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When Turning onto a Roadway, a Simple Way to Know if You're Doing It Wrong

by on June 19, 2018 5:00 AM

Americans drive 3.2 trillion miles a year. Trillion. With a ‘T.’ A number so large that even if it were off by 20 billion miles the decimal place wouldn’t change.

And there are just shy of 328 million Americans. Meaning, on average, every woman, man and child – even the ones without a license – drives 9,750 miles a year. The United States Department of Transportation is nice enough to clear those who can’t drive out of that equation and lets us know the average licensed American drives 13,476 miles a year. That’s the equivalent of two round-trips from State College to Los Angeles, a round-trip from State College to Orlando, plus 1,100 miles for local trips. A lot of driving.

Now, if we take those average yearly miles, one additional calculation we can see is that every licensed driver in this country is driving 36 miles a day. Every day. All year long. In other words we are spending a good bit of time in our cars.

How much time? Well, here in Happy Valley, where the standard speed limit on streets seems to be 35 miles per hour, it means each of us is spending one hour every day driving around -- which right now, as we all know too well, might only get you three miles on North Atherton Street. But on most other streets it means you’ll be getting 30-40 miles, along with lots of right turns, left turns, red lights, pulling in and out of parking lots and parking spaces, and some merging.

Three years ago I wrote a column on merging in the hopes of getting a few of us to adopt the immeasurably more pleasant zipper-merge form of driving in construction zones. Lately there has been a bit more talk about it in the media, and although it is still a long way from being accepted by many of my fellow Pennsylvanians, it’s good to see others picking up the banner on this topic. I fear it will take a few generations to rid us of that “get-in-one-line-early” spirit, but I have faith.

Which is why I’m here today to talk to you about another major component of driving in the hopes of spawning some concern. That would be turning right or left and entering a roadway from a stop sign, driveway, parking lot, or a non-highway yield sign.

The short and sweet of it is this: if you turn onto a roadway and a vehicle that was approaching on that roadway has to brake because you entered, you’re doing it wrong.

Yes, yes, I know. You were in a hurry. They weren’t approaching that quickly. You knew you could floor it and get up to speed before they would have to brake. You waited forever in that line of cars at the stop sign and you needed to get going. Or, you just didn’t see them.

I’ll quote from the Title 75, Chapter 33, Subchapter B of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes:

The driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute a hazard during the time when the driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways and enter the intersection when it is safe to do so.

In traditional government legalese that statute is a mouthful. So let me repeat again – if you pull out and someone has to brake, you’re doing it wrong. If they have to brake, they were – in my opinion – close enough to constitute a hazard.

Luckily, in most instances, the vehicle constituting a hazard sees you, reacts by braking, and a collision is avoided. This scene is played out all over Happy Valley numerous times a day. One reason I believe this scene often ends without incident is that, as I mentioned above, in this area the standard speed limit seems to be 35 mph. And there are a number of roads where it’s 25, meaning the approaching vehicle is rarely going fast enough that they are unable to stop when you, the offending roadway-enterer, invariably pulls out in front of them.

The problem arises in that over time you get a relaxed attitude about pulling out in front of others the more you do it. You do it, it gets you where you’re going, and there are no consequences.

But in the outlying areas of the Centre Region there are a few two-lane roads with 55 mph speed limits -- roads where cars and trucks entering the roadway from a complete stop need to accelerate quickly to the speed of traffic. (An excellent reason to pay attention to those 0-60 times that car manufacturers advertise!) And if you attempt to enter these roadways with that relaxed attitude that served you well in a 35 mph zone, the result may not be as inconsequential. In fact, it could be deadly.

So keep yourself, your family, friends and the others drivers in Happy Valley safe and happy – if you are entering a roadway and someone will have to brake because you’re doing it, stop, and let that someone pass. Then you’ll be doing it right!

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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