Help me Teach Seattle How to Drive

Next week I’ll be speaking at Seattle Ignite 15 on August 20th. My topic? Teaching Seattle how to drive.

I was born and raised in NYC and despite living in Seattle for almost 15 years, I’ve still never gotten used to bad driving habits I see all the time.  From the snowpocolypse, to four way stops where no one goes, to camping the left lane, it seems we struggle with the basics of urban driving.

If you live in Seattle, what do you think the biggest deficiencies are in how your fellow citizens drive? If you could get everyone to start, or stop, doing something on the road, what would it be? Leave a comment.

30 Responses to “Help me Teach Seattle How to Drive”

  1. Joshua

    I quite like the way we drive. We may, at times, be courteous to a fault, but compared to other parts of the country I find it much more relaxing with fewer WTF? moments.

    Sorry we don’t honk if you don’t instantly bolt off the line when the light turns green, but since I’m looking at Rainier anyway, I’m in no rush.

  2. Bob Hays

    Once you have it down in Seattle, can you come down here to LA – I’ve lived in lots of places (including the east coast of Saudi Arabia) and the worst drivers driver in LA.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Its funny, but everyone seems to think the place they live has the worst drivers.

  3. turph

    1. Drive with a little sense of urgency
    2. Don’t stop in the left lane so you can take a right turn across 3 lanes of traffic
    3. Cars on a freeway are not suppose to yield (aka break heavily) for cars merging in from the on ramp
    4. Cars on a ramp merging into the freeway… Why, yes it is actually important to look for on coming traffic

  4. ptachs

    Call it the “Last Car Pause.” As a pedestrian, when you’re waiting to cross a street, the last car in line pauses to let you go instead of flowing with the other cars. It’s an example of courtesy gone wrong. It breaks the flow of the person on foot and the driver.

  5. Mike

    I’m from Toronto, so I know how you feel. This should be one of the better Ignite talks yet!

    How about waiting until the very last second on an on-ramp to accelerate up to speed? Or waiting until there’s no lane left before merging?

    How about drivers staying side-by-side on two-lane roads? This is annoying AND dangerous. It’s actually worse than hanging out in someone’s blind spot. Pass, or back off.

    How about driving slower in the HOV lane than the cars in the fast lane? Oh, wait, I forgot; Seattle doesn’t know about the fast lane.

    And here’s one that I’m sure the cyclists can relate to: why do drivers choose to pass riders through blind corners on a single-lane road? The possibility of an oncoming surprise should make you think twice about this ridiculous idea. I know I’ve wished you had, numerous times!

    That’s all I can think of at the moment, but I’m about to head out to run some errands, so I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more ;-)

  6. Nicole

    The problem is you can only change your own driving habits.

    So relax and smile. Listen to better music. Make the inside of your car a great place to be. Or take a bus. :D

  7. Noah

    please please please “Drive Right”. Move over (with your blinker) when there is a space on your right. Even though you may think that other people “shouldn’t drive so fast”, it is not your place to be self-appointed traffic cop. Move over, let the other guy pass, and have a nice day.

  8. Kate Harper

    I have a problem with drivers who do not understand that the ramp onto the freeway is for getting up to speed and then merging into traffic. I don’t know how many times I’ve been looking for a spot to merge and just as I’m ready to do so the driver in front of me stops or slows way down.

  9. Bruce

    I’m just trying to get people in Seattle to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. Driving? Don’t EVEN get me started.

  10. CLH

    By far it has to be left-lane campers. Having spent a significant amount of time living and driving in Europe, this is the one thing that drives me bat-shit crazy about Washington (let alone Seattle) drivers. If you’re not moving faster than the flow of traffic to your right, move the hell over.

  11. Marc

    The first time I drove in Seattle I thought the first few people I was behind were stoned. Then I realized it was everybody.

    Why is it that behavior that would be considered completely disrespectful in the checkout line at the supermarket is considered ok (and defended) if you do it in your car?

    Seattle drivers, please, for the love of god, apply this simple heuristic: If it’s not ok when piloting a shopping cart then it’s not ok when driving your car.

    Here are some examples.

