Gridlock Guy: Headlights headline the reader mailbag and cheers to Bob Howdy

The burgundy WSB Skycopter sits on a yellow dolly outside of its hangar at DeKalb Peachtree Airport.

The recent piece on bright headlights and driving with hazard lights in the rain prompted about a dozen reader responses - and a whole array of opinions.

We have also recently gotten some questions about Express Lanes/HOV lanes etiquette and we need to pay tribute to the retiring longtime pilot of the WSB Skycopter.

Let’s kick off 2023 with some short answers to some very insightful comments and questions, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Especially in heavy rain, it is very comforting to see flasher lights ahead. They slow down hazardous traffic, allow more graphic perception of the roadway and other vehicles, and can easily be seen when stop lights cannot.

As far as the police, I’ve never seen a vehicle use their hazards asking for help as they continue to drive.

-Dave W.

I still maintain driving with hazards in the rain isn’t the best policy, though I see the point that Dave and others make. First responders have told me that doing so throws them off. While most emergencies are stopped in the road or pulled over, there are rare cases (like someone being rushed to the hospital) where people are in distress and are moving fast. The lights are a warning.

But simply turning on lights that signal distress in heavy rain doesn’t signify an emergency, in most opinions.

Another important thing about flashing hazard lights is that the hazard light button disables your brake lights.

-Scott B.

My first thought upon reading this was, “Yes! Absolutely!” But I tested it in my parking garage with my wife Momo looking at the lights. Even with flashers on, she knew I was pressing the brake, because of the separate brake light bar on the rear window of the Ford SUV. Technically, trailing drivers could see a car’s brakes and hazard lights at once, in most cases.

But, as one officer pointed out to me, the hazard lights do disable rear turn signals.

The minimum speed on Georgia interstates is 40 mph. And having spent 22 years driving eighteen-wheelers across 48 states, I can say that not slowing down in heavy rain or low visibility is dangerous.

Trucking company safety departments generally will tell drivers to slow down in inclement weather and , if necessary and due to low visibility, to use the four-way hazard lights to increase visibility.

-Mark H.

Mark rightfully wrote in after I chastised drivers for slowing dramatically below the speed limit and driving with their flashers in heavy rain. I was cautioning against slowing down to below the minimum speed, not to those taking caution and slowing down, overall.

As for hazards, I was unaware that using them in low visibility was being taught. I still think that using flashers in the rain is done far too often.

To Mark’s point, however, I learned on the roads in Germany that motorists driving into a backup are required to turn on their hazards to further warn those behind them of the impending jam.

One trick that I was taught in driving school in The Netherlands is to look at the lane line to the right of your car when you see a car approaching with bright lights. This will help you a) stay in your lane and to the right because you focus on the right lane line and b) not get blinded because the brights are now in your peripheral vision and not dead center blinding your retina.

-Bert B.

Bert was responding to the section in the headlights piece about the bright LEDs that are common on newer cars.

This is the first I have learned of this trick and is a far better act than covering one’s eyes.

I was driving in Cobb County in the Express Lanes and an 18 wheeler entered. At one point, they were in front of several cars and impeding traffic flow, especially on the uphill grades. How is this situation monitored?

-Mags M.

The State Patrol, local authorities, and the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) monitor the lanes. License plate readers are supposed to trigger tickets for cars without Peach Passes operating in those lanes. And officers are supposed to patrol the lanes and pull over speeders or assist motorists, but staffing issues and rising crime limit enforcement.

I’ve noticed that no matter what speed I’m going in the HOV lanes, tailgaters inevitably come running up on me. Some just pass me on the right and then swerve back into the HOV lane in front of me. Many stay on my bumper.

What I’ve been doing is maintaining a speed of 10 mph over the posted speed limit and staying in the HOV lane no matter how long they ride my bumper. Should I move over when this happens?

-Lee S.

One thing every driver should note is that the HOV lanes are not fast lanes. The fast lane is the lane next to the HOV lane.

There is a “Slow Poke Law” that implores slower drivers to stay to the right. But that does not apply to HOV lanes, since they are not fast lanes.

I think more people should cede to faster drivers, as Lee has done, simply because those drivers’ road rage and tailgating are dangerous.

Moving in and out of the HOV lane does get difficult, however, especially when the other lanes are far slower. In those cases, I vote drivers like Lee should hold their ground and not feel pressured into moving or speeding up to dangerous levels.

The best solution, of course, is for the speedsters to drive with courtesy and caution and for law enforcement to nab more aggressive drivers.

Who flies the WSB Skycopter and what is their day like?

-Tug D.

Okay, that is my planted question because our full-time WSB Skycopter pilot of nearly 15 years is retiring. “Bob Howdy,” as he prefers to be called, does not like attention, but deserves recognition.

After careers in the military and with Gwinnett PD, Howdy moved from a police helicopter to being Captain Herb Emory’s traffic pilot each morning. Emory put Howdy through the rigors of any new pilot of his, but quickly grew to love Howdy’s determination, work ethic, prowess, and sense of humor. Smilin’ Mark McKay and I, along with Skycopter cameraman Brett Barnhill, feel the exact same way.

Howdy awoke before 4 a.m. each day, drove from Dacula to Chamblee, flew mornings, took a midday siesta in his office, sometimes had to fly in middays, flew afternoons, then got home around 7:30 or 8 at night. Grueling.

After grinding on Mondays through Fridays for years, he was allowed to take off on Fridays. His last day as our primary pilot was December 29th.

We are so thankful for Howdy’s dedication and for his willingness to still fill-in in the near future. Cheers and thank you!

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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