How to Not Drive Like a Douchebag on Your Summer Road Trip

Driving advice from a cab driver, a truck driver, a pedicab driver, and others.

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The road trip seems like the simplest vacation ever: All you need is a road and a set of wheels, right? While those two things are certainly important, when it comes to driving long distances, there’s probably still a bit you can learn from the people who do it for a living. Take heed…

Monsoor Khalid, cab driver, owner of Candy Cab NYC: When I became a Yellow Cab driver, you had to take a two-week class where we had to really learn the city, including the best routes to take and how to find the quickest way to your destination given the time of day. Nowadays, I believe it’s just a day or two of training and that’s it. All of the competition Yellow Cabs face has changed things, but the training that I went through was valuable — especially the fact that I had to actually learn Manhattan through maps and really understand where I was.

Now, with GPS’, you don’t need to know where you are. The constant looking at a screen has led to a lot of distracted driving, and of course, more accidents. Personally, when I go out of town, I use a GPS, too, but I also plan a route beforehand so I’m familiar with where I’m heading. And as much as possible, I try to put the phone away and focus on the road.

Kevin Soules, cross-country truck driver: I always tell my sons to think, What’s the craziest thing that car in front of you can do? and assume the worst. As a truck driver, expecting the unexpected and making sure that I have a way out of a dangerous situation has kept me in one piece.

When you’re travelling on the highway around these big 18-wheelers, don’t follow too close, or speed up just to catch that exit you almost missed — it’s far too dangerous to do that, and I see a lot of accidents start that way. People need to realize that big trucks don’t stop on a dime. A person in a car can put the brakes on and stop in about, say, 150 feet, but for a truck like mine, we put the brakes on, and it takes an entire football field to stop.

So next time you’re in the left lane and you just realized your exit’s up, let it go and come back around. Sure, you may lose a little time, but for a guy in a truck like mine, if I’m put in a situation where my truck smashes into another vehicle, well, it’s going to be a tragic day, I can tell you that.

Ed Carrol, bus driver for Hampton Roads Transit in Norfolk, Virginia: Most drivers tailgate the car in front of them, then stare at its tail lights so that they can slam on their brakes in time. If you increase your following distance, you have more time to react. An easy way to measure safe following distance is to stay three seconds behind the car in front of you. There’s actually an easy way to time that: Pick a fixed point like, say, a light pole — once the car in front of you passes that pole, you should be able to count three seconds before you pass it yourself. If you don’t reach three seconds, you’re following too close, and you probably won’t be ready if that car suddenly has to slam the brakes.

Also, for those of you who feel bored while you’re driving, all of your attention should be on the road, not eating a sandwich, checking your email, reading a newspaper or anything like that. When you’re giving the road your full attention, after driving for a few hours, you shouldn’t be bored, you should be exhausted.

David Knipp, pedicab driver with Movemint Pedicab in Austin, Texas: Just so you know, the guys who drive pedicabs in cities across America don’t hate cars, and we’d like to think cars don’t hate us. Here in Austin, there’s a well-regarded pedicab culture, but in larger, more fast-paced cities, it’s scarier for us, because people can be more hostile to pedicabs and bicycles. There have been times in those cities where someone’s not happy behind the wheel and you hear an engine rev, a horn honk, or a “Get off the road” or a “Screw you!” while we’re simply obeying traffic laws just like they are.

To those people — or anyone losing their cool on the road — I say to just “slow your roll.” You’ll get there eventually and being aggressive will only lead to more accidents — and probably won’t get you to where you’re going any faster.

Ike Nahem, retired locomotive engineer with Amtrak: When operating a train, there’s something we refer to as “situational awareness,” which basically means you should know where the hell you are and what’s coming up. Honestly, whenever you see these big train crashes on the news, that’s generally because someone was lacking situational awareness in some way. Knowing the speed limit, knowing where you’re going and being aware of your surroundings at all times are important things to know for any kind of driving. Which, honestly, is fairly decent advice for life in general, I’d say.