The Open Road Archives (97-09-20)

This time I'm not writing the column. Instead I thought I would pass along this essay, written by a friend.

Leave enough space - It could save your life

It's morning. You're driving along in traffic. You come over the crest of a hill. All of a sudden you see a sea of brake lights! Everybody is braking! Some of them are swerving! That's when you notice the smell of burning rubber. Somebody had to stop too quickly!

You can't see the problem, but you slam on the brakes. That's when you realize that the guy behind was following too close and doesn't have time to stop. You release the brakes, then apply them again, trying to stop before hitting the car in front without getting hit from behind. Fortunately, you had left enough space ahead.

It works! You slow down enough to join everybody else as they crawl past the trouble. After a few car lengths, you see headlights. Headlights? In the fast lane, a car has spun around and is facing into traffic. Fortunately, nobody hit it.

Another morning. It's sunny. Very sunny. Some of the cars are driving without their headlights on. They don't realize that that makes them almost invisible to other drivers. You approach the same hill. This time you decide to think ahead. You watch the cars going over the top of the hill. Is that brake lights? Or just the reflection of the sun? You decide to slow down before going over the hill, just in case.

Good choice! As you come over the hill, the cars in the fast lane are all braking, and braking hard. One of them suddenly swerves into your lane, probably because it was the only way to avoid hitting the car in front of him. Fortunately, you had left enough space that he didn't have to hit you.

You continue, starting down the hill. The road is littered with debris from what seems to have been an earlier accident. There are too many cars to avoid the debris, but you are driving slow enough to avoid any damage.

Let's try the afternoon, on a weekend. Different road. Different hill. This time you're driving on the washboard surface left by construction when they're about to resurface. Again, you come over the top of the hill and there's a sea of brake lights. While slowing, you look ahead. Partway up the next hill there are flashing lights, probably a police car.

Suddenly your attention is jerked back to your own car. The car ahead is swerving. There are only two lanes and both of them are full. You were already slowing down, but are you about to witness an accident? No. Just the stench of burning rubber and the rush of adrenalin. There was enough space between you and the next car that even when he panics, swerving to a stop, all you have to do is slow, and let him get his car turned back into traffic.

What had happened? In this case, we crawled up the hill to where the police car was parked. Just past the cop car there's a car in the ditch between the two directions. It's upside down! What happened? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody had been too agressive about changing lanes on that washboard surface.

These are a few tales from my recent trips in the Toronto area, and, I think, proof that it pays to leave enough space for the car ahead. Thanks, Rhodes, for the advice.

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