I received an email last week from a woman who wished to inform me about a number of bad driving habits she observes on a regular basis. I really did not need to have these pointed out to me, but for one reason or another, there seem to be many people who think the reason bad drivers continue to procreate is because I am clueless about their existence in our community.
Among the bad drivers on her list were those who do not follow proper procedure when turning at a signalized intersection with a permissive left turn, when oncoming traffic is present. The process is this: the driver should move into the intersection with his or her front bumper just shy of the center. Keeping the wheels pointed forward, wait until there is a break in the oncoming traffic that allows adequate time, then execute the turn into the nearest available lane on the cross street. If there is no break in the oncoming traffic until the signal changes to red, continue to wait until you can confirm the oncoming traffic is stopping, then execute the turn. Since you entered the intersection lawfully on a green light, you still have the right of way, and the cross street traffic must wait until you have cleared the intersection to proceed.
The mistake my correspondent noted in her dispatch last week is a growing number of motorists who stop behind the intersection, rather than moving into the intersection, to wait for their opportunity to make a left turn. She didn't need to convince me on this one, as it is one of my pet peeves. But my list of pet peeves seems to be getting a little unwieldy as I grow older, so I try not to get as worked up about them, and rarely fire off missives to the authorities.
A few days before her email, I was mentioning this to my wife, after the car in front of us missed a left turn opportunity, forcing us all to wait through a couple more cycles. I wondered if the lack of left turn etiquette has something to do with the demise of driver's education in high school. In our generation, all high school sophomores took driver's ed, as reliably as gym class or algebra. You watched all the films, spent some hours in the simulator, drove around town under the tutelage of the assistant basketball coach, and took the quizzes and tests.
Driver's education started to disappear from the high school curriculum sometime in the 1980s, and today is offered by very few school districts. While there are alternative driver's training courses available in many cities for a fee, the classroom-lab-road training that was nearly universal in the 1970's is a thing of the past, and motorists no longer have that consistent base of knowledge. I'm really not saying that drivers overall are worse today, only that there are a few techniques that everyone used to learn in the same way, that they either no longer learn, or learn in different ways: left turns, parallel parking, merging, positioning wheels when parking on inclines, and so forth.