Tip #6- Highway Safety at Intersections

Many highway accidents occur at rural crossroads. I, personally, exercise great caution at these very closely at all times. I consider this incumbent upon me as a responsible driver for the sake of my passengers, those I am approaching and myself. Let me tell you some of the precautions I exercise and then give you an illustration of how this saved me from a major accident on one occasion.

To begin with, I always drive with my left foot just above the brake pedal. The only exception I allow myself is if I am on a rural freeway where traffic is light.

Some young people have told me that driver education teachers advise against this practice, saying that, in an emergency, one is likely to slam down the feet on both the brake and the accelerator if both feet are available. Certainly that is a possibility but I can only relate that I have had to make many emergency stops, always using my left foot for braking and it has never happened to me.

I will, however, relate in this article how driving with the left foot over the brake pedal did, indeed, help save me from a terrible accident. Before I do so, I want to make a few additional safety observations regarding approaching a rural intersection.

Some drivers seem to drive with their observation limited, as it were, to a couple of feet in front of the radiator cap. In other words, they do not pan the view very far out in front of them. I believe this is a critical error that, sooner or later, will probably result in an accident.

As I approach a crossroad I watch the traffic approaching the highway I am driving. I quickly note who is obligated to stop. If it is the cross-traffic I watch the action of the other driver or drivers to observe whether they are slowing to a stop. I usually glance at them several times to verify that they are intending to stop.

If I am uncertain that they are stopping, I begin to feather the accelerator of my vehicle to gradually reduce speed, including dropping out of speed control. To be perfectly blunt about it, I make sure that if the approaching driver “blows” the stop sign or signal that it is his vehicle that is going to be hit, rather than mine. Over the years, there have been a few cases in which I have come to a crawl to be sure I have avoided an accident.

Great care needs to be taken that someone following you, if you slow down in the manner I have just described, does not create a rear-end collision. But, if it comes to it, you must avoid a frontal crash and let the driver behind you do his best to comply with the law of driving within the “assured clear distance ahead.”

Now for my illustration: Years ago I was driving, with my wife in the front passenger seat beside me one late afternoon. We were in southern Michigan on a four-lane unlimited access highway. The traffic flow was moderate in both directions with a grassy median between the lanes, two in each direction.

I was panning the crossroads during this drive and there were numerous ones. Suddenly, in my vision to my left I caught sight of a Ford pick-up truck approaching a stop. In the instant I had at my disposal I realized the driver might have his vision of me obscured to some degree by the traffic passing toward me on the opposite side. I was being especially cautious.

The posted speed on this stretch of road is 55 MPH. I estimate that my speed was about 50 at the time in question. I remember placing my left foot on the brake pedal with no pressure but with conscious recognition that I might have to stop.

Suddenly, the pick-up disappeared from the spot I knew he had to be to observe a stop. In a heartbeat I glanced in the mirror to be sure no traffic was close behind or passing me. At that moment I knew the truck had to be a second or so away from blocking up my path. I instinctively hit the brakes. I was driving a full-size Plymouth sedan, a car of nearly two tons.

The pick-up flashed out in front of me. A young man was at the wheel and his female passenger was there in front of me, just a few feet from the front of my car with only her door for protection. My car was now in a full slide but remaining in a straight run. To the credit of the offending driver, he “poured on the coal.” As we continued our slide I was gratified to realize we would probably hit the truck in the front part of the bed just aft of the passenger compartment. But, no, as Providence would have it, his speed and my sliding to a stop combined for the nearest miss I have ever seen or experienced.

The lesson: maintain eternal vigilance on the highway. The life of somebody’s sweetheart may be in the balance. It might be yours.

Drive safely!

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