6 things I want my grandchildren to know about highway driving

I was 17 when the State of Alabama decided to take a chance and issue me a driver’s license. The trooper giving the test admitted he was not too sure about me at the time.

Over these 57 years of driving, I have logged more than a  million miles on the streets and highways.  And I keep learning some things about safety.  Frankly, I worry about my three children and their families because some of these lessons are learned only on the road and not in textbooks or classrooms.

Whether they can be taught by a grandfather on the internet is a valid question.

So, for Leah and Jessica and Grant, for Abby and Erin, and for Darilyn and JoAnne, and within a few short years, for Jack also–the only one of our eight grands without a driver’s license–here are some urgent considerations Grandpa Joe wants to bring to your attention.

I would love for you to print this out and read it several times and even discuss it among yourselves.

1) Hydroplaning kills.

Yesterday morning, I drove 120 miles up the interstate during a driving rainstorm.  By the time I’d gone no more than 30 miles, I’d seen three crashed cars and another one spun out in the middle of the highway ahead of me.  These people were driving too fast on a water-covered highway and learned a valuable lesson there.

Not everyone survives hydroplaning.  If your car spins out in a busy highway, you will hit other cars and nothing after that is good.

Hydroplaning means water is standing on the pavement–usually the rain is falling faster than it can drain off–and your tires lose contact with the asphalt.  Losing traction in one or more tires throws the car into a tizzy and suddenly you are spinning or fishtailing.  It’s the scariest feeling in the world and it happens so quickly, you are helpless to do anything about it.  I’ve come upon cars that have rolled several times in the median as a result of hydroplaning.

Several friends tell me they’ve lost loved ones due to hydroplaning.

There’s a rule of physics that comes into play here: The faster your car goes, the lighter it is.  By slowing down when water is covering the highway, you are more likely to be all right. (Mostly, I drove around 50 mph through the rain.  But yesterday cars and trucks were whizzing by me at 70 and 80 mph.  I wondered, “Do they not know? Or just don’t care?”

Some tips: Try to choose the  portion of the lane (ahead of you) where no water is standing. Also, drive in the tracks of the car just ahead. But mostly, drive at a safer speed.

2) But don’t drive too slowly.

Avoid both extremes on the highways: too fast or too slow.  As a rule, you want to maintain a similar speed with the rest of the traffic around you.

I have a friend who says by driving a mite slower than most motorists on the interstate you will often have miles of highway all to yourself, as they pass you by and zoom away.  Maybe so, but be alert and smart. Do not take chances.

A tip:  If all the motorists are passing you and it’s obvious you are causing problems on the road, you are endangering yourself and your passengers. Speed up.

3) Practice defensive driving at all times. Stay alert!

“Defensive driving” means you are always alert to the possibility of something unexpected happening.  In city driving, when the lanes are filled with motorists, invariably, someone gets impatient and constantly jumps lanes to try to get an advantage.  These people are accidents looking to happen.  Watch out for them and get out of their way.

In the neighborhood streets, someone may back out of a driveway, a dog might run into the street, or a child may step out from behind a car. Always be alert.

On the highway, watch for debris on the pavement–I once hit something in the highway and had a blowout at 60 mph–and watch for careless drivers who do not notice you are in the lane beside them. Do not tailgate anyone. Leave space between you and the car in front of you “just in case.”  You will read of highway pileups because fog was making driving difficult and cars were following too closely at high speeds. When the leader got in trouble, they were all in trouble.

A tip:  Ask your spouse (or any other passenger) for criticism. Often they will spot some deficiency in your driving skills long before you do, but hesitate to mention it. So, ask.

4) Never text–or even read text messages!–while driving.  Pull over into a safe place and do it.

And frankly, it’s best not to text or read text messages at the red lights either. The light turns green and you are caught. (The driver behind you will notify you when you’re doing this because of your slow reactions. Smiley-face here.)

The thing is, texting requires your undivided attention.  It is physically impossible to text and drive at the same time. You will do one or the other, but not both. I suggest if you are the driver, you hand your phone to a passenger to answer.

A tip: Practice disciplining yourself not to pick up the phone when a text comes in.  Make yourself wait until you can pull into a safe parking lot before picking it up.  Only by rehearsing this will you be able to manage it when it happens.

5) If you have a choice, stay off the interstates. 

Typically, the traffic on the interstate is heavier and faster and thus more dangerous.  So, if you can choose an alternate route to your destination, one that won’t delay you too much or pose other hardships, do so.

If it were up to me, I’d pass a law that all my grandchildren must avoid the interstates forever!

A tip: Find other routes in your city, scenic drives, and interesting sights to see.  That way, choosing an alternate route can be a delight.

6) Avoid the big trucks.

Here’s a funny thing. Something in your psyche feels that hugging up to that 18-wheeler on the highway makes you safer.  So, you drive just behind it or beside it.  Huge mistake. At the wheel is someone very much like you, a normal person subject to all the distractions you are.  And he/she is piloting a monster weighing many tons that is hard to control and slow to stop.  His truck can squish your car and hardly feel it.  Get ahead or drop back. But as much as possible, stay away from the 18-wheelers.

Margaret and I were driving down U.S.Highway 45 toward Meridian, Mississippi, one day. This section of the highway had only two lanes. A big truck came around the curve toward us, and behind him, to our shock, came bouncing one of his wheels.  Had that giant wheel hit our car, we would have wrecked.  (As we went past, I noticed it veered off into a ditch.)  I’ve never forgotten the panic I felt.

A tip:  Stay alert about any vehicle around you, but in particular the 18-wheelers.  Remember your cousin Danny drives one of them, and if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

Drive carefully. I love you .

2 thoughts on “6 things I want my grandchildren to know about highway driving

  1. Thank you for this information all in one place. I have triplet grandchildren coming up from Jacksonville FL today. They have their driver’ permits so I am going to print this off & make them read it if they want Thanksgiving Dinner Thursday!! Thankful you made it home safe yesterday!

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