Sunday, November 14, 2010

General News Clip - Reader's Pet Peeves "Honk, Honk! Watch It, Ok?"

Honk, honk! Watch It, OK?: Reader's pet peeves
Greensboro News & Record (NC)-November 14, 2010
Edition: Greensboro Edtion Variation
Section: General News
Page: A15


        Dalton Malloy peers out from under his shaggy brown hair, his hands gripping the wheel at 10 and 2, as he prepares to turn right onto Spencer Dixon Road. Toward downtown. At rush hour.

        Here are some of things that are going through the head of this Northern Guilford High School freshman: following distance, space cushion, stopping distance.

        In the backseat, Will Birchfield anxiously waits for his turn behind the wheel.

        Pretty heavy stuff for two 14-year-olds.

        Luckily, the co-pilot for the journey is a little more seasoned at this driving thing.

        After 354,000 miles of teaching driver's education for the N.C. Driving School, Charles Davenport Sr. has seen some of the worst habits on the road, mostly from drivers other than his students.

        If you asked folks around here what their driving pet peeves are - and we did - you would be inundated with responses: Tailgating. Speeding. And did we mention the lack of turn signals?

        Davenport was just one of the readers who answered our query, lamenting the state of our local driving situation with his response:

        "Just because your left hand is occupied holding that cell phone to your ear does not mean you are exempt from signaling your turns. Moron!"

        And before his three-hour lesson with Dalton and Will was over, he saw several other doozies from licensed drivers who could have learned a thing or two from his class.

        Davenport's mighty hand is ready to grab the wheel of the 2-ton projectile at a moment's notice. Just in case.

        His foot hovers above the passenger-side dual safety brake pedal, ready to stop the white Ford Taurus with the triangular white-and-blue sign on top.

        But it isn't really the teenagers that worry Davenport. After all, he's the one teaching them good habits.

        It's those other guys.

        Davenport may be starting off at a bit of a disadvantage, says Greensboro police officer J.B. Price. The traffic safety unit pro says that as human beings, we are visual learners and simply mimic what we see.

        "The problem is the students are learning the bad habits of their parents," Price says.

        If their parents think it's OK to go 10 miles over the speed limit, then the new drivers will think so, too.

        Dalton continues south toward downtown, eagerly awaiting each direction from his Zen-like instructor, who points out changing speed limits, road signs and pedestrians along the shoulder like points of interest on a guided tour.

        The conversation turns to following distances and stopping at traffic lights.

        Remember, Davenport says, "If you can't see the tires of the car in front of you, you are too close."

        Traffic gets heavier as they continue south toward Moses Cone Hospital. Davenport has been looking in the rear view mirror, watching the fast approach of a black car. Soon, it is a little too close to their car for comfort - yet another pet peeve.

        "Tailgating. Don't get me started on that. If I have to slam on my brakes due to an emergency and you are 6 feet off my rear bumper, guess who is at fault when you crash into my car? Moron!"

        Speeding and following too closely are the most common driving errors, Price says. In fact, they cause 60 percent of crashes.

        "For whatever reason, people don't have a concept of reaction time," he says.

        Soon afterward, a red truck with a Virginia license plate cuts in front of the clearly marked driver's education car. Davenport helps Dalton alert the driver that he erred by applying firm pressure to the horn.

        Davenport says his car is a magnet for "idiot driving" because people make unsafe maneuvers to try to avoid it.

        His voice is firm but reassuring as he reminds his students to keep their speed constant and check their blind spots as they are changing lanes, one of the hardest things to teach new drivers, he says.

        Davenport stretches out in the Taurus, feeling a little more comfortable in this "office" than he has in his two previous mobile classrooms.

        When you are 6 feet, 5 inches tall, 60,000 miles in a Ford Escort can feel a little cramped. Another of his cars, a Ford Focus, was finally retired after 178,000 student miles. So far, this little beauty is up to 116,000.

        He's hoping for a Lamborghini next time. With the triangular sign perched right on top.

        As Dalton pulls up to a red light behind a police car, Will, who has been sitting silently in the back seat, offers this sage advice: "Don't hit that car."

        Traffic is getting heavier, so it's time for a break at Yum Yum near UNCG. Then it will be Will's turn to drive.

        He gulps after scooting the seat up, fastening his seatbelt and checking his mirrors. He eases the gearshift down and prepares to back out of the parking space near a busy garage with lots of pedestrians.

        Dalton, now serving as an actual backseat driver, helps by telling Will when it's clear.

        Will approaches a shiny silver Mercedes with a little more speed than Davenport might like.

        "If you're gonna hit a car, hit a cheap one," Davenport says.

        Soon, it's time to tackle some tough downtown hazards: railroad tracks, right-hand turns (eight floors of them in the Bellemeade Street parking deck), and traffic circles.

        If General Greene could talk, he would have some stories to tell about the traffic violations he's seen from his perch on the Greene Street circle.

        Yet another peeve.

        "There are some really bad drivers in this area and we seem to get more bad drivers every day."

        But are drivers in Greensboro any worse than anywhere else?

        Price's theory is that everyone thinks everyone else out there is an idiot. "We just develop poor habits, inattention and have an arrogance of our experience," he says.

        The sun starts to set, and it's time to head back to school.

        The posted speed limit on the two-lane road within the city limits is still 35 mph. Dalton is maintaining his speed.

        A truck approaches in a passing zone, and tears past the car.

        It was in a legal place to do so, but that driver was certainly exceeding a safe speed when he passed, Davenport says, sighing.

        "The absolute, total disregard for the speed limit in Greensboro. It is not unusual to be passed in a 35 mph zone by vehicles traveling 50+ mph."

        Today's lesson is over.

        One more on-road session (three-point turns and backing in a straight line are on the agenda), and Will and Dalton, who have since turned 15, were cleared to go to the DMV on their birthdays.

        Davenport thinks they will be good drivers.

        They'll just have to look out for everyone else.

 Contact Janet Brindle Reddick at 373-7370 or

  Editor's note: Will got his provisional permit on Nov. 4.

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