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Right of way for the road leery

I’ve never claimed to be a great driver — good, perhaps — careful, for sure. My family would tell you I am cautious — sometimes to the point of being jumpy at the wheel.

By jumpy, I mean on the lookout for surprises, aka accidents, waiting to happen. I’m on the lookout for pedestrians who come out of nowhere, squirrels darting across the street, dogs without leashes and cars — mostly other cars. I have trust issues with other cars, or more specifically the drivers of those cars.

You can’t count on them to see you or follow the rules of the road. Many are looking at phones. Everyone knows you shouldn’t text and drive, but I see it all the time. Hence, my caution and predisposition to brake first and ask questions later. Defensive driving 101 — I practically invented the topic.

This seasoned roadie has learned that not all driving is created equal. Some situations are worse than others. There are a few scenarios where a diligent driver (like me) is likely to be more road-leery and brake-ready than usual.

Uncontrolled intersections are risky business. When I encounter a cross street with another vehicle inching out onto my roadway, I slow down and prepare to avoid a collision should they attempt to come crashing into me.

Four-way stop signs are controlled intersections and as such should bring comfort to a control freak. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The concept of waiting your turn was mastered by most of us in kindergarten. All that good knowledge goes flying out the window when drivers encounter a four-way stop and leap into me-first mentality. Some motorists even piggyback on the car in front of their own, so that both vehicles go through the intersection at the same time. It’s clearly illegal. So many things could go wrong at a four-way stop, so I am wary.

As I am with left turns. I go out of my way to avoid them. Left turns involve cross traffic, which could result in a T-bone that has nothing to do with a juicy steak. Besides, why make a left when three rights will get you the same outcome?

Making a left turn at a four-way stop is a double whammy. Enough said.

Not all hazards of driving occur on the roadways. Parking lots are the Wild, Wild West of the driving world. Anarchy rules, and laws and logic are ignored. Drivers in parking lots pay no heed to stop signs. They cut across traffic and fail to yield to other vehicles. People drive up the down lane, clearly ignoring the directional arrows painted on the pavement. One must be ever alert and attentive to avoid running into shopping carts and reckless drivers.

I wish I could avoid parking lots like I avoid left turns.

My son, who often rides shotgun in my vehicle, gets annoyed with my vigilant behind-the-wheel behaviors.

"You’ve got the right of way," he says with the smug authority of someone with a brand new permit in his wallet and a pocketful of knowledge gleaned from a recent stint in driver’s training class. Clearly, his nouveau insight far surpasses my decades of dependably cautious driving experience.

"If they come crashing into us it doesn’t matter who has the right of way," I tell him with the authority of a driver who long ago graduated from training permit to full-fledged license.

And then I make a few right turns toward home. It’s all in the name of safety.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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