Friday, January 30, 2009

Earthquakes and Etiquette

Firstly, we apparently had a 4.5 earthquake hit about 14 miles northwest of Seattle (at a depth of 36 miles) at 5:25 this morning. It's due to the pacific plate pushing under the plate that we sit on here in the Pacific Northwest. The same zone that caused the 2001 Nisqually quake.

And we slept through it.

Honestly, between a gal who loves sleep more than food and her man who grew up in California, it takes more than a measly 4.5 quake to wake us up. I am very glad no serious damage occurred, and thus far we are not aware of any injuries or fatalities.

There is a local news article here.

And, can I just say, I love the word "megathrust".

The original purpose for today's post was going to be addressing what I see as an escalating problem with drivers in this city. Some of the most basic driving etiquette is being tossed aside like a hand towel after someone's megathrust. It's enough to make a big Scotsman want to punch traffic in the face.

There are two main points I would like to make -- two pet peeves I have with Seattle drivers. No, wait. THREE main points. And a few little overall pointers. They are as follows:

1. Hang up and drive. Seriously. It's 2009 and there are a wide variety of hands-free options for your mobile phone. Wired headsets, Uhura-esque Bluetooth earpieces, or the good old-fashioned speakerphone option. There is no reason anyone should be holding a handset to his or her ear while driving a motor vehicle. And besides, it's illegal.

2. Roundabouts. They're all over the UK, and Seattle has them in great quantity as well. But it seems nobody here knows how they work. So here's a primer: The flow of traffic in our country is to the right. It's the side we chose when it came time to pave our dirt roads and paint lines on them. So, when you approach a roundabout (also called a "circus" in England -- and I would like to say I was very disappointed to find a shocking lack of elephants and acrobats in them), you follow the curve around to the right. If you are making a left turn at the intersection, you still drive around the roundabout until you hit your street -- you do NOT cut left in front of the roundabout.

This also must be said of roundabouts: when you are driving around one, cars coming in from your right must yield left, however it's not the Indianapolis 500, nor is it the chariot race from Ben Hur. You don't need to stop for them, but slow down and be courteous if they decide there's enough of a gap to enter.

Here's a handy video produced by the WDOT. Let's all listen to what Commander Dusty Pierpoint of the Lacey Police Department has to say...

3. Left turns at lights. From the moment I first attended driver's education class in high school (a required unit in California, I might add), we were taught that when we found ourselves making a left turn at a green light, but had no arrow, we were to move halfway into the intersection. That way, if oncoming traffic was particularly heavy and the light turned red, at least one car got to make a left turn per light. It's safe, simple and keeps traffic moving. But all too often I find myself behind a meek or oblivious driver who sits at the line and waits through more than one light change. And that is frustrating as hell.

Overcaution is just as likely to cause an accident as overaggressive driving. When you are merging onto the freeway, accelerate into traffic -- don't stop on the ramp with cars backed up behind you. Assert yourself politely -- you do not need to megathrust into traffic (okay, that one was reaching, but I just had to figure out a way to use megathrust again). Use your indicators. If the sun is not visible (and that's quite a bit of the time in Seattle), turn on your headlights -- not to help you see, but to help others see YOU. And wave when someone lets you in or does you some other courtesy.

It's so simple, but so few of us actually do it. Maybe we could use a refresher. Note that Jimmy Stewart is narrating. Also, the first kid shown driving the little trainer is the spitting image of my dad at that age. Crazy.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I think I can remove the rocket launcher from my car now.


kylestevensmusic said... film title?

TD said...

I'm thinking superhero character or band name...

Steve said...

4. People who "merge" by hugging the white line on their right until it eventually pushes them into the flow of traffic, never once looking behind them or using a signal.

I need a term for those people. "White Line Huggers" isn't enough.

Dan Heinrich said...

Turn indicators, turn indicators, turn indicators, what is so freaking hard about using the turn indicators!! And I was awake during the quake and felt not a thing. Did not know it had happened until 4 hours later

Lucy Leadskin said...

