When changing lanes, pray that a UFO is protecting you

“The new driver is weaving,” the passenger whispered in my pal’s ear.

Dave Millhouser

Walter had just finished a 24-hour shift and was snoozing in the front seat of a 4104 while the “fresh” driver took command.

Fresh being a relative term, the “relief” guy had 12 driving hours under his belt in another bus before staggering onto Walter’s vehicle, and he was changing lanes indiscriminately.

Raising an eyelid, Walter mumbled, “Shut up, he’s just practicing his passing,” and resumed his nap.

Let’s begin at the beginning. In 1911, Edward N. Hines was following a leaky milk tanker in Michigan when he noticed that it was leaving a white line in the middle of the road. He cleverly figured that painting the line would be more permanent and might serve to prevent collisions.

Hines invented the lane.

Since changing lanes is one of the riskier aspects of driving, it seems worth exploring. There are two kinds of lane changes, accidental and deliberate.

A number of things may initiate inadvertent lane changes. Blown tires, hydroplaning, wind gusts, falling into a coma (or just not paying attention). Hydroplaning is a personal favorite. At speed it can cause a steroidal lane change that sweeps the whole highway.

New technology like tire monitoring systems and lane departure warning systems help some. The latest lane departure systems are neat. When you stray, the driver’s seat vibrates, so only the driver is awakened.

In ye olden days, my boss would sit behind us with a cattle prod and if we wandered, he would nuke our bums. Some passengers found our screams unnerving (kidding).

Of course there is the “hybrid” change, where you drift into the other lane, realize you’re halfway there without having crushed anything, and keep going maintaining the illusion you meant to change lanes. Some other time we can discuss the subtle differences between hybrid lane changes and weaving.

Since there’s an element of danger involved each time we cross Hines’ lines, avoiding changes where possible is good practice. There are, however, a number of good reasons to deliberately change lanes — passing, setting up a turn, avoiding road debris or aiming for the correct tollbooth.

Whether purposeful or accidental, a number of cosmic truths are involved.

First, since two objects can’t occupy the same spot, don’t slide into a space without checking for other vehicles. You knew that.

It’s worthwhile to step it up a notch and constantly keep score of all the traffic around you. If a car you’re tracking disappears, either a UFO beamed it up or it’s in your blind spot. Wishing the UFO got it doesn’t make it so.

Adjusting mirrors correctly can reduce those pesky visual black holes, and since modern buses have remote-controlled mirrors, you can aim them appropriately for the type driving you’re doing.

If you’re consistently keeping track of traffic and one of those inadvertent changes rears its ugly head (in the form of inattention, a road hazard or a sneaky toll booth), you may be able to avoid an accident, or at least know what you squished.

Signaling is a complex issue. Irrelevant in the event of accidental lane changes, it represents a complex moral dilemma in the case of intentional ones.

In New England, where I live, the common wisdom is to never let them know what you’re gonna do so they can’t snarf your space. In civilized regions, like the Midwest, signaling is the gallant thing to do. Each area has it’s own etiquette (or neurosis).

While I personally recommend that you consistently signal (or at least subtly hint) lane changes, be aware of the local customs. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

Slow is better than fast. Enjoy your lane changes. By easing into another lane, you offer a stealth vehicle lurking in your blind spot the opportunity to greet you with horn blasts (or, more likely, an upturned finger).

Plan ahead for lane changes, targeting an open spot in the traffic stream as opposed to creating one by ramming.

It never hurts to know how long your coach is. A 35-foot bus fits into a smaller space than a 45-foot one. When slipping into a gap in another lane, it is VERY important to know where your rear end is. Good advice any time.

I learned to drive by sliding into the driver’s seat of a moving bus. The only way I could center it in the lane was to align the inspection sticker in windshield corner with the stripes in the highway as they whizzed by.

With this navigational technique, lane changes were only possible where there were no stripes.

This is not a good way to go. You can end up in some strange places, particularly if you’re following a leaky milk tanker.

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at Davemillhouser@gmail.com.

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