Types of Driving

17:13 Sun 27 Aug 2006

In the few years that I’ve been driving, I’ve noted a number of distinct driving environments, or types of driving. I’m not including weather-based types, but rather those based essentially on the kinds of road involved.

(This section should possibly be called “modern city”, or “American city”, or similar, because I am making certain assumptions, such as roads wide enough for traffic in both directions, relatively strong traffic regulations, etc.)
This is the first kind of driving I did, and still the kind I’m most comfortable with, partly because of its similarity to city cycling. The characteristics here are relatively slow speeds, lots of traffic, close proximity to other cars, and the possibility that cars, bikes, and people can come out of nowhere. In addition, lane-changing is less important, and correspondingly there’s less of a requirement most of the time to be as aware of what’s behind you, whereas what’s in front of you is totally critical, especially since it might change suddenly. Knowing what’s behind you is still important when you’re turning, primarily because of bicycles. Also, city driving includes more of a focus on parking.

This took me a lot longer to get used to, probably because there’s no similarity to cycling at all… On the highway the speeds are much higher, there is (or should be!) a lot more space between you and the cars in front of/behind you, and lane-changing is much more important. Also much more important is awareness of the often-insane lane-changing of others, and so in general your awareness needs to cover more physical location, including stuff behind you and that idiot three lanes left who’s about to try to make his exit on the right side. On the other hand, the significant variables tend to be the other cars on the highway, so once you’re aware of where they are, there’s less to worry about than with city driving, because it’s a lot less common for bikes, pedestrians, delivery trucks, etc. to suddenly appear in front of you.

This doesn’t have to be mountainous necessarily, but that’s where you usually encounter winding, one-lane-each-direction roads where overtaking is impossible, discouraged, or illegal most of the time. With just one lane, your focus is less wide-ranging than with highway driving, and there’s less chance of things suddenly appearing in front of you (apart from things like rockslides) than in the city. If there’s a car in front of you, it’s important, cars behind you less so. More than the other forms, this is really about you and the road, and about figuring out how to handle the various curves and turns.

I’ve only encountered this in (Irish) cities so far. It’s where the roads include frequent spots where they’re only wide enough for traffic in one direction, and where this narrowing is not accompanied by any kind of traffic-control mechanism. It is simply assumed that drivers will yield and otherwise deal with it appropriately. It’s not too tough to do, since you mainly just proceed cautiously, but if you’re not aware that you will encounter it, it might rather unnerving.

Two-Lane Overtaking
I haven’t actually done this yet. I’ve never encountered it in the U.S., although I’m sure it exists. This is where there is enough road for one lane of traffic in each direction, and overtaking by moving into the oncoming-traffic lane is legal. This requires a new subset of driving skills, like judgment of how long it’ll take you and an oncoming car to intersect, sneaking just into the oncoming lane to check out the road ahead, and overtaking quickly (one reason why this is really better done in a car with manual transmission).

I’m sure there are plenty of other kinds, but these are what I’d identified so far. And my “city” category is, as stated, really about North American cities, since I’m not including things like e.g. people treating the sidewalk as just another lane (a Russian thing, apparently).

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