By Steve Murch
Comedian/actor Louie Anderson used to have a bit where he talked about crazy things his dad said. For example: “If I was the last man on earth someone would make a left-hand turn in front of me.”
The older I get, the more I understand the sentiment behind that particular gripe. Living in Northeast Michigan I probably understand it even more. It’s not that people make left-hand turns in front of me, it’s that more and more people are generally poor drivers.
It used to be prevalent in this part of the state, but it has spread – the Northeast Michigan right-hand turn is now a thing, too. It’s that sweeping right-hand turn where the driver actually maneuvers the vehicle either on the center line or slightly over it to make a right-hand turn (think or how a semi makes that maneuver) as if the curb were squared off and had a point. It’s a little frightening if you are in the oncoming lane and suddenly a vehicle is coming at you, or you are in the inside lane heading the same direction when the other driver drifts your way to make the turn.
Now, I’ve heard it argued that it’s because vehicles are longer today. Maybe, but if a dump truck or garbage truck can make the turns without crossing the center line, which I’ve seen happen with regularity, then any car or pickup should be able to make that turn. On top of that, the longest non-commercial car ever made was the 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood at nearly 250 inches long. Up to 30 inches longer than the more popular SUVs on the roads today. And that car was built 45 years ago.
But it’s not just the sweeping turn that causes me to pause. Too many people believe the left-hand turn lane is a transition lane they can pull in from a parking lot or side street and drive until traffic clears as they make their way across through traffic traveling to the driver’s left.
I was friends with the local Michigan State Police post commander a few years ago and he was telling me about how many tickets they handed out during a crackdown. Traffic had been increasing as more and more development west of the city limits was taking place and drivers were “transitioning” through their left-hand turns. MSP cracked down for a month and Mike told me that people wanted to argue the legality of using the lane to transition, they argued the ticket because they didn’t know it was a traffic law, etc.
The bad driving isn’t relegated to local highways or big city driving on the freeways. In August I traveled out west. On the first day I was west of Chicago on I-80 and needed to get a bite to eat, so I pulled off, went through a McDonald’s drive-thru and got an Egg McMuffin and Diet Coke.
I had to pull ahead and wait for my McMuffin and somehow wound up in a conversation with an older woman while I sat in my car. She was standing there very chatty and complaining about how the over-the-road truckers weren’t nearly as polite or as good of drivers as they used to be. I assumed that since it was only about an hour or so west of Chicago she probably drove to the city at least once in a while. She told me that it was the younger drivers who were the bad ones.
As I made my way west and the states slowly passed by, I was met with semi after semi pulling in to the left-hand lane ahead of me to pass a slower truck. Most of the time it was at the last minute and there was no one behind me, so they easily could have waited. I was forced to slow down. I would check my mirror after I passed them, and by gosh that woman was right. The ones who pulled out in front of me were young and those who waited until I passed were older.
It got worse once I was in the mountains. The semis didn’t care if you were coming up quickly behind them as another climb loomed. They pulled out, forcing me to lose momentum up the hill/mountain. One time the “faster” truck took about 15 miles to pass the other truck. When you have a dozen cars in a line in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, you have a traffic jam. That’s what happened.
Then, of course, there are the texters and talkers. Everyone talks on their phone while driving now, it seems. I synced my phone to the car so I be hands-free – not perfect but at least I have both hands free to handle the steering wheel. And we all know about how bad people can drive while texting. I followed someone for about 15 miles a couple of weeks ago, watching them slow down and speed up, swerve from the white line on the shoulder of the road across to the other lane. There was never a time – due to curves, swerves and hills – where I could safely pass. As soon I got back to town and the extra lanes, I glanced over to see her texting away with just the back of her hand on the wheel.
With winter temperatures and what looks like permanent snow cover for the winter arriving, the bad drivers are only going to be worse. I wish you all luck and safety on the roads.
Steve Murch is a former managing editor and award-winning columnist for The Alpena News. He’s a lifelong Michigan resident, a broken and defeated fan of the Detroit Lions, and a forever optimistic fan of the Detroit Tigers.