Denver Drivers: Stop Road-Raging and Think About Other People for Once

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It startled the shit out of me. During rush hour last week, when I saw a reasonable gap between moving cars, I came from Jewell Avenue, crossed southbound traffic and turned into the northbound lane of Logan Street. The gentleman in the Ford Explorer behind me decided that I wasn't allowed to make the legal maneuver of entering his lane, and he proceeded to scold me via a SPEAKER ON TOP OF HIS CAR: "Don't ever do that to me again," the dad-like voice charged in a controlled rage. "And stop texting." 

At the moment, I thought he was a cop, so I pulled over. Once I'd taken a deep breath, I realized he wasn't a cop at all. He was a civilian who thought he had the right (or privilege, in my book) to instruct me on how to drive. (And for the record, I was following traffic laws and for once in my life, wasn't texting and driving.) But this interaction with an overzealous man and his CB radio wasn't even the craziest part of the story. That came next. 

My blinding road rage went full force, and I jumped back into traffic on Logan, cruising like a perv on a mission to find this jerk. I was gonna find him, follow him, photograph him (and his license plate) and plaster it all over the Internet with the caption "cop impersonator." I drove for about twenty blocks before coming back to reality. What in the hell was I doing? Didn't I have a life to live? 

In this case of road rage, there were no injuries, except for my bruised ego that led to the road-raging in the first place. But not all situations end this way; earlier this month a good samaritan was killed when he pulled over to help another person involved in a road-rage incident. I've seen angry people reach out and punch a car next to them, and we've all witnessed (and perhaps even participated in) the kind of dangerous car chase with two people who both believe they're in the right. What we're all trying to prove with these terrible, aggressive and scary driving tactics is beyond me.

Traffic isn't going away. In fact, with almost ten thousand people moving to Denver every month, it's only going to get worse. So what do we do? Here are some tips that can help alleviate our collective addiction to road rage. (I'm taking note of many myself.)

10. Remember that story that came out recently about not driving slow in the left lane? It applies to Colorado roadways, too. 
Though it may seem counterintuitive, studies show that driving at or below the speed limit in a lane reserved for passing (ahem, the left lane) causes more accidents and leads to greater congestion (see the link above). So you may think that guy tailing you in the left lane is being a jerk, but he's actually trying to pass, which means he has the right of way. If you're cruising along in the left lane and not using it to pass and then immediately get back over into the right lane, you are going against traffic laws. Quit doing that.

9. Stop speeding in the right lane on the highway.
Since the left lane is reserved for passing, it's good to know what the far right lane is for. This should be common knowledge, but apparently it is not: The right lane is where entering and exiting the highway takes place. It's also where slower drivers are rightfully allowed to drive slowly.  So if you are the person going 80 mph in the right lane and swerving around people to get to the exit as quickly as possible, you're being a twit. Go over to the left lane if you wanna act like that. 

8. Stop texting and driving.
I know you, texting driver. I know you because I am you. It's shameful that we do it at all, because it's just plain dangerous. I know your logic, texting driver: You think that because you text at stoplights or when traffic is at a dead stop you're not really texting and driving, but you are. There's a reason it is illegal: It keeps you from effectively doing your number-one job behind the wheel, which is driving safely. As a former cigarette-smoking/burrito-eating/gear-shifting texter, I feel your hubris — I mean, your pain. You think you are invincible and that you can text safely. The truth is, you can't. Throw your phone in the trunk when you drive and trust me: You'll actually feel less stressed behind the wheel as a result. Oh, and you'll be less likely to kill someone.

7. When merging, the zipper merge is the only way to go.
I know, everyone wants to be first for everything. That's why we are driving at all, apparently — to be number one in the lane/in life. But there's this thing called the zipper merge, and it is a great tool for keeping traffic flowing smoothly. Channel 7 gives a simple explanation of how to utilize the zipper merge: 

A zipper merge works when motorists use both lanes of traffic all the way to a defined merge area, and then alternate in "zipper" fashion into the open lane. By doing it this way, both lanes are used right up until the end of the closed lane, which is a much more efficient use of the road.

Contrary to the offending driver in the video above, who refuses to let a fellow driver do the zipper merge, we DO follow this rule in Colorado. It's not a "transplant" thing; it's a good-driver thing. Let go of your ego and share the road.

