Interstate 81

Traffic makes its way along Interstate 81. Too many drivers, here and elsewhere, apparently don’t understand — or don’t apply — the rules of the road.

I was driving along a busy road some years ago when a grey-haired woman passed me on the right, narrowly sideswiping my car. A voice from the carseat behind me hollered, “@#!! Come on, LADY!” It was my 3-year-old son, who had prefaced his commentary with a word he had possibly learned in transit.

These days, I cringe when I glance in the rearview mirror, because now a gray-haired woman is looking back at me.

Is it my imagination, or has driving become more hazardous — with increased traffic and decreased attention? I thought I might review the “rules of the road” to see whether they still apply. Please consider the following summary a written warning when motoring through the state of Virginia.

Driving fast and furious is described as “dangerous or aggressive behavior behind the wheel.” It includes a multitude of bad behaviors, like passing on the right, gesturing, failing to stop or yield, and shouting my son’s expletive.

When I was young, I observed my father’s “distracted driving” as he broke up catfights in the back seat. He would yell and flail one hand behind him while grasping the steering wheel (white-knuckled) with the other.

I was recently in a heavily travelled metropolitan area when I caught sight of a tablet mounted on the dashboard of the car next to me. Like a passenger in an airplane, the driver was enjoying a movie while maneuvering in traffic. In Virginia, it is illegal to hold a phone in a work zone, read on a phone, or text while driving.

Despite the reality that distracted driving causes 20% of traffic crashes, state laws do not prohibit drivers from holding a phone outside of a work zone or streaming a video.

To celebrate when my nephew passed his driver’s license test, I rewarded him with a pair of fuzzy dice. He received a warning from a local policeman when he hung them from his rearview window, because they obstructed his vision.

Many people unknowingly obstruct their vision by hanging another item on their rearview mirror while they drive — a disabled parking placard. The DMV advises, “The placard must hang from the rearview mirror when the vehicle is in a disabled parking space (emphasis added).”

On long treks from New England to my home in Virginia, my father would inevitably transport some “treasure” on the roof of his car. He once tied a plastic pool in the shape of a frog that bent in half in the wind — alarming oncoming traffic for miles with its bugged eyes and gaping mouth. Hauling anything outside of a trunk can lead to an accident if it becomes flying debris. According to GEICO insurance, when a 20-pound object falls off a vehicle traveling 55 mph, the frightening result is a half-ton impact.

Controlling humans within an automobile can also be tricky — especially when a passenger (of a certain age) resists restraints because he or she remembers a time before seatbelts existed. However, the DMV states that all those in the front seat and anyone under 18 years old must be properly secured with a seatbelt.

A study in Fairfax showed a 40% reduction in red-light violations using the controversial method of camera recordings. If drivers responded appropriately to a yellow light by stopping when approaching it — instead of gunning the car through the light — there would be no need for such photo ops.

Other important reminders for the road well travelled include: Use low beams at sunset; turn lights on when windshield wipers are necessary; and use turn signals when changing lanes, passing, or entering/exiting a highway. And finally, if you have to speed to pass a grey-haired lady some day, you can expect a ticket and a diatribe from my grandson in the back seat.


Virginia Driver’s Manual, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles 2019

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Susan Lanterman wrote for the marketing departments of several companies before moving to Virginia. In Charlottesville, she produced the online journal Neurosurgical Focus for the Journal of Neurosurgery for 10 years. Her essays have been published in “Skyline,” a collection of prose and poetry by Central Virginia writers.

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