Car Talk's Guide to Civil Driving

The situation on the roads is pretty sad.

And we're tired of it.

Wouldn't it be so much more pleasant to share the roads with friends instead of enemies?

If you want to reduce the number of jerks on the road, you have to start by minimizing your own jerky behavior. Try to react to frustrating situations as you would if you were walking instead of driving. If someone almost bumped into you on the sidewalk, would you call him a schmuck and make obscene gestures?

In fact, you'd probably say, "Excuse me," even if he or she was wrong.

So, here are a few humble suggestions for making our lives on the road a little more tolerable.

Tom and Ray

Pay Attention.

There are plenty of distractions. And, you can almost always get away with not giving the road your undivided attention. What worries us, however, is that one time in 10 years, when one-tenth of second will save you from plowing into the back of a tanker filled with spent plutonium fuel rods--or worse, a minivan full of kids, possibly your kids. Don't try to do several things at once. You're driving now. Other people's lives depend on it.

What's the hurry? Slow down.

What's the worst that could possibly happen? You're late. Big deal. What's the worst that can happen if you drive too quickly? You never get there at all. We rest our case..

Leave enough stopping distance. That is, don't tailgate.

Take this one question quiz:

True or false?

The tailgating rule is to leave one car length for each 10 mph between your car and the car in front of you. (That is, if you're driving at 60 mph, leave 6 car lengths.)

Well, if you said "true", you're wrong. That old rule from Driver's Ed probably doesn't apply in your state. Nearly all states have changed the tailgating law to the two-second rule.

Here's how it works.

Pick a stationary object ahead of you on the roadside. When the car ahead passes that object, start counting off two seconds. (One cappuccino, two cappuccino.) If you got to the object before counting the full two seconds, you're tailgating.

By the way, this is more stringent than the car length rule. For example, at 60 mph, you'd go 176 feet in those two seconds. Using the car length rule, you'd only be about 100 feet away from the car in front of you.

So, do it right. You'll be glad that buffer is there when the transmission falls out of the car in front of you. And, if someone moves into that space--big deal. Slow down and make a little more room.

Keep your car in good working order.

Think you can handle any contingency? Great! But, if you break down on the Interstate during rush hour... you're going to be selfishly inconveniencing a lot of other folks, too. Even if you don't break down, seemingly minor problems like broken tail lights and poorly aligned headlights can leave a trail of havoc in your wake.

Practice for dangerous conditions.

Not used to driving in snowy or icy conditions? Not many people are. And a little practice can pay humungous dividends when the time comes. Our advice? The next time your local Wal-Mart has an icy, snowy or wet parking lot... drop by late at night and practice turning out of a skid, braking and generally getting the feel of those conditions. And remember this: If you have four-wheel drive, it's not going to help you stop! It only helps you go.

Is getting to work on time really that important?

We've noticed an interesting phenomenon. People drive far more recklessly when driving to and from work than they do at other times. Do you?

Sleepy? Pull over.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that sleepiness while driving contributes to more than 100,000 crashes a year. The solution is simple: Don't push yourself. If you're tired, your reactions are even worse than you realize. Pull over immediately and get some sleep.

One other tip: Never use the cruise control if you are the least bit tired. If you fall asleep at the wheel with the cruise on, you'll be in the obits before you can say, "Sharp corner with precipice."

Be courteous, It won't kill you.

In fact, you might even feel good about yourself. Remember the analogy about walking on the sidewalk.

Forgive others their transgressions.

The simple fact is, if we want to reduce road rage, it has to stop somewhere. Our advice? Keep your hand off the horn, and keep your fingers in perfect alignment. Not convinced? Remember this: He could have a gun.

Don't be a vigilante.

Spot a really crazy driver? Let the police deal with him. Don't let your emotions get the better of you. If he's driving like a maniac... chances are he is a maniac. Do you want to end up by the side of the road, in a fist fight with a guy who has the brain the size of a peanut and enough testosterone coursing through his veins to kill a horse? Of course not! Try to get his plate number, pull over to the side of the road and tell the cops.

Don't pick your nose.

Or, if you do, at least have the courtesy to not do it in front of other drivers. You may cause a dangerous gag reflex.