    Would you head to the express “10 items or less” register if you have a shopping cart full of stuff? Of course not, you’d slow everyone down. That line is there for people who just want to get in and out quickly. So don’t do 50 in the left lane.

    Would you wait until all the previous shopper’s stuff has been rung up, bagged, and paid for before you start putting your groceries on the conveyor? Of course not. So don’t dawdle at the light. When the guy ahead of you moves, you move too.

    Would you let someone who gets to the register after you get in line ahead of you just for the hell of it? Of course not. So if you get to the stop sign first, then it’s your turn to go first.

    Seattle, you already know how to drive! Just start applying it when you leave the supermarket parking lot.

  12. Sam

    I think if everyone in Seattle handled freeway onramps better, you’d see a change in the amount of terrible traffic we have.

    If you’re on the freeway in the right lane, you should:
    1. Move to the left, if you can, to let people onto the freeway.
    2. Not speed up to try and get in front of people who are merging – this causes mergers to stop, and then when they do merge, it will be at a lower speed than the flow of traffic.
    3. Allow some space in front of you for a car to merge. People merge – it’s just a fact of life. Why not compensate for it?

    If you’re merging onto the freeway, you should:
    1. Use the ramp to get up to the speed of the freeway. Don’t break at the bottom of the ramp, because then you will slow down the freeway traffic.
    2. Be mindful that (usually) the ramp is a lane that ends. The drivers’ manual says that you should use a turn signal, and enter the other lane where there’s an opening (to turph’s point, not just whenever you feel like it).

  13. Vanessa Howell

    Arg, please help teach Seattle how to drive. Start with letting them know it’s oka to move when the light turns green. Those extra 15s of waiting don’t serve a purpose. Then let them know it’s okay to merge while going 60. It really is possible, the folks in California seem to have figured it out. Finally, I appreciate curtesy, but traffic is more efficient if yo just obey the traffic rules.

    Good luck. Seattle has the worst drivers of any place I’ve driven.

  14. Dave S

    I’ve lived in Seattle since 1995. Seattle drivers are a danger to society.

    * Green means go if it’s safe. Yellow means slow down and stop unless it’s unsafe to do so. Red means stop. Seattle drivers get red and green confused and ignore yellow.
    * If a merge sign is in your lane (or implied as in freeway on ramps) that means give way to traffic you are merging with and not jump out there regardless of traffic. Seattle drivers have that confused.
    * A 4-way (all-way) stop has a set of rules. RTFM!! Seattlites read a lot, but not the Washington Driver Guide.
    * Roundabouts have been around a long time and are not difficult to master. Seattlites think they are just an interference to slow them down. When was the last time you saw a Seattlite use a turn signal when leaving a roundabout? When was the last time you saw a Seattlite give-way when approaching a round-about?
    * Seattlites confuse the freeway system with a parking lot.
    * Seattlites don’t see a need to let other drivers know when they change lanes or turn.

    Maybe Seattlites are just confused. They go slow when they should go fast, go fast when they they should go slow, stop when they should go and go when they should stop and have no idea why their car has a turn indicator.

    I grant you that not all Seattlites drive like assholes, but enough do that driving in the Seattle metro area is like driving through a forest during hunting season.

    Since I’m in a mood to vent… Have you ever noticed that if you follow the signage in Seattle you may well get lost?

    – Dave

  15. Mircea

    If anyone would understand what “keep right except to pass” means we would just fine.
    4 way stops are an aberration.

  16. Dan Becker

    The most efficient way for two lanes of traffic to merge into one is for drivers in the ending lane to drive to the merge point and then smoothly merge in, alternating with the cars in the continuing lane. It’s not “polite” to merge a mile early; in fact it can make traffic worse for everyone.

  17. Mike Nitabach

    By far it has to be left-lane campers.

    Connecticut drivers are fucking horrible with this, too. I was driving in Italy a few months ago, and it was an absolute pleasure to experience that *every* driver passes left and keeps right. It makes driving so much less stressful.

  18. Joc C.

    The stay-right-except-to-pass sentiment is a no brainer, but I’ve got more….

    Seattle needs to accelerate harder when it’s time to accelerate, and brake sooner – keeping bigger gaps – when it’s time to slow down. Both of which are part of being situationally aware.