6. Chill out.
Dude, seriously. I get that the person in front of you going 26 mph in a 25 mph zone is annoying, but riding their ass, flashing your brights and swerving angrily around them in a non-passing turn lane isn't a good look. Also, like everything else on this list, it isn't safe. Have you ever caught yourself mid-road rage and thought, what in the hell am I doing? If you haven't and you find yourself in road-rage mode every time you decide to operate a motor vehicle, maybe it is time to re-evaluate the rest of your life. What is really making you mad? I guarantee it's not just the granny in front of you obeying the speed limit.

Keep reading for more rules of the road (rage).

5. Read up on Colorado's rules of the road.
Speaking of transplants, first off, hi! Welcome to Colorado. Denver, like many places in the world, has road signs and demarcations unique to our city. This includes middle-turn lanes, which run along larger streets where you might otherwise find a median and are marked by a solid yellow line separating the lane from opposing traffic and a dotted yellow line on the inside (see image above). 

These are the lanes you are supposed to use to turn left. If you are trying to cross traffic from a lane next to one of these solid-dotted combos, you're a traffic hazard. Please exit the forward-running lane and get into this middle lane and wait to turn. If you're not familiar with this or you find yourself perplexed by other traffic behavior and signage on Colorado roads, check out this handy driving guide courtesy of the state government. 

4. Slow down.
I live on the thoroughfare known as Knox Court — a direct passage connecting residential neighborhoods Westwood, Barnum and Villa Park. Knox Court, as many have learned over the decades, happens to be a great alternative to the traffic nightmare that is Federal Boulevard; it's one of the few residential streets crossing the Sixth Avenue neighborhood divider — I mean, highway. But daily, er, hourly, I hear the screeching tires and roaring engines of folks going 40, 50, even 60 mph down my street. A street where children play and cool paletero dudes push their carts at a normal human speed across this dangerous neighborhood highway. Have some respect for people who aren't living in your hurried, over-scheduled, perfection-or-death life and slow down. It will probably help you live longer, too. 

3. Yield to pedestrians.
Honking at the person in front of you who isn't turning right on red because they are waiting for humans in the crosswalk who are obeying the walk sign — and who have the right of way, by the way — to cross the street? Not cool. Sometimes I think that drivers forget they are people, too — once they get out from behind the wheel.

If you are a driver who speeds up when you see a pedestrian crossing a vast sea of asphalt where there are no dedicated (or safe) areas for passage by foot, you should have your license taken away. It's true that pedestrians need to obey the rules of the road — but there are some stretches of congested roads (see: Federal Boulevard) where a pedestrian has to walk five or six blocks before they are able to cross legally. That is unreasonable and the result of poor planning, unfriendly design and bad infrastructure — and it leads to people crossing where there is no crosswalk. I also catch other drivers practically running their bumpers into the heels of a poor pedestrian just trying to use the crosswalk safely. Stop pulling into the crosswalk: It's a crossWALK, the only part of the road that is designed for people. Let them have it. 
2. Yield to buses.
I know. It sucks that a bus has to stop in front of you, ever. But here's the thing about buses: A bus is carrying, like, thirty times the number of people your car is carrying, so it has to make more stops. When you freak out because a bus stops in front of you and all of a sudden you feel the need to swerve into a neighboring lane just to get out from behind that godforsaken piece of public transportation, you're causing more traffic issues than the bus (also, it is a traffic violation). Take a second to chill behind that bus, and once traffic starts moving, get over if it so pleases you. Better yet, if it is an option, stop driving and use the bus yourself. Then maybe you'll have more empathy for both the bus driver and the passengers.

1. Walk, bike and/or take public transit (if it is an option for you).
Speaking of public transit, even if you have the luxury of a car — and not everyone does — you should take public transportation from time to time. Like everything, public transit has its benefits and drawbacks. For me, the benefits include time to read, or think, or just rest in relative peace; public transportation can also give a normally impatient driver a chance to observe other terrible drivers. Experience can help us feel empathy — and empathy is in short supply these days. I'll bet you could use some.

While you're at it, watch the cyclists and drivers' interactions with them. I know, I know: Sometimes cyclists break the rules of the road just like drivers do — but that's no excuse to use your car as a weapon against a cyclist who pisses you off. Be the better person and stay calm. If you have the means and ability, try riding a bike instead of driving sometime. Getting an outside-the-car experience in your city will change your perspective, I promise.

Now, go have a chat with your vehicle and apologize to it for all of the nasty things you say on a regular basis when you're in the driver's seat and road-raging for no good reason.

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