County Sheriff: Licensed to drive … but not like an idiot (column)
Distance: How close is too close? Well, if you can see the white of the person’s eyes behind you, it could be because they see their life flashing before them. At 75 mph, bumper-to-bumper does not get you to your destination any faster. The rule of one car length for every 10 miles per hour is best, particularly if there is any possibility of distractions. This allows plenty of room for sudden brakes.
Emergency lanes: The name says it all, and no, it is not considered an emergency to pass a vehicle that is moving too slow. Getting stressed? Relax, take a deep breath and practice mindfulness … think of oceans, mountain vistas or perhaps spend a few minutes thinking of ways to hide that new fishing rod or cashmere sweater from your spouse.
Never use the emergency lane on the shoulder of the road as your personal travel lane; you may come upon someone who is having an actual emergency, and going 7 mph into their back seat is not how you want to meet.
Radio: Preset your stations ahead of time. No, you don’t need to look at who the group is or what year the song came out. You were dying to see them years ago, no need to accommodate that wish now.
Under the influence: I’m not talking about your spouse yelling directions, or the preschooler singing the Barney song for the hundredth time in the back seat … you know what it’s about: substances, whether prescribed or otherwise. If it impairs your reflexes or judgment, don’t get behind the wheel.
It’s not about the amount ingested but about how your body reacts to it. For your safety and that of others, we will arrange for a place to stay, with a view of bars (not the pub kind), and the cost is substantial.
Drowsiness: Driving extended periods of time, particularly westbound toward the sun, with the car’s rhythm, can relax you to the point of being dangerously inattentive. The slowing of reflexes simulates drunkenness and is just as dangerous. Loud music, rolled down windows and coffee won’t make up for the stupidity of trying to make a 16-hour road trip in one day. Pull over or you may not survive the journey.
School zones: Back to school means those yellow buses are everywhere, with kids darting in and out of cars like they are on a reconnaissance mission. Teens are no better, as they stroll across the street while staring at their phones like they contain Gandalf’s last secrets. And adults are not much better when they “multitask” themselves right off the curb and onto their faces. School zones are a bit like entering the “Twilight Zone,” a fifth dimension that defies logic. Proceed with caution and stay alert; young lives depend on it.
Kids and pets: Every parent wishes that they had the soundproof glass that we see in taxis. Since your focus is on the road ahead, kids will use a variety of attention-getting strategies — yelling, crying, kicking, food fights — and when the dog can’t take it any longer, he escapes over the seat to position himself between you and the wheel while stretching to reach the window.
Aside from a straightjacket (for the kids now and for you later), it helps to have a distraction. Designate certain games and toys exclusively for long car rides or, if equipped, a new movie on the rear screen.
Add to these rules Mother Nature’s wildcard — snow. Do you really think four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive matters when you are sliding on ice at record speeds with only a layer of rubber between you and death? During a storm, your maximum safe speed may only be 10 mph.
In thinking about these rules of the road, I am reminded of this joke: I didn’t realize how bad of a driver I was until my navigation system said, “In 500 feet, make a slight right, stop and let me out.”
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.