    Most of the bad drivers seem to think that “driving safe” means, a) maintaining a speed slightly below the speed limit and, b) being as steady as possible.

    This causes all kinds of problems. First if they’re in any lane other than the far right (see above), it’ll only be a matter of time before people start stacking up behind them.

    Next, when things start slowing down, it’s important to keep a big gap. When our Seattle driver keeps sailing into slow traffic at 45 mph and then has to get on the binders to slow it all down, they’re just starting a chain reaction behind them that’s going to get worse the further back you get.

    Be “present” on the road, go when it’s time to go, and maintain big gaps when you’re slowing down.

    That is all.

  19. DesignEpiphany

    @ Bob Hays. I was born and raised in SoCal and used to think the same thing (I used to claim that I graduated from the SoCal school of aggressive driving). But after living here since ’05, I can say that the drivers here are worse and here’s why: people let their passive-aggressive natures cloud their intentions.

    People here are not aggressive enough when they drive and they could benefit from a little bit more conscious aggression. It helps other drivers to clearly know their intentions: which way they plan on going, how fast they intend to go, etc. I learned a lot from being in NYC traffic as well. Drivers are not afraid to come inches from each others cars. Maybe people here are far to cautious and apprehensive because they are driving such expensive, clean cars? Maybe it’s their weather-induced melancholy, that they were pondering the meaning of life rather than deciding if they should put their foot on the gas and merge into the damn left lane.

  20. Sean

    Yes! People camping in the the left lane! AND, people thinking just because they have an extra person in the car they should be in the HOV lane even if traffic is not heavy and they go 60 mph! It’s a lane to move traffic along if you have no intention of getting there a little faster keep your butt out of the HOV lane, jees. The other thing I find super annoying is the digital mph signs put over the freeway with one over each lane. Really? How much of our “broke” states money was spent on that? And how effective are they? They don’t do a darn thing, what a waste.

  21. John M

    Oh, it’s a toxic combination of mistaking being passive for being safe, and a faux politeness veneer disguising passive-aggressive self-righteousness :-) Best manifest in the “i’m turning left at green light, but i’m not going to pull forward into intersection because that’s not polite/safe/something”, even though that helps no one, backs-up traffic, and is often accompanied by a tendency to remember to activate the turn signal as an afterthought long after you’ve screwed everyone behind you (and Seattlites behind you won’t be alert enough to know they can even go around the left-turner – thus creating a domino effect of unsafe “that wouldn’t be safe” Seattle thinking).

  22. Sally

    Signal anyone?

    …lane drifting, oh, and because you asked, driving 5miles below the speed limit as if that made you a safe driver.

  23. Joe

    Man, I gotta call the wambulance on some of these commenters above. Talk about car-entitlement mentality.

    This is gonna piss off the bridge & tunnel crowd, but driving in a city is supposed to suck, big time. It should be at least as painful on the driver as it is on the community and the environment. That’s how the best city planners set things up, to encourage public transit, walking, and biking. So “it pisses me off when I can’t drive as fast as I want to” is not a valid complaint.

    However, driving shouldn’t be dangerous, so here are a few things that piss me off because they are unsafe:

    1. using the 1/4 mile before your exit as a personal off-ramp. The off-ramp is for slowing down to surface-street speed, not the 1/4 mile before the off-ramp.

    2. parking too close to an intersection. This one is SO dangerous but nobody thinks about it while parking. A car parked at an intersection blocks sight lines for people making turns, especially legal right turns on red.

    3. blocking driveways. I bet if this were NYC I’d just go out there with an f’in crowbar and mess that car up, yaknowhatimean, Scotty? But this is passive Seattle so I just stay inside to fume and/or call the police non-emergency number. (ok this one isn’t unsafe, just annoying)

  24. Sharon

    I like that Seattle drivers traditionally are courteous. They let you merge (where I learned to drive you damn well better get in the lane you wanted as you turned onto a street). They don’t usually tailgate. You rarely see someone weaving in and out of traffic. So first off, I’d say let’s not lose the good habits.

