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Commentary: Who taught you to drive, anyway?!

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I admit, it's been some 47 years since I learned to drive ... behind the wheel of a B John Deere in an oat field in South Dakota.

It wasn't long until I graduated to a Chevy Bel Air, straight stick, on the column. I was the official driver for asparagus hunting. A spring ritual down there, an unknown event up here. Lots of starting and stopping and backing up. I can remember driving when we went road hunting for pheasants. You don't do that up here either, and I'm wondering if we should have been doing it there!

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Forty-seven years makes it sound like I'm old and couldn't possibly really know, or perhaps remember, what the rules of the road are at this late stage of my life. Wrong. I'm only 59. Any country kid will tell you that you learn to drive at a young age when you live on the farm.

Where I grew up you could get a license to drive alone at the age of 14 as long as you were on a mission appointed you by your parents. One morning before school my mom had appointed me the mission of shooting loops on main street. It was winter and a bit slick. With my friends in my parent's Ford I took up the challenge of a one block race against a guy named Dan in his '58 Chevy. I'm not sure who won. I pulled in front of him and got rear ended when I attempted to make a left turn.

My mom worked at the school and we didn't waste any time getting back there to tell her what had happened. Actually my friend Janet told her. I couldn't speak. The school superintendent passed by and got in on the story. After calling me a couple choice words that would get any school official in deep trouble these days, he and my mother came up with a story to save my behind and my driving record.

That was the first and last accident I had. Now that's not to say I have been a perfect driver ever since then but I do pay attention. And I ended up working for 4 years in the Driver Licensing Office administering tests. I've decided that allows me to speak with some knowledge. I came to that realization after driving in Park Rapids for 13 years.

I used to think it was just the tourists who had questionable driving skills. I was wrong. The born-heres and the planted-heres are equally as bad.

Lets take turning left at a stop light for example. It's okay when there's an arrow, but when the arrow is gone and there's only a green light to direct you, you sit behind the crosswalk line as if your car will explode if you move forward. The result? No one gets to turn left throughout that entire light and the people at the end of the line are napping, or more likely, growling at you. Try this next time. If there is a green light and you are turning left move straight into the intersection, yielding to oncoming traffic and turning only when the way is clear. Chances are you and the guy behind you will make it through the light and if we're all lucky maybe a couple more.

No - the people stopped at the red light aren't going to slam into you if you are in the intersection when the light changes. That would be stupid and they would have to be blind.

Turning left, continued. Whether you were born here or planted here you should all know that in the summer one never attempts a left turn onto Highway 34 and rarely onto Highway 71 unless you're at a stoplight or have a death wish. This is where the meaning of arrows painted on the road comes in. Arrows are there to guide you on your journey - to clue you in that the lane with arrows, in between the lanes with no arrows, is the lane to get into if you are planning to turn off Highway 34 or Highway 71. Not if you are turning ONTO highway 34 or 71.

The turning lanes are not merging lanes - maybe someday but not now. When you turn left onto 34 or 71 into 4 lanes of thick traffic just because you can't stand to wait any longer and there's no place to go but into the turning lane, you are being stupid. And, I might add, threatening the life of any number of people.

Here's the answer to the problem. DON'T TURN LEFT! If you are not at a light in Park Rapids, don't turn left. Turn right, go to a light, and then get where you need to go.

Regarding pedestrians. This is an easy one. If you see a person in a cross walk, that means someone standing by those white lines just off the sidewalk waiting to cross the road, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO STOP! Not only is it a courtesy, it's the law. And you know something else, it makes you feel good. It does. You've stopped the rush, just for a moment, to watch a couple kids out enjoying the day or be tickled by a mom and her little one out for a walk. You did a good thing, albeit small, and it feels good. I have literally sat in my car for 5 minutes at a cross walk waiting for oncoming traffic to stop. What are they paying attention to? It's scary.

One more thing. Do not talk on your cell phone when you drive. Eight out of 10 times when I see a driver do something stupid, they are talking on their phone. Enough said.

Drive safely, drive smart ... and have a great summer!

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