Hace mucho calor en Seattle hoy. It’s about 82 degrees outside today, and as a coworker said, everybody’s hitting their brakes because the sun’s in their eyes… just like they do when it starts raining.
In the vein of my Tooling Along in our Motorcars post from several years ago, I formulated a top ten bad Seattle driving behaviors list to channel my ire at the rising tide of vehicular narcissism in this area. I define vehicular narcissism as a “me first” driving mentality that is fueled by oblivion, selfishness, or both. People who practice vehicular narcissism either believe their time is more valuable than other people’s or they just don’t care enough to pay attention when they get behind the wheel.
Buckle up. Here we go.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 1: Merging
A great many people around here seem confused about the simple concept of merging. If your lane is running out, you put on your turn signal, letting others know of your intent to merge into their lane, and you yield to them. A courteous person in the lane that is not running out will often give you space to move over. They do not, however, have to slow down, hit their brakes, or otherwise slow traffic to accommodate you.
I’ve had some colorful arguments about this and legally it’s the same principle as when you get on the freeway. You need to be traveling the same speed as the traffic already on the freeway, you need to signal, and you need to find a way in.
So often I see people getting on the freeway at low speeds like 30 and 40 miles an hour, which inevitably slows freeway traffic down as everyone brakes or swerves to make room for the dangerous slowpoke. If people would merge as they are legally required to, I believe we could eliminate a lot of congestion on our crowded roads.
In discussions about this I’ve been told several myths about how merging is supposed to work. (No wonder we have so much gridlock!) One myth is that in a merging situation, every other car is supposed to take a turn so the two lines basically form a zipper. Nope. There is no every other car rule in Washington. The person in the lane running out yields to the people in the lane(s) that is continuing. But all the time, I see people in the lane running out without their signals on, expecting to be let over as if they have the first right to the continuing lane.
P.S. If you’re the “my time is more valuable” guy that races up to the end of a merging lane to barge your way into the continuing lane, don’t expect anyone to let you over. That’s rude. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 2: Roundabouts
This is another task in which a majority of Seattle area drivers don’t seem to have a clue. Roundabouts are easy: you yield to the person on your right.
Since roundabouts are designed to keep traffic moving, you’re not supposed to come to a complete stop at them. If the traffic engineers wanted you to do that, there would be a stop sign. Slow down a little, see who else is going through it, and yield appropriately.
Besides stopping at roundabouts, there are also those who speed up and try to beat everyone else through them. Yeah, that’s smart. It’s a great way of endangering pedestrians you haven’t seen yet as well as other drivers. And there are even those who drive up and over them. (Dude, you’re cool. Where’d you learn to drive, Grand Theft Auto?).
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 3: Traffic Signal Problems
Sometime during the year we all encounter a traffic signal on four-way flash or that’s completely dark. If the former happens, it means the local government agency responsible for the signal should be notified. If the latter happens, it usually means the power’s out and for the signal to come back on, the power has to come back on.
In these situations, people instantly demand that an officer come direct traffic or that stop signs be placed so people know what to do. You should already know what to do from Driver’s Ed 101: treat the intersection as a four-way stop. You go, then you go, then you go, and then you go, and we start again. Like a dance.
Instead, people panic. They start driving like Death Race 3000, rushing through the intersection in groups as if trying to see how many cars from one side of the intersection will make it across before another direction butts in. One at a time, people, one at a time.
And there often isn’t a spare cop waiting in the wings for these moments. We need to get ourselves through these inconveniences.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 4: Turn Signals
A prominent component of vehicular narcissism is failing to use a turn signal. Or slamming on the brakes just before you turn and signaling then (as you’ve already begun the turn). You’re supposed to signal about 100 feet before the turn, then brake, then turn in a manner that does not suggest your right arm just went into spasm and is trying to kill you. Yes, Alien Hand Syndrome is real, but not nearly as many Puget Sounders have this condition as their driving would suggest.
Signal. It’s the law.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 5: Speed Limits
And you thought I was going to say slow down. Yeah, me, from the family that’s genetically wired for all things fast and furious. I do not condone driving recklessly and do believe in going the speed limit the vast majority of the time because it’s the safe and sensible thing to do. But a lot of people don’t seem to agree with me because they’re the ones grinding along at 20 in a 35 or dorking along at 45 on Seattle freeways… when there’s no one in front of them.
This is why I believe the legalization of marijuana is about the stupidest thing Washingtonians could vote for. We already have a pandemic of people who will not travel at or maintain the speed limit on our freeways. Now traffic will be convulsing along at a much more leisurely pace as assorted ’78 Volvo station wagons and a bevy of shiny black Mercedes Benzes coast at 30 miles an hour down the passing lane.
Seriously, the left lane is called the passing lane. It means that if someone behind you wants to go faster than you, you MOVE TO THE RIGHT. You MOVE OVER. It is not your job to police their speed or obstruct their passage. Don’t take it personally, put on your signal, and merge to the right.
I’ve entertained thoughts as to how to create a universal signal to let someone know they need to pick up the pace or move over. Tailgating is not a wise thing to do and causes trillions of collisions. The best I’ve come up with– which is probably illegal– is three quick taps on the horn. A staccato honk, honk, honk. Not HOOONNNNNKKKK– MORON!!! Not weaving back and forth. Not flashing the high beams. Thoughts?
