Thursday, June 14, 2007

Drive Nice

Clever columnist Christine Fugate wrote recently in the INDY about the deterioraton of people's driving in town. It's impossible not to agree. Just yesterday I observed a driver who interrupted her cell phone conversation long enough to yell out her car window at a man walking his bicycle across Coast Highway in a crosswalk. She obviously didn't see him and was angry that she had to stop to let him cross. Who could blame her -- he must have slowed her down by at least 5 seconds!

At the next stop sign you come to, take a deep breath, come to full stop, count to three like they taught you in Driver's ed (even though the car behind you will honk) and be a nice driver. I could go on but surely I can't say it better than Christine. In case you missed it, here's her recent column:


“What are you doing?” I sat in my car yelling. “Don’t you know the law?”

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” my oldest daughter asked confused as to why I was waving my arm frantically at the windshield.

“That car barely stopped and then just followed the car in front of her.” I explained. “This is not follow the leader,” I yelled out my window at the white Toyota but it sped on by. I cursed myself for coming to the worst intersection in Laguna, Glenneyre and Thalia, in the late afternoon when all bad drivers are unleashed.

Ever since I moved from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach, my husband and I have been appalled at drivers here. First of all, there appears to be no law when it comes to four way stops. Now, I am terrified to cross the intersection on my turn, afraid that someone will come barreling through when they feel like it. I like to sit patiently and wave everyone ahead of me. Sometimes, I’ll meet another driver like myself. We will wave back and forth a few times and eventually, one of us will go.

Don’t even get me started on merging. What happened to the every-other-car rule? Or the courtesy of allowing a car to merge in front of you? Gone.

The sad thing is that my own driving skills have dulled and faded. When I lived in Los Angeles, I considered myself a professional driver, well versed on merge acceleration rates, intersection law and driver etiquette. Now, I seemed to have joined the pack that believes, ‘When I think it’s my turn, I will go.’

I know we like to blame all the bad traffic on the tourists, but are they also to blame for our bad driving skills? Does the summer time traffic make us feel so territorial that we abandon all recognition of the law and do what we think is best? Have courtesy and etiquette evaporated because ‘we’re going to show those tourists whose boss of this town’? A wild west mentality seems to have taken over the roadways—the person with the biggest horse or fastest mule wins right of way.

Which is why on this Memorial Day weekend, I think it is a perfect time for us locals to review the laws of driving. Perhaps by doing so, we can set a better example for the tourists and not allow our local backstreet intersections like Glenneyre and Thalia turn into lawless zones.

I have singled out my own pet peeve, The Four Way Stop, to review. I know it can be confusing, but I am going to attempt to lay it in out in a way we can all understand and follow:

This first part requires no discernment. Come to a complete stop at the stop sign.
If you arrive at the intersection and it is a happy day, no one is there and you proceed across.

If there are other cars there, you proceed in the order in which the cars arrived. That means that if you arrived second, you do not go first. You patiently wait your turn. If the car directly across from you is crossing, you do not cross too, unless it is your turn.

If you arrive at the intersection at exactly the same time as another car or the intersection is crowded and it is hard to tell who arrived first, the law switches to the ‘vehicle on your right’ rule. This means that the person on your right goes before you, and the person on their right goes before them. If the intersection is full, then the flow of traffic becomes counter-clockwise.

We all need to get off our cell phones and pay attention to these simple rules of the road. If you feel that you may not be able to tell who arrived first or figure out which way is right, engage your kids to help you. I recently tried it and I felt rather smug about the fact that I was not only driving better, but also teaching my kids more than how to express road rage in our sleepy little beach town.