I think MST3K did *Megathrust* in, what, 1995? 1996? :D

Roundabouts are fantastic for keeping traffic flowing smoothly. My sweetie was an expert by the time our UK vist was finished.

And you should subscribe to the USGS RSS feed! So much fun. :) Here's their info page on the quake, in case anyone can't find it:

Derek said...

[In] driver's education class... we were taught that when making a left turn at a green light [without an] arrow, we were to move halfway into the intersection. That way, if oncoming traffic was particularly heavy and the light turned red, at least one car got to make a left turn per light.

I don't know if they've changed it since we took Driver's Ed, but I believe that now (at least here in California) both the car waiting halfway into the intersection and the car behind it can legally complete the left turn when the light turns red. I know this because since getting my license at 16, I've, ah... made a point of attending daylong traffic school classes once every 5 years or so. You know, just to brush up.

All too often I find myself behind a meek or oblivious driver who sits at the line and waits through more than one light change.

Yet another way in which LA is Seattle's polar opposite. Here, in that same situation, it's gotten to the point where I'm mildly surprised if the third car in line doesn't run the light, tailgating the second car through the left turn. It's not all that unusual for the fourth, and even the fifth cars to punch it through the left turn as well.

When I'm the first car in line at a red light, and there are cars in the intersection waiting to make the left turn, I watch the 3rd and subsequent cars in that line like a fucking hawk. I can't even count the number of times I've seen cars in those positions run the left turn and just barely clear the cars starting into the intersection on their green light. I'd guess that it's gotta be one of the most common causes of surface-street accidents around here.

Dee said...

Todd, if we ever meet (and hopefully we will one day!) I hope you never drive behind me. I'm afraid I might be one of those overcautious drivers - I really don't try to be! :) Anyway, here are my thoughts on your driving pet peeves:
l. I'm sure I'll get alot of people disagreeing with me on the cell phone thing, but I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that you're "holding" a phone. It's more that you are trying to focus on driving and talking at the same time, whether you're doing it hands free or not. You shouldn't be doing both at the same time. (Not saying I don't talk and drive, cause I absolutely do - but I shouldn't).
2. I totally think Roundabouts are awesome, they should be used way more often. Maybe if there were more of them, people would learn how to use them properly, which would be nice because they work.
3. I think I'm a driving idiot - I really didn't know that you're "supposed" to move into the middle of the intersection when you're turning left without an arrow, even though most people do (including me). But if I'm sitting at a light waiting to turn left (without an arrow) and the car in front of me is in the middle of the intersection and turns left after the light turns red, I can still legally turn too?? Somehow, I just know I'd end up with a ticket if I did that. ;>)
I'm glad I live in a somewhat rural area and don't have to deal with alot of the stuff you're talking about - it's definitely stressful. (Sorry about writing a book)! :)

Dee said...

Ha, ha: "Let's all listen to what Commander Dusty Pierpoint of the Lacey Police Department has to say..."

That looks so funny because Lacey is my maiden name! ;>)

Anonymous said...


If you can fit into the intersection behind the first left turning car, then you don't have to worry about getting ticketed. If you're still behind the line when the light changes to red, then you'd be running the light though Derek implies that may be legal in California now.

There are two reasons to get ticketed in an intersection: first is entering the intersection while the light is red (but you entered on green); second is being unable to get out of the intersection once your light turns red.

And not that it'll make anyone feel better about getting hit, but in Derek's description of near misses because the 5th car in line made the turn, though the 5th car ran the light, it would be the fault of the cross traffic if an accident occurred. Getting a green light doesn't grant permission to enter the intersection until it is safe to do so. So even if everyone waiting to turn left decides to follow the leader, cross traffic can't legally start until the last left turning car has cleared, no matter how many people are honking.

<dismounts soap box>

And too everything said above 'hear hear!'

Dee said...

Thanks, Ryan Walker, for clearing that up! ;>)