My road trip from KC to hell: Hey, America, our driving stinks. Slow. Down. Please

After more than 22 hours driving round-trip from Kansas City to Michigan, I just have one thing to say to my fellow Americans: Our driving stinks.

We drive too fast in the rain.

We drive way too fast through construction zones. (Do not even fight me on that.)

We don’t drive safely around semi-trucks. (NOT a good idea to cut one off going downhill. Yeah, I saw that.)

We don’t always use our turn signals. (Ugh, guilty of this, sorry to say.)

We tailgate. Oh lord, we tailgate. At times I felt like I was being chased.

After experiencing all of that in a matter of days, I have concluded that many of us — myself included — should cruise through a driving manual for a refresher.

Do you know what a “space cushion” is?

I’ve got a few websites for you. Check out The Kansas Driving Handbook or KnowTo Drive, the official online testing platform for a Kansas driver’s license. Sample test questions for the Missouri driver exam are on the Missouri Department of Revenue website.

No better time for a refresher course as millions of us hit the road over the next few weeks during peak road construction season.

And I am speaking directly to the driver of the dark-colored sedan who pulled back onto the highway SLOWLY after being stopped by Illinois state police, forcing the rest of us barreling down that hill at 70 miles an hour and faster to hit our brakes in a panic and swerve.

Could you hear me yell???

‘100 Deadliest Days’

According to a summer travel survey by The Vacationer travel journal, 82% of American adults, more than 212 million people, plan to travel this summer.

Teens are hitting the roads, too, which is why AAA calls the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day the “100 Deadliest Days” of the year because fatalities involving teenage drivers historically rise then.

Safety officials campaign to get teens to buckle up and follow speed limits and encourage parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of driving impaired.

I traveled alongside a lot of people who should follow that advice.

I see bad drivers around Kansas City every day. But driving out on the open road — across Missouri on Interstate 70 into Illinois, through Indiana and into Michigan, only on interstates — drove home concerns that must keep highway safety officials up at night.

And, I was reminded that I, too, have bad driving habits when I’m not paying attention.

Hydroplaning is no fun

I have driven thousands of miles in my lifetime all over the U.S. And I have earned a few traffic tickets in that time but consider myself a reformed speedaholic.

I love to drive but hadn’t taken a road trip in years.

Much of the drive to Michigan was in rain, which was just bad luck.

I pulled off the interstate once when the rain fell so hard it sounded like hail pelting the car and I couldn’t see the lines of the road. Reminded me of getting caught in scary whiteouts along Lake Ontario.

Meanwhile — and this happened all along the way — people zoomed past me on the left way too fast for the rainy roads, sometimes through standing water.

AAA says wet pavement contributes to more than 1 million crashes every year.

Most weather-related crashes happen during rain and on wet pavement, says the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The feds say light rain reduces freeway speeds by 2% to 13%, but I’d like to know where that happens because I saw little evidence of folks slowing down.

A tip from the National Weather Service: Be cautious during the first half hour of a rainfall when sediment, oil and grease on the roads, especially built up after a dry spell, mixes with the rain, making the roads slick.

AAA advises staying toward the middle lanes when it’s raining — the water pools in those outside lanes. I had a run-in with that myself when I tried to pass a car and I started to hydroplane as I switched lanes.

The car jerked like a roller-coaster cart as my tires, new ones at that, lost contact with the road.

Our need for speed

On long trips, and when the roads are dry, I use cruise control. But with all the cars roaring past me doing, I suspect, closer to 80 mph in 70-mph zones, I felt like I was in a Great Race to the Great Lakes.

(Just because everyone is speeding doesn’t mean it’s legal for you to keep up with them.)

For more than two decades speed was involved in about one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities in the country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

In 2021, speed was a factor in 4,479 crashes around Kansas that injured 1,428 people and killed 75, says the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office.

Missouri officials say about 33% of all traffic fatalities in the Show-Me state, like the national average, involve excessive speed. Missouri reported 348 speed-related fatalities in 2022.

I lost track of the number of electronic road signs cautioning drivers to slow down. The messages were variations on the same theme.

It’s not a race. Don’t drive distracted. Put the phone down.

I did not know that effective in 2026, the feds will ban electronic road signs that use humor, obscure meanings and pop culture references to promote safe driving.

Yes, speeding is such a problem that states have been using humor to get motorists’ attention.

“Slow down you must may the fourth be with you.”

“Hocus pocus, drive with focus.”

“Santa sees you when you’re speeding.”

“Use yah blinkah.” (In Massachusetts.)

“Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late.” (In cheeky Ohio.)

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration decided earlier this year that signs like that are too distracting.

Highway signs, it decided, should be “simple, direct, brief, legible and clear.”

How about this: “Slow down. Yeah, you.”

That’s not real tailgating

Let me just say that if I can count the number of hairs in your nostrils YOU ARE DRIVING TOO CLOSE TO ME!

Whew, that felt good. (I don’t drive with road rage. I write about it.)

People tailgated me through one construction zone after another after another after another when I — gasp! — followed the posted speed limits.

No wonder Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, has asked that state’s highway patrol to dedicate more time and troopers to patrolling work zones. Nine Ohio road workers have lost their lives since 2019 in work zone crashes.

Dear bumper riders, ever heard of the two-second rule?

That’s the recommended safe distance you’re supposed to keep between you and the car in front of you. In heavy rain, the National Weather Service recommends a four-second distance.

Here’s the hack: When the back of the car in front of you passes a certain point or landmark, like an overhead road sign or tree, it should take the front of your car two seconds to pass the same object.

You need that time to brake safely or take evasive action should the other car suddenly stop. That’s your safety buffer, also known as a “space cushion” in defensive driving parlance.

And P.S., that space between me and the car in front of me is not an invitation for you to fill the space with your car.

The only tailgating I support is done in a parking lot with a barbecue grill and a game of cornhole.