The Drive: Lessons learned in return to driving school

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2014 - 7:05 AM

Over the past two years, The Drive has covered a number of topics regarding rules of the road, tackling everything from making proper turns and lane changes to interacting with pedestrians at crosswalks to heeding stop signs and traffic signals.

Naturally, motorists have all kinds of opinions on these topics, and lots of intriguing questions, too. The Drive recently went on a ride-along with AAA Minneapolis Driving School instructor Mike Torkelson and posed a few of the most common questions.

Up first was a discussion about stop signs. My dad used to kiddingly say that the word STOP was an acronym that stood for “Slow to Observe Police.” Or as another saying goes, “no cop, no stop.” That was not my dad’s philosophy or actual behavior, but it is for many motorists.

Torkelson, who has been giving driving lessons to teens for the past six years, said the rolling stop is one of the most frequent transgressions that he sees. His students even do them during their behind-the-wheel lessons.

Another common misconception is that motorists must stop behind a stop sign. Not true, Torkelson said. “The law doesn’t say anything about stopping behind the stop sign, but you must stop behind a crosswalk.”

That includes intersections where there isn’t a crosswalk painted on the street. Then after making the initial stop, it’s perfectly OK to creep into the intersection to peer around that mountainous snowbank to see if the coast is clear.

You may remember my story from about a month ago about a pilot program aimed at protecting pedestrians at dangerous intersections on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. The idea is that pedestrians wave a flag as they cross the street to make themselves more visible. By law, pedestrians have the right of way, but “lots of people go blasting through crosswalks,” Torkelson said. “Cars are supposed to stop” when a pedestrian is present, with or without a flag.

Here is one more law concerning stops that is often ignored. The driveway leading from the AAA parking lot onto Auto Club Way in St. Louis Park doesn’t have a stop sign, so does a motorist have to stop? Yes, Torkelson said, citing the Minnesota Driver’s Manual, which says motorists “must stop before entering a road from an alley, private driveway, parking lot or parking ramp.”

Earlier this summer I wrote about the proper way to make a turn, and a few readers chimed in about the use of turn signals. One wanted to know if drivers are required to use a turn signal in a lane that is marked as a designated turn lane or “Exit Only.”

State law requires that drivers activate their signal 100 feet before making a turn while on a street, highway or freeway. Torkelson says drivers should use their turn signals any time they make a maneuver unless it would cause confusion for other motorists. That includes signaling in lanes that require drivers to make a turn or exit. And though it is not the law, using turn signals while driving in parking lots would a good practice to adopt. “It just confirms things,” he said.

As we rolled along Excelsior Boulevard and on adjoining neighborhood streets, the Drive was getting more than just fodder for a column. I was relearning things that we all should know and do. We’ll get to these other topics in a future column.

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