"I-95 driving is not for the timid or the meek," driving instructor Chris Pearson says. The former cop says new drivers are so scared of I-95 that he has essentially made it his final exam. Or maybe more accurately his final pop quiz.
"I don’t say, ‘today we’re going on 95.’ We work our way up to it," Pearson says. "And then I’ll say, ‘okay, let’s take this right here.’ And they’ll say, ‘but that’s the entrance ramp to 95!’ And I’ll say, ‘that’s right!’”
Pearson recently let WLRN ride shotgun on a drive up I-95. We picked his brain for Interstate tricks, tips and tales from the road.
You’ve been out here with hundreds of students on I-95 and I’m wondering the craziest thing you’ve encountered out here with a student; what has happened to you guys?
The craziest thing was a student driver who really wasn’t ready for the Interstate and she slowed down and came to a complete stop in the far right lane.
This was in the right lane, not the right shoulder?
We were actually on the road. Cars were whizzing by, blowing their horns, going around us of course. But the fear in my mind was that a car was going to plow into us from behind. And since I don’t have an accelerator, I said: “Angela, release the brake and let the car move over to the side of the road. It’ll move on its own, but release the brake.” And then I steered the car over to the side.
If you watch the news it’s only a matter of time before you see some of the really terrifying things at play on 95: road rage, aggressive driving or a wrong-way accident, for example.
Right, one of topics I talk about to every student -- at some point they’re going to inadvertently cut somebody off. And in Miami it seems that tempers are very short and so what I tell the students is to continue driving calmly, never to make eye contact and if the person seems to be getting close to them or is making gestures that indicate they want to hurt them, then I want them to dial 911 and get the police involved.
And another point that’s important that I always bring up is staying in the middle lane will help a student avoid a wrong-way collision. Because, in the mind of a drunk driver who has just turned onto what he thought was the correct direction, he’s going to stay in the far right lane because he knows he’s drunk. When, in fact, he’s actually driving in the far left lane.
Now, the vast majority of your clients are teenagers. But you occasionally get an adult who grew up in New York City, for example, and never needed to drive or a European driver who wants some pointers driving on the right side of the road.
Right, and every so often I’ll get a call from someone in their 40s or 50s and they’ll ask me if I’d be willing to go out driving with one of their parents. And they’ll say, “it seems that my father is not driving as well as he used to and I’d like you to assess his driving skills.”
Recently, I went driving with an 86-year-old lady. I noticed that she wasn’t stopping completely at stop signs or using her turn signal. And she cut a couple of people off without even knowing she did. And I was the one who waved to the cars: “Sorry!” She then proceeded to her beauty salon without incident. But once we got onto the Interstate she entered almost 20 miles an hour under the speed of the cars that were already moving on the Interstate. She was not able to move her head fully to the left or the right. So she wasn’t able to see her blind spot.
So after about a minute on the expressway I asked her to exit. When we got back home, I told her: “Ma’am, driving to the beauty salon is going to be fine. Please use your blinkers and please stop completely. But your days on the expressway are over.” But she seemed almost relieved to hear it. She was afraid of the expressway. It was more than she could handle.
Chris Pearson is a former police officer with Golden Beach and Key Biscayne. He now runs Driving Coach Chris, Inc.