Driving Guide for Bay State Residents

The mystery of the triangle revealed!

I just got back from an out-of-state trip and was astonished to observe drivers paying attention to traffic laws. I live in Massachusetts, a land in which hockey players experience less physical contact than motorists. We’re so feared that other New Englanders refer to us as “Massholes.” I once thought that was true--like the day I had to jump out of the way to avoid a speeding car. That wouldn’t be unusual, except that I was walking in a field at the time. I’ve since come to understand that Massachusetts drivers are just ill informed. What follows is a driving guide for Bay State drivers, though I’m pretty sure folks in Connecticut, New Jersey, California, and metro New York can also use some of these tips.

Yield signs: The word “yield” derives from the West Saxon word gieldan. I mean, come on, who speaks West Saxon any more? It’s hardly their fault that Massachusetts residents grow up thinking that the term translates “Get the hell out of my way.” It actually means that others have the right of way and you must wait for them before proceeding.

Speed limit: Once again Bay Staters are being stigmatized because some smarty-pants is being pedantic (as is anyone who uses the word pedantic in a sentence). In this case the word limit comes from limitare. That’s not only French, it’s 14th-century French for Gawd’s sake. For those whose 14th-century French is weak, the word limit means maximum, as in you can’t drive a cah fastah than this. Some folks think it translates “suggestion.” That is incorrect.

Right turn on red: This is legal, but where it says “right turn on red after stop,” it means that each car has to stop and they must stop at the light before turning even if they’ve already stopped once. It does not mean you can keep on going if you have stopped your vehicle at any time in the past month. Bad news: You have to yield (see above) before you turn. The other cahs have the right-of-way. The road must be clear of traffic and that’s an absolute--a better than 30% chance of not getting hit is not good enough. More bad news: Current law allows only right-hand turns.

Some individuals do not know left from right. Here’s an easy way to learn. Take a two-digit number such as 25 and look it with the numbers in an upright position. The last number is the one on the right. In my example, the 5 is on the right. If you don’t like 25, choose any two-digit number you like as long as the two numbers are different; 11or 44 will cause confusion, as will a single or three-digit number. The last number is always on the right. Without crossing your wrists, place your hands by the numbers and take a (washable) marker and write an R (for “right”) on the back of the hand that corresponds with the last number. Now when you drive you’ll be able to glance down and refresh your memory as to which is right and which is left. (Hint: The left will be the hand without a letter on it.) It is imperative that you learn this because, in North America, right is also the side of the road on which one is supposed to drive.

Pedestrians: Mass residents are victims of their culture (cultcha) on this one. We love candlepin bowling up hear (heah) and the object of the game is that you take a round object and knock down as many pins as you can. Is it our fault stupid cah companies made the steering wheel round and the human race evolved bipedalism? I can only caution Bay State drivers to notice that steering wheels are larger in circumference than bowling balls and that most pedestrians are taller (tallah) than candlepins. Sharpen your observational skills and you’ll get the hang of it.

Lines on roads: There are no signs telling you this, but lines on the side of a road and in the middle are not decorative motifs; they designate a “lane,” a word meaning the boundaries in which you are legally allowed to operate your vehicle. Lanes are also for moving vehicles; under no circumstances are you allowed to park in them.

Special instruction for Northampton drivers: There are two lanes on Main Street, except at some lights where there is a special third lane restricted to those who are turning. I understand that the latter can be confusing, but let’s start with the 2/3 rule; 17 is just wrong.

Special instruction for New Jersey drivers: There is a very skinny lane on the right side of many roads that is relatively free of vehicles. This is called a “break down lane” and is meant only for cars that have become disabled. It is not a special commuter lane in which one is allowed to drive at Warp Nine.

Turning lanes: I alluded to these above. It is important to understand two complex factors when using turning lanes. First, you must look for signs telling you if it is for a right-hand or a left-hand turn. It will usually say something cryptic such as “Left Turn Only.” The second and more difficult thing to keep in mind is that it’s implied that you will make an immediate turn at the very juncture where the sign appears. It does not mean you can use this lane if you have the intention of turning in that direction at some point during your current journey.

Turn signals: The flashing light array you observe on cars in front of you is called a “turn signal.” It is not an advertisement for a Japanese animé film. The lights indicate that the driver intends to swing his vehicle out of the current “lane” of traffic and into a new one. You can tell which direction the driver will turn by which side of the car has flashing lights. To know this, however, you will need to master right and left. See “Right turn on red” for tips on doing so.

Special instruction 1: If the driver indicates a turn and doesn’t make one, check to see if the motorist is over the age of 109. If so, the driver is probably unaware of who he is, why he’s in a car, where he’s going, or why he’s hearing a constant clicking noise. Be kind.

Special instruction 2: It is important to make sure that the signal on the back of the car is flashing on and off in a constant pattern. If a red light comes on and stays on, that’s a “brake light” indicating that the vehicle has stopped. It is also a warning for you to stop your car, lest his trunk become your new hood ornament. The latter will interfere with your car’s performance and it is best to avoid altering factory design.

Special instruction 3: You too should get in the habit of using turn signals. Don’t worry; you will not prematurely wear out your car through overuse. The turn signal is usually a small level that’s attached to the steering column. Experiment with pushing the lever up and down to see if the little lights on the back of the car will flash as described above. Do this in your driveway before attempting it in highway conditions.

Primary colors: I do not know who decided on these colors and I agree that they don’t accessorize with all wardrobes, but the following rules apply: red = stop, as in a complete standstill; flashing amber or yellow = proceed with caution. Most people think it means, “Whoo hoo, baby, let’s see how fast this puppy can accelerate!” but that is incorrect. Green = go, but conditionally so. You must first check to make certain that no color-confused drivers or candlepins--sorry, pedestrians--are in your lane of travel. A flashing blue light means you need to pull to the side of the road and speak with the nice police officer. Either that or a K-Mart special.

Emergency vehicles and school buses: You have to pull over to the side of the road for fire and ambulance vehicles and you are not allowed to pass a school bus with flashing lights, even if you’re on the other side of the road. Mr. Nice Police Officer will ask you to contribute to the Commonwealth general fund if you violate these rules. He will not be amused if you say, “Oh what the hell; that guy in the ambulance is going to die some day anyhow.”

I could go on, but we’ve covered a lot of new ground. Master these and we’ll move on to more difficult concepts such as the rules of rotaries, the etiquette of driving in school and nursing home zones, how fast you should drive on entrance and exit ramps, advanced geometrical shapes (including the octagon), the importance of leaving space between you and the car in front of you, and why it’s a bad idea to text, shave, or iron while driving.

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