I maintain my belief that some slower drivers won’t move out of that lane even when threatened with an aging Russian nuclear device. We get territorial and self-righteous about our lanes of travel. If the State Patrol wanted a pace car leading the pack, though, they would have already provided one.
Sidenote: Why do people hit their brakes and slow down to below the speed limit when they see a cop? He’s there to catch the people going over the speed limit. Over… If you really want to stand out, go ahead, slam on the brakes and do the straight ahead “who me?” stare while you’re white knuckling the steering wheel.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 6: Sirens and Lights
When I discuss this one I always return to the time I was a passenger in a police vehicle running code and a Mercedes came to an abrupt stop in front of the car. In the lane of travel. Blocking the cop car.
Sirens and lights mean move to the right. There’s no requirement that you stop completely, although sometimes that’s the wise thing to do, you just need to make room so the emergency vehicles can get by. If it was your parent having a heart attack, you’d want to aid car to get there as quickly as they can right? Move right for sirens and lights.
You also need to give sirens and lights some space when they’re pulled over, like on the shoulder. If you can, move over a lane.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 7: Left Turns
If you are at an intersection, and there is one left turn lane, you stay in that same lane as you turn. If there is not room in that same lane, wait, even if it means waiting through another cycle. Do not block the intersection and do not veer into another lane.
If you take that left but veer into another lane just to be able to take that turn, you’re endangering drivers from the opposite direction trying to take a right. You’re also clogging up the road in that direction and robbing others of their rightful place in line.
It’s astounding to me how many people get honked and screamed at for waiting their turn at intersections and refusing to do dangerous things. It’s also alarming how many drivers act like (once again) their time is more valuable and they can block the intersection, delaying others. Wait your turn. Not only is it Driver’s Ed 101, it’s Manners 101.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 8: Green Turn Arrows
The light turns red. A green right turn arrow lights up. And we sit there… and we sit there… (Bueller? Bueller?) and then finally we issue a polite beep so the person in front of us realizes they are, in fact, allowed to go.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 9: Passing on the Shoulder/On the Right
Even in places where signs clearly state “Do Not Pass on Shoulder”– often because it’s used by pedestrians and bicyclists– people can’t wait two more seconds and they roar around on the right.
If you’re behind someone taking a left turn, they’re in front of you. It’ll be over in a sec. There is no need to gun the engine, swerve around them, and veer back onto the roadway. Swerving around the guy waiting for the guy turning left means you’re cutting in line.
Bad Seattle Driving Behavior 10: Anarchist Bicyclists
We’ve all encountered them, whether biking, walking, or driving. There’s a contingent of anarchist bicyclists out there who blow through traffic signals and stop signs, don’t care what the speed limit is, don’t yield to anyone else, and are a law unto themselves.
These are the guys who ride up between two lines of cars to get to stoplights first. These are the guys who scream at little kids to get out of the way on major trails (which have speed limits) while they burn by at 40 miles an hour. I don’t know exactly why, but many seem to have wiry legs and greying beards and be about 60 (new Pemco Profile: Anarchist Bicyclist Guy).
No one likes the anarchist bicyclists. Talk about vehicular narcissism. If the cycling community in Seattle wants more respect, they need to reach out to these guys and ask them to practice respect. We spend a lot of tax dollars on what is a lifestyle choice for a lot of these guys rather than a necessity, and they could acknowledge that by ceasing to bike angry.
Bonus Bad Seattle Driving Behavior: Pets in Hot Cars
Yes, I’m going to bring this one to the public’s attention again. Tonight I was loading my groceries into the car when I noticed a sweet-looking beagle mix panting heavily in the truck next to me. The windows of the little truck she was in were open, but it was hot as an oven inside.
Thankfully I had a jug of water, so after I determined that she was soaking up the love and massage and wouldn’t take my arm off if I reached into the vehicle (generally not a good idea), I poured her a bowl. She drank most of it. She had a leash on so I debated whether to remove her from the truck since she was halfway out trying to escape the heat anyway.
I decided to give it a few more minutes before I removed her or called the cops. Thankfully a man who looked like Uncle Si walked out of the store with two brimming bags of groceries, and he matched the truck neatly, so I yelled, “is this your dog?” He said yes and I politely explained how little pudgy pets in fur coats do not belong in blazing hot vehicles. Thankfully he didn’t try to take my arm off either.
No pets in hot cars! The temperature inside your car can rise dramatically in a very short time and even if you have the windows open, you could be roasting your pet.
So there you have it. The behaviors we who live in the environs of the Emerald City need to work on. When in doubt, if you think it’s something your driver’s ed teacher would have yelled at you about, you probably shouldn’t do it.
None of us are perfect drivers and we all have our problem areas. It’s just that the divide between those who make a good faith attempt at driving safely and those who bomb (or plod) around like no one else is on the road seems to be increasing.
Lastly, if someone does let you over, throw them a wave. It acknowledges their existence, and hey… it feels good too.
The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers. -Dave Barry
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