Rules of the Road

I recently read a story that reminded me some Tennessee drivers leave a lot to be desired in the driving skill department. I don’t mean the cliché of us not knowing how to drive properly in wintry weather, which really shouldn’t be held against us because it’s not like we really have to do it often (besides, people from regions that do know how to drive properly in wintry weather can’t make proper iced tea and even completely fail to recognize its importance. One of those is an important skill and the other involves a car). I refer to those individuals who seem to completely lack the ability to follow simple traffic rules.

We see them all the time, drivers who believe the rules are mere suggestions that often do not apply to them. They are the type that, when a passenger of a good driver, search for the source of the clicking noise that precedes all lane changes and turns. I’m sure they are all nice enough people, they just should have paid more attention in driver’s ed.

Actually, more attention in driver’s ed probably wouldn’t help, at least if it was like mine which consisted of 50’s and 60’s snuff films from the Ohio Highway Patrol (with such titles as Mechanized Death and Blood on the Highway), screenings of License to Drive (with both Coreys) and Moving Violations (with neither), and the practical experience of utilizing drive through windows at Burger King.

Still, a certain amount of common sense should be required to operate a motor vehicle and all too often other driver’s (certainly never yourself) possess little if any. Take one of the few accidents I’ve ben in. It happened in the mid-90’s in Clarksville at the intersection of Madison Street and University Avenue. At the time, that part of Madison Street was only a two lane road. It was obvious that there was only one lane per direction because there were no markings to indicate more than one lane per direction.  It didn’t matter that the one lane was almost wide enough for two vehicles, there was only the double yellow line, the lane, a white line, and finally the curb. Clearly, there was only the one lane.

I was on Madison Street and annoyed by a driver that kept his car ridiculously close to mine. Half a block away I flipped on my turn signal to indicate I planned to make a right turn on University. I listened to the clicking noise to confirm the turn signal was on and double checked that the correct signal was activated. It was.

Since the guy behind ,e was following so closely, and because I’m a considerate driver, I moved toward the left hand side of the lane so I could take the turn more quickly and be out of the way of someone clearly in a hurry. As I moved to the left, I noticed the car behind me move to the right. Just as I made the turn, the driver behind accelerated in an attempt to pass. This would have been fine since I was trying to get out of his way anyway. Only problem is, he attempted to pass me on the right. I was already in the turn and couldn’t straighten back out, so I gunned it to clear the intersection. I was so close to making it.

I avoided a t-bone wreck, but his car still slammed into my bumper. The back-end of my pickup skidded a bit, but it didn’t feel as if it took a lot of damage. I took a deep breath and pulled in to the parking lot of the church building on the corner. It was ideal because it was mostly empty and because I attended service there so I knew we could get to a phone if necessary (I didn’t even have a cell phone until 2000).

I got out and surveyed the damage to my truck while I waited for the other driver. The bumper was bent, but that seemed to be it. It certainly fared better than the other vehicle. As it pulled in the parking lot, I saw that its left headlight was completely smashed and the right front fender crumpled. I decided I wouldn’t make a big deal about the accident. The other driver was at fault and his car was clearly worse off. Mine just had a little more character. I thought the other driver would be happy about my decision. I was wrong.

He jumped out of his car and immediately yelled with outstretched arms, “What are you doing?” He angrily walked toward me and I instinctively moved back.

“Excuse me?” I expected him to be upset, but I didn’t expect him to be on the offensive.

“What are you doing? You can’t turn right out of the left lane!”

“Wait, what?

“You can’t turn right out of the left lane!”

“I didn’t.”

“You did. I saw you.”

“I didn’t. There’s only one lane.”

“There’s two lanes right there.”

“Sir, ” I began politely even though I raised my voice, “There is only one lane. There’s the double yellow line, the lane, the white line, and the curb. One lane. Only one lane.”

He called me some creative names and yelled some more. I realized we were not going to be able to settle this.

“Look,” I tried in a softer voice, “We clearly don;t agree on what happened. I attend here so I’ll go inside and call the police so we can get an accident report.”

I didn’t wait for his answer and went inside. I fielded questions from our church secretary then tried to call the police. I didn’t want to tie up 911, so I dialed the main number for the Clarksville Police Department. I explained the situation to the officer that answered, listened carefully to his instructions, hung up the phone, and then followed his instructions exactly. I called 911.

I went back outside and awkwardly waited for an officer to arrive. When one did, he looked at the vehicles and first asked me what happened.

“Please talk to this gentleman first,” I said, “I think he’s more upset than I.”

The officer did speak to the other driver first while I walked a respectful distance out of earshot. I knew I would get a chance to give my account of events and the officer would hopefully have an easier time if the two of us weren’t trying to talk over each other. The other drive pointed and waved his arms a lot. The officer then walked over to me. The other driver followed.

The other driver remained silent as I explained I was willing to let it go. He remained silent as I gave my account. Well, he remained silent right up until I said I turned right onto University.

“That’s right! He turned right, but out of the left lane! That’s why I hit him, it’s all his fault.”

“Sir,” the officer said, “there’s only one lane there.”

“No there’s not! There are two lanes there! Everybody knows that!”

The officer sighed and slowly said, “Sir, there’s a double yellow line, the lane, the white line, and the curb. Just one.” I tried not to smile. I failed.

The other driver became apoplectic. “There are two lanes! It’s wide enough for two lanes!”

The officer took a step toward the man and raised his hand as he said, “Sir, first you need to calm down. Second, there is only one lane right there. He,” he gestured to me, “is willing to let this go. I suggest you let it go.”

“But it’s his fault! I want an accident report.”

“Sir, it is not his fault. If I write an accident report, I will find you at fault. He’s trying to give you a break. Let him.”

“But it’s his fault,” the other driver persisted, “He, he, uh, he didn’t use his blinker.” Lame.

“Sir, it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t. You rear ended him. You are at fault.”

Eventually, the officer’s words sunk in, at least partially, and the other driver stormed off muttering something about unfairness.

“You’ll hear from my lawyer!”

“I doubt it,” said the officer.

We never did.

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.
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About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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