Follow these 15 driving tips and make streets safer for everyone

A great city for biking must have great drivers.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post was submitted by BP Subscriber Alex Reed.

We all know driving is a challenging endeavor that carries grave responsibility – lives are on the line. But even driving according to the law dependably is difficult – much less going beyond the law to be truly courteous and helpful to other road users.

Here are some ideas I’ve found useful – starting with how to obey the law. If you don’t drive, please share this with your friends and family that do.

8 Tips To Help Get You to A+, 100% Lawful Driving

1. Take a deep breath – don’t rush.
If you’re reading this for tips, I bet you already obey the speed limit without fail. But don’t forget the Basic Speed Law (layperson’s version: don’t drive too fast for conditions)! There are tons of places and times where the speed limit is way too fast. Don’t be in a rush. Opting for slower and safer is better than just going on autopilot at the speed limit. As we leave the summer, allow more and more extra time for less than ideal conditions.

2. No ice is nice.
Have you ever seen those sad, scary people who only cleaned off a small portion of their frosted-over windshield hunching forward to see through it? Don’t be them. Be way better than them. Buy a frost scraper for your car and keep it there. Scrape off all of your windows and mirrors and your rear windshield – you use these pieces of glass to drive safely in the summer, why should you tolerate having them unnecessarily obscured in the winter? If you are caught without one, a credit card works just fine.

3. No H20, yo!
Have you noticed that just the dew on your car can obscure your vision almost as much as frost? Keep a rag or two in the car and dry your windows off. If you drive long distances with the heat on, just lay the rag over a heat vent and it’ll dry. If you don’t, you’ll need to dry it outside the car. Just leaving it in the car leads to bad things… ask me how I know!

4. Regularly clean the INSIDE of your windshield.
I think most of us know to clean the outside of our windshield (pro-tip: use the time Oregon’s gas attendant law gives you to clean it with their nice soap and squeegee EVERY time you get gas). But, how often do you clean the inside of your windshield? I keep a pack of disposable cleaners in the glovebox and do this without fail when I change the clock on my car for daylight savings time. I’m always disgusted by how dirty the wipe gets. I try to do it around the solstices, too.

5. Turn off the call/text volume on your phone before you enter the vehicle.
I know, I know – your phone is your GPS. Mine too. That doesn’t mean that you need to be distracted by your friend’s phone call.


6. AFTER you turn the car on, do a safety walkaround.
How many times have you said, “Man, how long has that lightbulb been burned out??” It’s not hard to avoid this. Just turn on your car, turn the lights on, and do your safety check. You can also look for flat tires, people walking in the vicinity, etc. If you have a passenger who can check the brake lights while you have your foot on the brake, so much the better!

7. You don’t have to listen to screaming children.
You can’t control your children, but you can control your ears. Get some good earplugs and a pair of noise-cancelling earmuffs. Store them in your car. Use BOTH together and it really takes the edge off of your kids’ voices.

8. Listen to that little voice saying, “Is this really a good idea?”
Thinking about taking your needy dog in the car without a carrier or restraint? Thinking about carrying something on your car that’s really too big for it? I know some part of you knows it’s not a good idea. Listen to it. Find another way. Don’t buy that piece of furniture. Wait to take your adorable new puppy on a hike until you’ve gotten all the appropriate equipment. Don’t be that person who puts their impatience and excitement over the safety of everyone else on the road.

7 Tips To Get You to 101% – Extra Credit!

Just obeying the law consistently means you’re out-performing most other people on the road. If that’s you, good job!! But let’s be better than that – here are driving “extra credit opportunities!”

1. Avoid driving on bike facilities, or on streets without sidewalks if you can.
These are both situations where you’re likely to be driving with other humans with no physical barrier between you and them. No matter how courteously you drive, your very presence will make them uncomfortable. If you can, choose another route.

2. If you must drive in shared space, be extra-super-nice.
If you must drive on a greenway for a little while, never pass someone on a bike – just be patient and drive slowly. If you’re driving on a rural two-lane road with no shoulder or a too-small shoulder, wait until you can safely drive completely in the oncoming lane before passing someone walking or biking. This adds a lot of comfort, and a measure of safety – what if the person walking trips, falls, or must avoid something you don’t see?

3. Slow down if you see someone walking who might want to cross
Even if they’re not strictly triggering the crosswalk law, they might trigger it as you approach – or they might be waiting for the sign from you that it’s worth bothering to trigger the law.

4. Don’t drive unless you have to.
Like taking an animal’s life for food, driving is a trespass on other beings and Mother Nature that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Every time you drive, you expose other beings to danger. Only do it if the benefit to you or others is worth that cost.

5. If you own or buy a dark-colored car, have it repainted.
It’s harder to see dark cars in low lighting conditions. I know you have headlights, but even with headlights on, it’s easier for others to interpret the location and speed of a dark-colored vehicle than a light-colored one.

6. If you use a motor vehicle, choose one with as low a profile as will work for your needs.
We’ve all experienced not being able to see around an SUV or box truck. If you don’t need one, don’t use one. Most people’s heads can be seen above the tops of passenger cars, and can’t be seen above the tops of larger vehicles. Plus, lighter vehicles pose less danger to others in the event of a collision.

7. Help encourage other people to drive safely.
Stay engaged when in the passenger seat and point out people waiting to cross the street. Maybe bring around some of those windshield-specific wet wipes to clean the inside of the windshield when riding with a friend. We’re social beings, and if you show in your actions that you care about safe driving, you’ll be encouraging your friends to value it as well.

Do you drive? Share your safe driving tips with us.

— Alex Reed, BP Subscriber

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