By Tim Kowols and Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski
Without even saying a word, motorists say a lot to each other on area roadways simply by the way they use their cars. Actions like not using turn signals and tailgating are negative non-verbal cues drivers relay to each other while driving, increasing the likelihood of accidents and road rage. Whether you realize it or not, Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski says these cues can indicate what kind of driver you are and what kind of person you are on the road.
Joski recommends always using your signal even when there is no one else around and give plenty of space in between other vehicles while driving. You can visit the Sheriff’s Corner on these two topics online with this story.
The subject of this week’s article is at the request of a member of our community. She shared with me her frustration regarding the use of rather the lack of use of a very basic yet critical component of every motor vehicle, the directional signal also commonly known as “the Blinker”
The actual State Statute which covers this issue is 346.34(1)(b)”Failure to Give Signal” which goes on to state “In the event any other traffic may be affected by the movement, no person may turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal”
What is interesting about this topic is that it also gives directions for the use of hand signals both as bicyclists as well as motor vehicles. Where this would pertain is with vehicles which were manufactured before the invention and introduction of directional signals on motor vehicles.
The directional signal or blinker is actually a very unique piece of equipment which unlike any other component of a vehicle is primarily a communication device. There is no other instrument on the motor vehicle which must be intentionally activated as means to tell other drivers what you as the driver are about to do. Just like any other form of communication it can foster good relationships or create a high level of anxiety. There is no greater frustration than following a vehicle that is slowing down, but not indicating whether they are turning left or right. Many accidents have been caused by motorists attempting to pass a slow moving vehicle not knowing it was about to execute a left or right turn. The same goes for vehicles sharing an intersection and the need to communicate so as to facilitate movement through it in a safe manner.
I have been asked many times if a driver needs to use their directional signal if there is no one else in the area of their turn. I would respond yes that even though no one is there to see your signal, you are creating good habits and it is better to use the signals and not need to then slip into complacency and not use them when they are critical.
The way each of us operate our motor vehicles is really an extension of our own personality and communicates to others without ever meeting in person what kind of people we are. Do we want to give the perception of an inconsiderate rude person, or give the perception of a courteous kind human being? As the old saying goes “Actions Speak Louder than Words”
Last evening I received a call from a person I would consider an expert driver. The reason I state this is that this person derives his livelihood from his safe operation on our roadways and even further has met the rigid requirements to possess a CDL or Commercial Drivers License. So when a person of this caliber calls and expresses his concerns with “Tailgating” I take him very seriously.
This topic is actually closely related to last week’s topic as both of these actions are forms of communication. The use of or failure to use your directional signal indicates a person’s consideration for other drivers, and a person’s need to “Tailgate” indicates a high degree of aggressiveness and impatience.
First let’s establish the statutory language on this issue. State Statute 346.14(1) Auto Following Too Closely” covers this behavior. It states: The operator of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway. The fine for this offense is over $200.00 and a 4 point assessment on your license.
While the statute does not give a specific following distance for passenger vehicles, it does state state that for trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 lbs or more they must maintain a following distance of 500 feet.
So the question is: What is too close? This depends on the traveling speed of both vehicles, as well as the conditions of both the road and the weather. In a city or village at low speeds the distance may be less than when traveling on rural roads where the speeds are greater. The primary concern is related to those rural roads and highways. For these, it is prudent to keep the distance of approx. 300 feet between your vehicle and the vehicle you are following. What is significant about 300 feet? It is the distance between utility poles along the road and a great way to gauge your distance at any given moment.
The reason following too closely is of a concern is that it shows absolute disregard for your safety as well as those you are following. If you consider the reaction time needed when a deer or other object presents itself in your lane of travel, you can imagine the results when that reaction time is eliminated due to following too closely. While the vehicle you are following may be able to see, process and respond, all you will have time to do is create an accident which could lead to not only your own injury but that of your passengers and other motorists.
Many drivers think that if they hug the vehicle in front of them it will somehow force that vehicle to speed up. I am here to tell you that is not the case. Following too Closely is a form of non verbal communication which does nothing more than create not only a dangerous environment but communicate to that driver in front of you that you are nothing more than a rude inconsiderate person who is only focused on your needs.
You can avoid the need to follow too closely by planning ahead and leaving plenty of time for your intended travels. This is especially important as we transition into the winter season, not only because the road conditions will be less forgiving but also because those road conditions can change at a moment’s notice and a change of just a few degrees in the temperature can be the difference between stopping and sliding.
If you are the victim of an inconsiderate driver following too closely, please feel free to call law enforcement. Most times these impatient rude drivers follow up their tailgating with a passing maneuver which will give you a great opportunity to get their license plate and allow us to “Educate” them. If you are able to call law enforcement in a safe manner, please do so and if you are willing to give a statement it will give us the ability to heighten that educational experience for them through a citation.