The Marine View Driver: DWO, or “Driving While Observant”

Wherein the author writes about the exact opposite.

By Mike Smith

A few thoughts for those who are allergic to driving near, behind, or accommodatingly around buses. In other words, let me vent after a hard week behind the wheel!

As a civic-minded individual, and since I find myself with the unique and lofty position of professional driver, albeit of lowly mass transit, I consider it my duty to point out a few perhaps rather obvious but previously unconsidered things about freeway driving.

I commence my generous helping of wisdom and winsome jocularity by way of a few random definitions, once again embarking on a sort of mini-glossary of terms. These entries are simply listed as the most commonly observed. And I think equally commonly misunderstood. (These scenarios and their attendant sage advice are based on actual events. Oh, and they occurred in Bellevue and points north. So Des Moines residents are innocent by proximity, if not by extrapolation. Of which I am wont to be guilty.)

Merging: Merging by definition is to yield the right of way. If a bus, say, is cruising along on the freeway and you wish to merge onto the lane said bus is in, it might be wise to time your approach to enter. If you wish to be ahead of the bus (and who doesn’t?) you should perhaps speed up to actually be ahead of the oafish coach when you are ready to enter the lane. Or perhaps, hard as this may be for some to conceive, you could slow down so as to enter behind the bus. Thereby enhancing the flow of the traffic at hand and enabling you to assess your situation with some reaction time built in.

(Extended aside: Despite the cost or intrinsic value of any vehicle, mass still wins in a battle of titans. A bus weighs 52,000 pounds. Even a Hummer weighs in at a measly 6200 pounds. The driver of almost any vehicle should know that being out-weighed tenfold is a dicey situation in which to insert or squeeze your fancy-ass self. In other words, if there is a line of cars that are not moving, don’t stick your nose just a bit in between a bus and the car in front of the bus, as though you just put a quarter on the pinball machine to indicate “your turn is next.” Your turn is not next. And you are in danger. Oh, and the complete wrong way to merge is to stare at your cell phone while on the ramp all the while headed in a general, what I would call collision course, for said bus. Of course you will eventually note a large object out of the corner of your eye. Or perhaps you will feel the compression of the wind vortex that builds up in front of large swiftly moving objects and respond. Startled and surprised by the sneaky bus alongside you which appears without warning and includes your imposition as part of his route card, you honk and pour it on and veer so as to get the aforementioned 52,000-pound behemoth filled with your neighbors to slam on his brakes to accommodate your “hilarious” cat pictures upload to Facebook and poor driving skills. But thanks to your neighborly partially-completed wave out the window I can be sure that all is well in the long run. I’m so glad to know you haven’t been offended. But I do feel obligated to remind us all that there are two operations in which buses are slower than cars: Speeding up and slowing down.)

Bracket racing: When you try to beat a bus to the off ramp, or simply go faster in a straight line, you forget that if we were actually in a race, we would never be bracketed together. So, slow down, race someone your own size. Of course, if you are the type who only targets those who can’t possibly compete so as to give you a sizable “victory,” then Hooray! You win. Next stop: picking on kids at the playground.

Drag racing: Drag racing is between two similar cars (there’s that qualifier again) that start from a stop and accelerate to get to a designated finish line. The fastest time is obviously the fastest vehicle. Buses were not designed for this type of racing, so, besides being unfair, this type of racing is analogous to a language barrier. The bus does not even know what you are trying to say. More to the point, the bus is more than likely headed to a different destination and its driver could not care less about your plans.

Commuting: Nothing like any of the above. Simply, a drive to work. In either a car or a bus. You are all commuting. Everyone has the same objective. Getting to work or school safely. The reward is a paycheck, not a gold cup.

Passing: Buses are slower than cars. Wow, you can pass one up. Great going! My thought is that if your chosen vehicle could not pass a bus, even going up a hill, I would suggest you get your money back. But to be clear: I do understand the thrill of passing someone who is going about 30 miles an hour in your $130,000 Porsche. It’s a rush. The car is worth every penny you paid for it.

As I’ve said before, I really enjoy driving the bus. Lately I’ve had to drive on the freeway a bit more than usual and I’ve found that the practices and protocols are a bit different than driving in the congested downtown area of Seattle. I will say this: All bus drivers are trained to be accommodating and careful. Metro has three operating principals that we are taught from the beginning: Safety, Service, Schedule. In that order. Our first priority is your safety.

There probably is no safer vehicle to be in than a Metro bus, by the way. Just from the sheer weigh of the thing. You sit up quite high and you are surrounded with steel and aluminum. Buses also can’t really go much over 60 MPH, either, so you’ve also got that going for you too.

But as to racing? Leave it to the professionals. You know, the ones on TV.

Thank you all for your kind indulgence!


One Response to “The Marine View Driver: DWO, or “Driving While Observant””
  1. BirchCreek says:

    Love it!

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