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Ask Dr. Delay: Shift gears and work to be a better driver in 2012

Dr. Delay is admittedly not an ace at resolution keeping. Nevertheless, there are bad road habits worth striving to improve upon as we head into 2012. If nothing else, we all should resolve to be better drivers. Here are 10 reminders to ponder based on the Doc's reader mail this past year:

1. Put down the phone! There is no phone call or text message worth your life or the lives or limbs of others. Phone addicts don't seem to realize that they become so distracted chatting while driving that they weave in and out of lanes, drive well below or above the posted speed limit or come close to rear-ending vehicles. The Doc counts dozens — yes, dozens — of people on the road every day driving with their chins to their chests as they tap away on their smartphones. It's insanity. If the call can't wait, do us all a favor and pull over.

2. Disengage the autopilot. Most of us, if we're honest, know we have experienced the phenomenon of driving from Point A to Point B with little to no recollection of what transpired in the interim, and it's nothing to joke about. Resolve to get yourself off autopilot and become fully engaged in the work of driving a potentially lethal piece of sophisticated machinery that weighs nearly 2 tons. This means we need to turn down the volume of the stereo, get the dog out of our lap, tell passengers to pipe down and pay close attention to what we're doing and what others on the road around us are doing.

3. Use directional signals. They are not just for turning but must also be used to signal our intentions to one another, including lane changing.

4. Use headlights when it's raining. It's the law. If you need to use your windshield wipers, your headlights should be on, too.

5. Take the road less traveled. Get out of your commuting rut if possible and try a new route once in a while. You may be surprised to find a more pleasant drive, especially if you have been avoiding certain roads because of long-term construction.

6. Yield to emergency vehicles without fail. The sirens and flashing lights of emergency vehicles aren't signals to slow down or hit the brakes and freeze in place, effectively blocking the path. They mean get out of the way. So do so quickly and safely.

7. Don't take things personally. We all make mistakes — there are few among us who have not made an unintentional bone-headed move while driving. Don't get steamed and whip yourself into a road-raging, obscene-gesturing, expletive-spewing froth. Rise above the anger and move on.

8. Don't be a meanie. The road is no place to indulge in spite and malice, so if you're one of those folks who intentionally speeds up and blocks others from changing lanes, knock it off. Practice patience. Yield to one another. Don't hog a lane just because you were there first; move over and give way to drivers merging into traffic, especially on the highway. That good road karma may come back to you in the form of someone cutting you a break on the road on the way home, which is always a pleasant surprise.

9. Use highway on-ramps to pick up speed. The time to speed up is not when you have already (probably not very smoothly) merged into interstate traffic that is traveling at high speed. It's a dangerous practice that can cause a catastrophic accident. If you're a timid driver or overwhelmed by the interstate, be honest with yourself about it and stick to state roads. There's no shame in that at all.

10. Check yourself. If your skills have gotten rusty, take a refresher course. It's a good way to sharpen your defensive driving know-how. Check out the online resources offered by the National Safety Council at www.nsc.org or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.gov.

Email Dr. Delay at DocDelay@gmail.com to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions or follow Ask Dr. Delay on Facebook. Questions selected for publication may be edited for space and clarity.

Ask Dr. Delay: Shift gears and work to be a better driver in 2012 12/31/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 3:31am]
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