“Right Of Way”

Roger Clark
April 2021

One of the most vexing questions in today’s socially-torn, economically unstable, politically fractured world is: who has the right-of-way? Is it the vehicle to our right, or a hundred-thousand-dollar Cadillac on your left? Is it a vehicle with the biggest tires, or one festooned by hazmat placards? 

Emergency vehicles, even under code-3 conditions, can only ask for the right of way, not demand it. Yet if you block them, even for a moment, those flashing red lights can lighten your wallet by several hundred dollars. But what if it’s a steep hill, icy road, tree lined boulevard, or dead-end alley? Or worse, an oversize load, and it’s thirty minutes before sunset. 

You would think we had enough to worry about, what with unblinking cameras, unwanted ELD’s, unworkable routes, and uncomfortable seatbelts. But no. They also insist we show up on time, share the road, cover our you-know-what, and be civil to you-know-who. That’s a lot to ask, when you’re just now awake at 3:00 AM in a minus 10-degree parking lot.

Many postal facilities have clearly marked, one-way lanes that intersect neatly with dock doors, staging areas, and drop lots. Many air-freight centers, such as JFK airport, do not. Produce terminals like Hunt’s Point, also in the Big Apple, are a combination of order and chaos, with brightly lit arrows often pointing in the wrong direction. 

 It’s not just cities that confuse me anymore, but out here in flyover country as well. We like roundabouts here, because we’re told to, but no one explained that vehicle-on-the-right thing. Is it the closest entry lane, the fastest one, or the 4-wheel drive pickup with a lift kit and distracted driver? 

Oh, and don’t even get me started on harvest season, which is open season on unsuspecting drivers from St. Joe to Hannibal. Higher, wider, and more unstable than Great-Aunt Mary at the Old Country Buffet, those hay wagons and combines can wreak more havoc on the highway than a teenage texting marathon.

And speaking of country, what about this winter’s record number of multi-vehicle pile-ups? From Dalton, Georgia to Fort Worth, and Elk Mountain to Minneapolis, we’ve lost hundreds of cars and trucks because braking action is somewhat diminished on cold, slippery surfaces. At least that’s the rumor, anyway.

From my vantage point, it appears that driving IS the distraction. Most other drivers are so busy texting, talking, gesturing, and eating that maintaining control of their 2,000 pound weapon of smashed destruction is just another inconvenience. Just the other day, in fact, I was passed by a driver waving both hands in the air. Just what part of his anatomy held the wheel remains this week’s mystery.

 Another mystery related to this metaphysical discussion are the sincere desires of other drivers to kill me with kindness. Often at the junction of uncontrolled intersections, these kind-hearted souls will enthusiastically wave to me from behind tinted windows, unaware of the 50,000 pound dump truck bearing down on us from the other side. 

Even at Walmart, it seems, I often get waved forward by pedestrians who then step directly in front of my Peterbilt. Sure, it’ll stop on a dime, but I don’t expect them to go looking for it. After all, their covid mask might get in the way.

The real answer to safely negotiating the Right Of Way is genuine defensive driving, which my older, smarter, and better looking brother defines as operating like everyone else is crazy because well, they are.