Thursday, July 19, 2007

Driving to Work: Observation in Motion

Now that I have a longer commute to work, which easily spans half an hour each way, I begin to find things to do while on the road. Of course my attention is still focused on the driving, especially when the pattern of the traffic movement is erratic at best typical of rush hour.

I used to tail-gate when I drove in slow traffic, literally bumper to bumper kind of engagement with the vehicle in front. But that was back in Malaysia where most drivers abhor space between vehicles, and cutting in front is the norm. You can say is like the saying, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Since I moved here, I have started to cultivate a habit of maintaining a respectable separation space from the vehicle in front. Not so much as a consequence of a declining reaction time on my part, but rather because Americans value space, and I mean that in the territorial sense, even in a moving vehicle.

Several times when I relapsed into my Malaysian driving habit of getting a tad too close to the vehicle in front, the driver has deemed it fit to poke his hand through the window and flash a finger in the air. Granted I may not be the intended target, but it’s always prudent to err on the presumptuous side in this case.

I used to get upset over the unfriendly gesture. But now I realize that I’m actually the provocateur in the interaction and would just back off. Now come to think of it, there is a 2-second rule for following a vehicle in the Highway Code issued by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. And from the looks of it, most drivers do take this to heart.

The other challenge is merging into the Interstate 275 from a feeder road in heavy traffic. Actually it’s a no-challenge at all as all drivers on the Interstate will always yield, though they don’t have to, by slowing down sufficiently enough for merging to effect in a seamless manner. There is no need to honk, or to wave wildly. It’s courtesy at work.

So with one eye on the road, one ear on the radio (Magic 94.9 being my favorite radio station), I use the other half of the visual and audio senses to observe the environment: towering sign posts, fluffy clouds in the sky, or perhaps unfamiliar noises that may herald something untoward.

Once merged into the Interstate, I always work my way to the outermost lane (it’s a six-lane carriageway) so that I only need to pay attention to traffic on the passenger side of the car. Occasionally, I will glance at the side-mirror or the rear mirror to get a sense of the traffic from behind, especially when the traffic in front slows to a halt.

Once I spotted a rather erratic driver behind me, weaving in and out of traffic and trying to get ahead in the heavy traffic. I started to pay attention to the car, keeping a safe distance from the car in front so that I could ease to a stop when necessary and at the same time not having this guy breathing down my neck not being able to stop in time and rear-end me.

And he almost did, but was able to swerve into the emergency lane, almost paralleling my car. After that I immediately moved into the innermost lane, watching for traffic of course, and that’s the last I saw of him.

While traffic accidents are rare, I do witness my fair share of them, but usually after the fact, except for one instance when I heard a screeching sound followed by a loud bang. But it was on the opposite side. Sometimes I see violators being pulled over by traffic cops, the tell-tale blue revolving light warning the traffic to stay clear.

Once in a while, a siren will emanate out of nowhere, and believe me, it’s not easy to locate where it comes from and make appropriate adjustment for it to pass.

Sometimes I scan for interesting bumper stickers. Other times I would note down interesting number plate designs, for example now I know Rhode Island is the Ocean State. But rarely do I look at the drivers just to avoid unnecessary contact and misunderstanding. An innocuous look may be misconstrued as defiant and even challenging.

Maybe tomorrow I will bring along my digicam to record some of the morning scenery. Then again, maybe not. People may think I’m on to some kind of reconnaissance mission with ill-intentions. It seems a lot more safer just to blog about it from memory.


Kitty Girl said...

Yes, one is able to observe many interesting things while driving, or in the passenger seat of a car. It's so funny what some people do when they're in their car and they think no one's looking, like pick their nose or sing along to the radio. One of the most appalling images I've seen is a mother smoking in her car, driving, while her young son sat directly behind her in a car seat. Granted, she had the window down partially, but I don't think a parent should EVER smoke in their kids presence... Well I don't think people should smoke, period, but if they do.

I always try to drive carefully, and to always keep my eyes in front, taking only a nanosecond to glance in my rearview mirror or side mirrors from time to time. I do, however, also scan for out-of-state license plates (or frames; I just saw one yesterday that read: "Grandma is my name, and spoiling is my game") and bumper stickers. It seems to me that old VW station wagons have the most bumper stickers, or in Portland, anyway. Something about those cars that attract hippies... Hm!! No stickers for me, though, I think it looks tacky. >_<

Say Lee said...

I think the ability to look at the rear/side mirror with confidence comes with driving experience. Somehow the sense of where you're tends to be better the longer one has driven.

I remember once in PJ I almost rear-ended a truck while momentarily distracted (I forgot what). What I recalled was my peripheral vision suddenly caught a lot of red: the truck was actually braking. And I was reflexive enough to slam on the brake, thus saving my bonnet.

Do focus on the road while driving. And don't use the cell while driving. I think there ought to be a law against using cell while driving, except a hands free set.

Kitty Girl said...

Actually, I've read that it doesn't matter whether you use your hands or a hands-free set for talking on the cell phone; it is the TALKING that is the main problem itself. Basically, trying to have a conversation and driving is not safe. And don't worry, I don't do it myself. :D