Some highway philosophizing

The in basket: I just came across an e-mail exchange between Jim Mills and myself from way back last fall, and decided it would be worth using as a column.

Jim wrote, “The biggest traffic problem in Kitsap County is just simply poor driving habits.  If we could somehow institute a massive driver re-education program, maybe we could make some progress when it comes to traffic congestion..

“The average driver in western Washington,” Jim asserted, “speeds up for red lights, but slows down for green lights.  They have no idea what turn signals are used for. They will not turn right on a red light unless there’s a sign which says ‘no turn on red’.  Driving at a constant speed must be a lost skill as well.

“They merge onto the freeway at 35 miles an hour,” he said, “then immediately move out to the passing lane where they drive 5 mph under the speed limit.  Is there some unwritten rule which states we must always drive 5 mph under the posted speed limit?  They exit the freeway in the same manner they enter.  They slow down to off-ramp speed a mile short of the desired exit.”

The out basket: My reply:

“Well, Jim, I don’t share your view of the ‘average Western Washington driver.’

“The only place I find drivers doing 5 under too often is on Highway 166 between Port Orchard and Gorst. Many of your complaints result from the first car in a long line doing what you see and everyone else being stuck behind the first driver, for example, not turning on red, driving under the speed limit and merging too slowly on an on-ramp.

“It’s funny you didn’t include drivers who won’t get out of the passing lane, which I see more often than any of your complaints, though I also don’t have much trouble getting around them.

“If I could personally instruct all other drivers,” I said, “I would make sure they know that:

– Stopping at a traffic signal in the right lane traps would-be right turners on red behind them

– Leaving more than three seconds gap between them and the car ahead at a green light can cause the light to change to red right after they get through.

– They don’t have to stop for a school bus heading in the other direction if there is a lane between them.

– Traffic moves faster if they fill both lanes equally where one lane is about to end, rather than moving over early.

– Driving 3-8 miles per hour over the speed limit (depending on the location and definitely not in school zones) reduces conflict on the road.

“But, all in all,” I concluded, “I find driving to be fairly easy around here.”

If you wish to disagree with Jim or me, that’s what the comment function on this blog is for.

4 thoughts on “Some highway philosophizing

  1. I would like to see more people traveling at the speed limit rather that 10 over (I’m in a big hurry) or 5 under (often when distracted by cell phone usage), but sometimes just because they are unfamiliar with an area.

    I have been yelled at by cars that objected to be “tailgated” while traveling through an intersection at “barely moving”, and also BEEN tailgated at 60+ because the driver behind can’t wait for me to clear the slow car I’m moving past so that I can move out of his way. I also appreciate the people who will race to pass, trapping me behind a car I am overtaking. It’s almost as if they speed up to catch the car they see before them, but moderate their speed when they catch up (hence the blockage).

    I am of the opinion that you should NEVER have to brake on the highway. And I agree with Mr. Mills regarding the on and off ramps. I was taught that you should be traveling at hiway speed when you are leaving the on-ramp to join traffic and you not slow until you have actually entered the off-ramp, yet people consistantly do NOT do this(and not because of one car at the front either).

    I see the “slow for green” most often at the camera lights (both ends of Warren Ave Bridge, Kitsap Way), and am constantly amazed at the number of people who will race by on Wheaton, even when they can see that the light at Sylvan is red. They wind up stopped at the light and slowing all those behind them. Whereas, they did the speedlimit (30), it is actually possible to clear the end of the bridge and travel past Fred Meyers without having to brake.

    Or how about the old wisdom of stopping where you see the tires of the car in front of you touching the road? It allows everyone in line to start when the light turns green, and more people go through. But people insist on getting to mimimum clearance, then by the time everyone gets started the light is changing again (part of your 3 second remark).

    You both make some very valid points and I thought it was interesting to see some of MY roadway pet peeves aired by someone else.

  2. One addition….whatever happened to the practice of using blinkers to show you are planning on turning? Less and less people seem to feel the need to use turn signals. That is my huge pet peeve. Thanks for letting me get it off my chest 🙂 Marion

  3. I DON’T think it’s so easy to drive around here. People just drive too slow and don’t seem to have a great picture of what’s going on around them on the road. And Washington left-lane roadblocks – don’t get me started.
    However.
    Recently I flew down to California for a visit, where I had once been station in the service. I didn’t realize how conditioned I had become by the slow-poke Washington pace of driving. I was white knuckled for a day on those highways for a day until I got used to 4 foot separation at 75-80 mph. Driving 60 mph on a California highway is not advisable – they actually honk at you.. So maybe the grass isn’t always greener….

  4. “- Stopping at a traffic signal in the right lane traps would-be right turners on red behind them”

    Travis, I use the right lane on Mile Hill Drive heading east at Jackson. If the DOT didn’t want the right lane used for thru traffic they should have made the left lane the thru lane. In their infamous wisdom they failed to do this and continue to stand by their decision. So all those right turners can line up behind this thru driver and hopefully if they get fed up with it they’ll contact their elected officials about it. Contacting DOT won’t do any good.

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