Bicyclists aren't the only public nuisances on Denver streets. After we published our Eight Rules of the Road for Cyclists, readers suggested that we write something about the ways that drivers can be asshats, too. Good idea.
Not that deflecting blame for bad behavior should be rewarded. (It’s just as poor an argument to say “Bikers shouldn’t have to obey laws because there are bad drivers” as to say “It’s okay that Melania Trump plagiarized a little bit because Obama did it and Biden did it and also everyone did it in a sixth-grade book report.” One instance of poor behavior in no way excuses another. So in the interests of fairness, we're calling Colorado drivers on their bullshit, too. Here are eight rules of the road for them to observe:
8. Stop Lines
The reader who requested this list lodged a complaint about stop lines — and it's a good one, because out of all the unheeded driving rules, coming to a stop in the right place at an intersection is probably the one that gets ignored the most. It happens almost everywhere...at least, everywhere there’s not a camera perched to capture a shot of drivers imposing themselves into the crosswalk, blocking pedestrians and just plain breaking the law. The stop line is there for a reason, and "stop" isn't one of those terms that carries with it some sense of greater and hidden meaning. This is a line where you’re supposed to stop. Couldn't be simpler.
Speed limits are another oft-broken law (unless there’s a police car around or, worse yet, one of those photo-radar vans that make everyone go five miles under the speed limit just in case their speedometer is off). In fact, most drivers do it on a daily basis. Yes, there’s an argument to be made that speed limits are sometimes ridiculous and in some ways statistically dangerous — but it's not an argument you're going to win. You can trot out your Autobahn references and your “going with the speed of traffic” lines and your “but, officer, I was passing someone, so I had to speed up to get around them” excuses. The fact is that exceeding the speed limit is breaking the law, and in some places (school zones, etc.), it's a pretty awful idea.
6. The Left Lane Law
Colorado drivers have this awesome rule that is meant to preclude massive road rage due to slow drivers (either by choice or necessity) on highways, and it's especially important on those two-lane stretches of I-70 west of Denver. Sticking to the right lane is not just good manners, folks; it’s the law. You drive in the right lane unless you’re passing. So don’t think that just because you’re going the speed limit (and exactly the speed limit) that you’re safe to cruise along in the left lane — and definitely don’t think you’re some sort of traffic vigilante meting out street justice on all those vehicles honking at you to get out of the way. They’re right, you’re wrong, and seriously, dude: You’re not Batman.
5. Seat Belts
You’ve probably seen the various ads reminding you that wearing your seat belt is the law in Colorado. Whether it’s “Click It or Ticket” or CDOT's recent “Beware the Beltless” commercial in which the super-creepy girl in the back seat is telling her friends in the front how she’s about to kill them by becoming an unsecured projectile in their looming crash (CDOT has a spotty record for good judgment on ad campaigns), the reminders are everywhere. And with good reason: Seat belts do save lives, and not just your own.
4. Turn Signals
Signaling while driving is one of those things that a driver does all the time or completely ignores. Either you’re a signaler or you’re not — there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. But there is a right way to do this: Signal. All the time. Not all the time as in just-leave-it-on, Grandpa. Just use the damn things and let us all know what complex maneuver you’re contemplating.
Following too closely is rampant. Per Colorado law, you're supposed to follow the three-second rule, meaning you count to three (specifically, “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three”…though it’s safe to assume that the more traditional “Mississippi” rule could also apply, state fealty be damned) before you pass a common marker in order to be safe under normal driving conditions. But, honestly, who does that? That’s just giving the asshat in the Subaru Outback next to you the chance to cut into your lane! Yeah, it’s one of those laws that seems to invite abuse, but there it is, on the books, ready to bite you the next time you rear-end someone.
2. Running the Yellow
It’s an old joke: green means go, red means stop, and yellow means hit the gas. And we get the punchline, because we all step on it to make yellow lights. In fact, that’s not illegal in Colorado: Here, if your car is completely into the intersection before the light turns red, you’re still fine. But the definition of “completely into the intersection” is where this gets hairy: If you’re close, the police will stop you, and red-light cameras will snap a picture. Add to that the fact that the duration of the yellow can vary from intersection to intersection, and definitely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and you’re gambling on knowing how long you have to get past that stop line. Then there’s the whole embarrassment of T-boning someone coming from the other direction or hitting a pedestrian. In short: red lights aren’t long enough to risk your life or someone else’s. Stop being seventeen and have a little patience.
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1. Driving While Distracted
We all know that driving under the influence is a seriously bad idea, and most drivers have taken that to heart. (Thanks, PSAs! We learned it from watching you.) Yes, most drivers have driven when they shouldn’t have at one point or another, either due to alcohol, drug use or just plain exhaustion — but distraction still accounts for a huge percentage of accidents. Whether it’s texting, taking a selfie, reading the latest from Westword on your iPhone or playing Pokemon Go, it's distracting you from what you're supposed to be doing: driving.