Relearning the rules of the road

long and winding road, Shenandoah Valley
A long and winding road, typical for the Shenandoah Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve had my driver’s license since I was 16 years old. I’ve loved driving ever since. City, suburban or rural, it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy being behind the wheel of a vehicle.

I consider myself a decent driver, too. Please don’t ask my wife to confirm that opinion. However, she’s more than happy to have me do the majority of the driving on any trip, whether of short or long duration. I once was even certified to teach driver education.

Other than vacations and business trips, all of my driving experience occurred in Ohio. Imagine my surprise then as we settled into living life in the Shenandoah Valley. I have learned Virginia’s driving styles radically differ from those of Ohio, not that drivers in the Buckeye state model exemplary highway etiquette.

Here’s what I’ve discovered so far about driving in the Commonwealth:

1. Using your turn signals is optional. Since you already know where you want to go, why bother to turn them on?
2. When traffic lights turn yellow, accelerate through them. If you stop, you run the risk of being rear-ended.
3. Only use your headlights when absolutely necessary, even well after the sun has set. Apparently, Virginians use this technique to conserve the vehicle’s battery.
4. Pull out in front of approaching emergency vehicles even though you can easily hear the blaring sirens and clearly note the flashing emergency lights. Having previously driven both ambulances and fire trucks, I ignore this rule.
5. Speed limit signs are posted to let you know that you are traveling too slowly. In other words, go faster than it says.
6. Double-yellow lines that separate opposite flow lanes and delineate no passing zones are really used to guide your vehicle down the center of roadways.
7. Pedestrian crosswalks on public highways are the equivalent of middle school dodgeball games. If you hit someone, they most definitely are out.
8. Bicyclists are an illusion. They are not really there, so just keep driving.
9. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving is expected. Those who don’t do so make those who do look bad.
10. If your license plates have expired, just paint the words “Farm Use” on them, and you’re good to go. However, it helps to have some old corn shocks sticking out of your trunk.
11. Stop is southern slang for “slow.” This is especially true when making a right-hand turn at a stop sign or red traffic signal.
12. Cutting the corner at intersections is mandatory. It obviously helps you save significant time getting where you want to go.

Though I’ve tried my best to adjust my driving habits to the local travel traits, I still get the evil eye in certain situations. Like when I go to turn left on a green light, I pull into the center of the intersection until traffic traveling in the opposite direction clears. Then I make my turn. Apparently, only ex-Ohioans do that. The proper procedure in Virginia is to stay at the painted line ahead of the light and go left when the signal turns red. Note that several other vehicles may follow you.

I have also learned that on country roads it is entirely kosher to just stop in the roadway and talk with someone you know. The others will eventually go around you. Just make sure that when you do pass that you follow another local custom. Please wave and smile, too.

horse and buggies, Dayton VA
Down the center line.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Author: Bruce Stambaugh

Writer, marketer, columnist, author, photographer, birder, walker, hiker, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, township trustee, converted Anabaptist, community activist, my life is crammed with all things people and nature and wonder. My late father gave me this penchant for giving and getting the most out of life, my late mother the courtesy, kindness, and creativity to see the joy in life. They both taught me to cherish the people I am with. I try and fail and try again.

19 thoughts on “Relearning the rules of the road”

  1. My husband and I both enjoyed this (he’s a native Virginian). Especially the liberal “farm use” applications! As an Indiana native, I am always bothered too by drivers turning left at a light who don’t edge on up, ready to slide through on their turn at the earliest opportunity. But we have another beef to pick with bicyclists (my husband used to be one but not in recent years) where bicyclists seem very inclined to ride two or even three abreast on our lovely back country roads, even at busy evening commute times. Sometimes they get into single file, but not always. I wish they would all go single file. Maybe not as much fun or companionship, but oh so much safer. Large groups of riders together are also quite frustrating and unsafe. But I definitely try to give three feet of space, even if it means I follow them for miles before trying to pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I agree with the bicycle comments. Given the topography and the limited sight distances, one would think the bikers would be extra careful when riding. But in general, they don’t seem to be. That may be the reason motorists don’t give them much leeway.
      Thanks for sharing, Melodie.


  2. So true..I also taught driver Ed. In Ohio and pull into the intersection to make a left turn when clear..but few do that in Va.. Have you noticed the traffic lights are not in sync? You rarely get through town without stopping multiple times!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Had to smile at this one. We grew up in PA, lived in Florida for almost 20 years (that’s a whole different style of driving given that people are from various parts of the country), and now live in Kentucky. So many of your “rules” happen here, too! I think southerners take a more lackadaisical approach to life. 😊 If you drive a pickup you are sure to get the two-finger wave of friendliness even if you’ve never seen them before. I just try to be cautious when cresting a hill where I can’t see ahead, as an approaching vehicle could be on my side of the road. I really do enjoy their southern hospitality, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. Laughed out loud and nodded my head while reading it. A few challenges getting around in your new “hood”. Burgeoning growth in K-W is giving us challenges on the road, not quite Toronto, but sadly getting awfully close. And don’t get me started on cyclists and the way many weave in and out while blatantly ignoring rules of the road. I think I need to follow your example and accept the challenges with humour😀. I’ll try.

    Liked by 1 person

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