By Keith Leonard, Esquire
One of the things that I looked forward to while growing up was the family weekend road trip, which was then known as the Sunday drive. The family would pack into the car and my father would take us all for a ride to some new destination before heading back home. However, most times there was not even a specific destination in mind when we would start out on a trip.
In the thirty-plus years since I acquired my driver’s license, there have been significant changes in both the roadways of America and the economy. During that period the price of regular (then leaded) gasoline has gone from under $0.30 per gallon in the area of the country where I live to over $3.80 per gallon (as this article is written). Over that same period the population in this country has increased from slightly over 205,000,000 people to an estimated 309,000,000 people. Similarly, the number of motor vehicles in the United States has gone from about 113,000,000 to over 254,000,000 vehicles during those years. Those and other factors made it a rare event for my family to take the leisurely weekend trip to “nowhere and back” as my daughters grew up into adults.
Despite such changes, one thing that has not changed much over those years is the presence of, and need for, rules of the road. In 2008 over 37,000 people died while traveling on United States roads and over 22,000,000 are injured on those roads each year. Yet I still routinely observe drivers talking on their cell phones and others even texting while driving. Statistics indicate that a person increases their risk of a vehicle crash by twenty-three times when texting as they drive.
Defensive driving has evolved into something you should do now to minimize the potential of a crash with serious consequences while traveling on the roads. I do not say avoid a crash, because statistics again indicate that sometime within the next six years, each of us who are in a vehicle, whether as driver or passenger, will be in a crash. Defensive driving instructors outline some seventy rules of defensive driving. Some of those rules should be obvious to every driver. Such rules as do not drive while you are impaired and do not run a red light.
Others may not be so obvious; or at least they do not seem to this writer to be observed on anywhere near a regular basis. For example, if there is any doubt about who has the right of way, give it away to the other driver. Those of you who have ever driven through a New Jersey traffic circle will be happy to know that there are no published rules governing your trip through that circle; so good luck on deciding who has the right of way there. If you do not believe me, enjoy your read of the New Jersey Driver’s Manual at http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/Licenses/Driver%20Manual/Chapter_4.pdf ; look up the section on traffic circles.
Another of the defensive driving rules is to start out rested and keep fresh. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there may be as many as 100,000 crashes per year caused by driver fatigue, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths. Moreover, a driver should always signal intentions – i.e, use the turn signals in the vehicle. Considering the number of times a day that I see that rule disobeyed, I am convinced that certain vehicles must now be built without turn signals. However, I am not aware of a single motorist who has been pulled over and cited by a police officer for failing to signal their intentions when changing lanes or entering or exiting a highway. I also do not believe that any governmental agency keeps statistics on how many crashes are caused by such a failure to signal.
The left lane in each direction of four lane highways has seemingly mutated from the passing lane to the travel lane. While not true in all states, a number of states have laws that require a vehicle to stay out of the left lane of such a highway except when passing another vehicle. In multiple other states the law requires a vehicle in the left lane to yield to overtaking traffic.
While the foregoing laws and rules are valuable lessons to learn and implement while driving, there are some laws and rules governing the roads of this country that are at least a little unusual. According to the New Jersey Driver’s Manual, a driver is supposed to honk the horn to signal every time when passing another vehicle.
It is unlawful to hunt any wild animals from your motor vehicle in Tennessee, but perfectly legal to consume road kill in that state. Likewise, it is lawful to consume road kill in West Virginia. Perhaps those laws were passed in response to the fact that some 1,500,000 collisions each year in the United States involve a vehicle and a deer.
Drive safely and enjoy the ride.
Remember that laws are constantly changing and are often not uniform throughout the United States. Do not place unqualified reliance on the information in this article. Always contact legal counsel for detailed advice.
If you have a particular issue, law or problem you would like to see addressed in a future column, please contact me at KLeonard@LeonardSciolla.com, or Leonard, Sciolla, Hutchison, Leonard & Tinari, LLP, 215-567-1530.
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