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More how-to guides for life
Sunday, June 9, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
How to's for life
A monthly guide

HOW TO
BE A BETTER COMMUTER

By Sherry Stripling,
Seattle Times staff reporter

You know how to drive, but who let those other people behind the wheel? Every day we add another 379 vehicles to the road in this state. And how do we counter this madness? By driving with our knees. Whopper juice dribbles down one hand while we use the other to tap into our Palm Pilots for the bad news that we're late, late, late — again.

Trooper Talk
GLEN TYRRELL:
"People don't realize the stress they're under all the time. My daughter says to massage the pressure point just below your collarbone. That releases blood to the brain, which helps cognitive thinking. I'll be darned if it doesn't work." ... "I tell my daughters that so many people speed through yellow lights — count to three before starting up at an intersection."
"A lot of people don't know how to drive, period," says Trooper Monica Hunter of the Washington State Patrol. "We don't know how to make lane changes, and we don't know how to yield. Somewhere someone told people the yield sign means, 'Go fast.' "

But what if each of us did one thing to become a better commuter? What would that one thing be? We asked the car, bus and ferry experts, and here's what they said:

ON THE HIGHWAY — LEAVING SPACE

Illustration Hate that guy on your bumper? You should. Driving too close is a major cause of collisions here. Occasionally, it rains here — and then it's bam, bam, bam. For every minute we get delayed by that collision, it takes another six to 10 minutes to get traffic flowing again.

But the old rule of keeping one car length for every 10 miles of speed went out with no kissing on the first date. Leave yourself enough room to stop in a hurry. Unless the car is pulling into your space, you get a ticket whenever you run into the car ahead of you, plain and simple.

ON THE HIGHWAY — LANE CHANGING

It's your lane. You're driving down it, you own it. If that woman wants in, she has to ask you — with her blinker. Not one sweeping blinkety-blink motion, but a full 100 feet before she wants to move. Blink, please-let-me-in, blink, please-let-me-in.

Naturally, if she puts it that way, you'll speed up or slow down to let her in. Even though it's your lane, nice people share, right?

IllustrationON THE HIGHWAY — CHECKING BLIND SPOTS

What kind of buffoon would drive along in your blind spot? The kind you're going to hit if you veer over (and it happens all the time on Seattle-area freeways).

Trooper Talk
MONICA HUNTER:
"I came from California, which is the capital of rudeness. But I see it on the rise here, which concerns me. With the higher volume of traffic we have to be more courteous."
Remember, your rear-view mirror has tunnel vision. Assume it's lying when it says no one's in the next lane. Check your side mirror, and look over your shoulder. But watch it! The car in front of you is slowing! Think of yourself as Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" and whirl that head around quickly.

ON THE HIGHWAY — MERGING

IllustrationYou know how the other guy merges. He rolls down the access ramp and shoves his way in front of you at 2 mph or cuts you off at 110 mph. Either way, he's wrong. You have the right of way. It's his responsibility to match the prevailing speed — and to yield. He needs to (see graphic, right):

A. slide in behind you, if you're there first.

(If traffic is heavy, and when isn't it?) ease up halfway down the ramp, spot an opening and then go for it. Of course, being the polite driver that you are, you'll pull over to the next lane, if it's clear, or adjust your speed to give the poor merger a break.

"People aggressively merge and other people don't allow them to merge, and that's where the conflict comes," Trooper Glen Tyrrell says, with an echo from Trooper Monica Hunter: "Merging should not be combat."

TRAFFIC FACT
• Summer is the most dangerous time of year to drive — even if you're not in a monster-truck rally. Police say people drive faster when the weather's better, and there are more parties so more people drive drunk.
ON THE FERRY — DON'T DO IT ALONE

How'd you like to thumb your nose at people waiting in line for the ferries, especially that guy in the sports car with the wavy hair? Get in a van pool or car pool and be guaranteed a spot as long as you show up 10 minutes early.

Walkers, bicyclists and motorcyclists usually don't have a problem, either. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries for details on that and other ferry tips.

Don't have any car-pool friends? No excuse. The matchmakers at the Rideshare will find you a buddy. Call 888-814-1300 (it has prompts for different counties) or visit RideshareOnline.com or call 206-625-4500 or toll free 800-427-8249 for King County; 800-562-8109 for Pierce (www.piercetransit.org) or 800-562-1375 in Snohomish (www.commtrans.org).

TRAFFIC FACT
• Indulge the fantasy and just hang up on your boss. Business calls are an even more dangerous distraction while driving than casual cellphone conversations, because it's easier to put your spouse on pause, according to a study by Transport Canada.
ON METRO — HAVE A SENSE OF ADVENTURE

What's the best thing you can do for traffic besides get on a bus? Get off it and do your errands. Metro reports that most people still take the bus only to work or school. But you're not strapped into that thing, so why rush home to get in your car so you can go to the pharmacy? Be adventurous. Transfers are good for 90 minutes. The bus folks will help you plot out errand stops by calling 206-553-3000, or you can do it faster yourself by visiting tripplanner.metrokc.gov or transit.metrokc.gov.

911 ETIQUETTE

You mean the dispatcher sounded annoyed when you reported an obscene gesture? Here's the 411 on when to call 911 in traffic:

TRAFFIC FACT
• It's the law: You're not supposed to drive continuously in the left lane of a highway that is two or more lanes wide. Translation: Don't bogart the passing lane, Lefty.
Do call when you see an accident, whether or not it's apparent that anyone's injured. (And don't worry about how many others may have also called it in.) Call when you see anything blocking a lane or debris in the road (such as a tire, not a pop can) that could cause a hazard. When someone's driving very erratically or threateningly (i.e., drunk or road-raging).

Don't call 911 about the following things, which the Washington State Patrol says people actually did: to ask the day and the time, for directions, to ask how far from the curb you should park, to order a cheese pizza or to report someone getting too familiar with a sheep (unless the sheep's driving).

Reporters Mark Rahner and Bobbi Nodell contributed to this story.


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