• Defensive Driving Rule #69: Choose Your Route for Safety!

    Life is fragile, and although we humans are tough creatures, it doesn't take much for us to exceed the limits of what our bodies can take. How do we mitigate the dangers of an active life? For me, the answer is to consider the risks and eliminate or manage them.

    That's why I practice defensive driving. It's learning where the dangers are and planning ahead to avoid them.

    I ride my motorcycle to work on the congested and busy freeways of Phoenix, Arizona. I don't have to tell you this is a dangerous ride. A motorcyclist in the city at rush hour is mixing it up with people who are angry, harried, pressured and distracted. If I don't keep track of all of them, and ahead of myself, eventually I will end up a hood ornament on somebody's Trans Am.

    I face different dangers, depending on the route I take. Riding on city streets or boulevards, I'm subject to an intersection collision (the most common fatal collision in an urban area). On the freeway, I risk being run over if I have to brake suddenly (so I carry as much following distance as I can, and I actively work to keep people from tailgating me). Another big danger is the driver making a sudden lane change without looking. My preventive measure is to keep away from clusters of traffic congestion, to keep an open lane beside me (even if it is a shoulder), and keeping an eye on everyone -- even two lanes over. I figure the risks are more manageable on the freeways, so I prefer them to riding on boulevards.

    On my way home each day, I take Interstate 10 to SR51, and transition over a freeway "stack" interchange from one to the other. Once I get onto the northbound lanes of SR51, the safest place for me is in the car pool lane. To get there, I have to cross three lanes of heavy traffic. Vehicles of all kinds are changing lanes to the left while others are changing lanes to the right to exit at the next off-ramp. A motorcyclist, at that place and time, is like a crippled duck on a pond on opening day of hunting season.

    I found another way. My new route goes around downtown Phoenix on a street that has little traffic, and I get onto SR51 about two miles south of that congested stack interchange. The traffic is lighter, and the lanes increase one at a time over the two miles. I can move left in a leisurely manner, and be in the car pool lane before I get to the dangerous stretch. I managed the risk by choosing a safer route.

    As you plan your trips, especially over routes you use repeatedly, think about where the dangers are. Can you take a different route to avoid a particularly dangerous intersection? Can you use a route that has fewer left turns? Is there a freeway route where the traffic is lighter, that avoids a route with thirty intersections between you and your destination? Thinking ahead and minimizing risk by making better choices is part of driving defensively.

    As always, keep it between the fenceposts!