Blazing a New Trail: Driving friendly is safe, smart, fun

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By Bennett Horne

There’s a sign I read every time I start to drive across Omega Bridge heading toward the lab.

It’s not the largest, most prolific sign in Los Alamos County, just a simple sign, triangular in shape, black letters on a white background. Even though the sign’s message is simple, consisting of only two words, it may be the most powerful bit of signage we can be reading.

All it says is: “Drive Friendly.”

I like it. In fact, I like it a lot.

I think each of us can benefit from a “friendly” little reminder every now and then, some maybe on a daily basis.
Shortly after I moved here in February I found myself covering a story in which a driver actually pulled a gun on another driver and shot him in an apparent case of road rage.

How could someone get so angry with another person that they think shooting them – while operating a motor vehicle, no less – is a proper way to solve the issue?

I guess that could be said in response to a lot of issues involving anger these days.

To be honest, I have in the past been know to holler at another driver after they’ve cut me off in traffic or done something that almost caused us to end up in an accident. Maybe even given them a dirty glance or sarcastic thumbs up.

That was in my younger days and thankfully I’ve grown out of those actions. As I grow older I’m learning not to let those things get to me like they once did. It’s a hard process to go through, but it’s working.

I’m driving friendlier, I guess.

I’ve also come the realization I’m a waver. Yes, a waver. I like to wave at oncoming cars, buses and trucks whether I know the driver or not. I like to wave at joggers, walkers, cyclists and even those on motorcycles.

But I come by it naturally. My dad is a waver. Usually it’s just a single finger raised up from his hand on the steering wheel (the pointer finger, not the bad one). But over time, if he sees you enough and become familiar with who you are or what vehicle you’re driving you’ll probably end up getting the full-one-hand-off-the-steering-wheel wave.

When I was in high school my dad worked as the manager of a wood treating plant in a small town just a few miles north of our hometown.

One of my teachers, Sandy Brewer, lived in that small town and drove south to our school on the same highway.

When I found that out I told my teacher what kind of a truck my dad drove.

The next day he took up a vigilant watch during the morning’s commute for my dad’s truck.

He waved when he met the truck and, when I strolled into his class later that day, he happily informed me: “I saw Roy, and Roy gave me the finger!”

It was indeed the pointer finger, not the bad one. My teacher had a bizarre sense of humor.

That night at dinner I told my dad what was going on. By the end of the week both men were exchanging the full-one-hand-off-the-steering-wheel wave as their vehicles met on that stretch of Arkansas highway between the towns of Harrison and Omaha.

Even though they had never met, they were friends on the road.

I guess I’ve inherited my dad’s friendly driving nature.

About a month ago, after turning right onto NM 4 on my way up to Valles Caldera, and after easing around the switchbacks, I found myself behind a cyclist as we were reaching the crest of the mountain.

It was unsafe to pass since doing so could put not only me, but also the cyclist and any possible oncoming vehicle in danger, so I decided to relax, take it slow and let the cyclist do her thing.

Once we got to a safe place to pass she waved me around. I rolled down my passenger window as I passed her and told her thanks (while adding a wave, naturally) and congratulated her on making it to the top of the very steep climb.

She was winning at life and deserved the encouragement, which didn’t cost me anything – time, money or effort – out of my day. And she had also been following the “Drive Friendly” plan by letting me know there were no cars coming and that it was safe to pass in case I was at an angle where I couldn’t see it myself.

It’s nice to share the road with others who adhere to the “Drive Friendly” advice offered by the humble little triangle sign on Omega Bridge.

And it’s even more important to abide by those two simple words as we get into the warmer months, the time when more walkers, joggers and cyclists are populating our roads.

So let’s all “Drive Friendly” out there. Not only is it smart and safe, but it’s a lot of fun, too.