Here's Your Traffic Fix!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

While state and local governments are contemplating spending billions of dollars to keep traffic moving on the crowded roads of metropolitan Washington, the region's transportation gurus are ignoring a fast, cheap solution that would help traffic right now: Teach Washingtonians to drive better.

Too many of us drive as if we live in a small Southern city, or, worse, some crowded Third World megalopolis with goats in the road. Well, we don't. We live in a modern American city. It's time to drive like you mean it.

In short: Drive more like a New Yorker. When I learned how to drive in New York City in the 1960s, I was trained to be fast, efficient and decisive. If Washingtonians could drive like that, it would be the equivalent of adding a lane to the Beltway -- at zero cost!

At this point you might be thinking: I'd love to drive like a merciless New Yorker, but how can I do that?

Here's the key. Don't drive to inflict pain; drive to get there. Follow these 10 simple rules of engagement to keep traffic moving faster:

1. Don't rubberneck. How many times have you been delayed by rubes craning their necks at some fender bender? "Golly, Martha, that was terrible." What do you get out of staring at some broken glass? Get a life. Keep moving.

2. Know the right of way -- take the right of way. The main flow of traffic takes precedence over someone pulling in from a side road or driveway. Don't wait for them to move into your rightful place -- keep moving. At a four-way stop, if you got there first, you go first. If you got there at the same time, the driver on the right goes first.

3. Don't block the box. Sitting in the middle of an intersection blocking cross-traffic is stupid, rude and illegal. It can lead to true gridlock, which means you'll never get out of that intersection. It'll serve you right. This brings to mind a hidden truth of smart urban driving: Letting traffic move around you actually benefits you -- as long as nobody is cutting you off.

4. Case in point: When you're turning, pull far enough into the intersection to let the cars behind you pass around you. You gain nothing from blocking those cars. Plus, by angling into the turn you let your car's "body language" signal where you're going, which helps approaching drivers.

5. Speaking of turns: When making a left turn, and a car facing you is also making a left turn, turn in front of the other car, so you don't block each other's turns. This is not quantum mechanics.

6. Keep your attention on the road. The latest studies show that distracted drivers are bad drivers. Turn off the cellphone. Apply the makeup at home. Drive time is no time to multitask.

7. In stop-and-go traffic, drive smoothly to even out the flow. Speeding up to 40 mph and then slamming on the brakes makes the traffic jam worse. There are studies that show this.

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