    Things I’d change:
    * Avoid creating eddies, especially on freeways. Match your speed to the speed of the lane you’re in.
    * Give cyclists extra room when you pass them and/or slow as you pass them. This may mean holding back until you get past that curve and can see to take a little of the oncoming lane.
    * Corollary for cyclists: Lordy, don’t swerve into the car lane in front of a car! Especially on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic. I see this fairly often, and there are roads I hate to take in nice weather for that reason.
    * Remember, roads are slippery in the first rain after a dry spell. You will need more stopping distance than you did on dry pavement. And that gets a few order of magnitudes worse when it snows. We get wet snow that melts a little, so you have a layer of icy wet under a layer of wet snow. Then it freezes over. Might as well coat the roads with a quarter inch of motor oil.
    * Corollary for pedestrians: You think that car can stop on a dime when you jump out in front of it while playing in the snow? Really?? You’re having trouble stopping when you’re _walking_!
    * Most important, You Are Here. You aren’t at your desk, or in your boss’s office, or at the store. You are maneuvering a huge piece of equipment that can easily kill a dozen people at a time. Pay attention.

  25. Elizabeth P

    I have not driven in Seattle, so I cannot comment about traffic pattern theres, but some general rules I feel need to be observed on the East Coast

    1) If you are in the left lane of a multilane highway, you need to go faster than the right lane…or else move back to the right lane. The left lane is for passing or being zippy.
    2) If you are in the right lane, don’t speed. The right lane is meant to be slower.
    3) Look both directions in the parking lot before crossing the blank spaces.
    4) A tip just for Baltimore – if you have gotten off on the wrong exit ramp. DO NOT BACK UP

  26. Siobhan

    Like a number of people in the comments, I am not from Seattle and learned to drive in Europe. There are many benefits to driving in Seattle and it can be relaxing here when compared with many other large cities. I’ve learned to drive less aggressively and to chill out about the speed levels, but some driver behavior still causes my blood pressure to boil over.

    4-way stops: The whole “you go” – “no, you go” thing has to stop. It’s like Seattle drivers treat traffic-flow decisions on the same level as politely holding a door open for others to pass. There are rules for a reason, please follow them…

    Roundabout intersections: Please stop driving over the small turning circles in residential roads (you know who you are, SUV driver). How hard can it be to yield to drivers in the roundabout? If making a left turn on a roundabout. Also, please resist the urge to take a shortcut and drive on the left and, for the love of God, don’t perform an emergency-brake maneuver smack in the middle of the roundabout when another car approaches you.

  27. Hillarie

    As a former South Dakotan, I feel your pain. One thing that I loved about the midwest, or maybe just rural country areas, is that people often wave to politely acknowledge when another driver should go. It not only speeds up the process, but it also makes your day a little better to be greeted with a wave rather than a scowel – plus, Seattleites could use all the cheer they can get ;) Also, PLEASE encourage people to start using their horns if they have to! No need to lay on it for 5 seconds, just give it a light tap to get another driver’s attention, if necessary.

  28. Mark

    Everyone loves to complain about drivers where they live (except maybe some parts of Europe – they know how to kick ass behind the wheel). In my time in SoCal I found the drivers equally annoying to Seattle drivers, but in much different way. Talk about people who don’t know how to drive in the rain.

    My biggest problem in Seattle is lack of aggression or, to put it more kindly, lack of assertion. As some other people said it actually makes driving more dangerous for everyone and certainly more annoying. When it’s your turn at a four-way stop, GO. If you’re uncertain and others aren’t moving yet, GO. Your horn is your friend. Using it sparingly helps keep us all safer and will get that person in front of you who’s staring at their iPhone to realize that the light’s green.

    Merging onto the freeway is generally fine around here IMO. But two lanes merging to one really frustrates me – people are nice and try to move over early, but this leads to bottlenecks. But I don’t really want to be the asshole driving all the way up and then forcing my way in. I honk at those people. Anyone who’s driven west on 45th and been at that big intersection before Aurora knows what I’m talking about…

    1. Emily

      How about if you are turning right to at least glance to the right before you pull forward as there may be a pedestrian there. I have been hit once and almost hit too many times to count. I think it is actually safer to run/ walk in the same direction as traffic around here so at least people will look at you.


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