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October 21, 2012

News & Features

Road rules: Know the latest in traffic safety

Special to NWautos

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(Andy Zapata / Special to NWautos)


Chances are, it's been a few years (or decades) since you last cracked a driver's manual or took driver's ed. Are you keeping up with the latest laws and rules of the road?

Local law-enforcement officers and a driving-school instructor share key updates and their top tips for staying safe on the road. Find out how your driving stacks up.

Update your grip on the wheel. Let go of that long-standing advice to place your hands at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now recommends 9 and 3, which keeps your hands and wrists out of the path of the airbag should it deploy, potentially saving you from broken bones.

Trapped in a skid?
Focus on your destination. Concentrate on where you intended to go, advises Robert Lindsay, director of fleet training and special operations with Redmond-based Swerve Driving School. You will self-correct that way.

On the highway, don't hog the left lane. It's meant for passing slower traffic, says trooper Julie Judson of the Washington State Patrol, so get in and out. In fact, it's an infraction (with a $124 fine) to drive continuously in the left lane when it impedes the flow of other traffic.

Readjust your mirrors. You can reduce or eliminate blind spots with a few simple adjustments, Lindsay says. Set your rear-view mirror so that it frames your back window. Tilt your head left and set your side mirror so that you see just a sliver of your car. When you sit up straight again, you shouldn't see any of your car but plenty of the space around you. Repeat on the right, and you'll be able to observe pedestrians, cars and bikes with greater ease.

Observe digital speed-limit signs. Those new signs on the highway? They count as the posted speed limit. And the posted speed limit at that moment is what you need to follow, Judson says.

The school zone is slow for a reason. At 20 mph, it still takes 40 feet — the length of a typical school bus — to come to a stop, says detective Jeff Kappel of the Seattle Police Department. Driving 30 mph — just 10 mph faster — nearly doubles that stopping distance, he says. In areas teeming with kids, officers rarely are lenient with this violation. "You can't stop like you think you can," he says.

Put down your phone. And your dog, and your mascara. Talking or texting on a cellphone can impair your judgment and reaction time to the same degree as driving drunk. It's also against the law, and can land you a $124 ticket. But any other behavior that causes you to drive with disregard for the safety of others — sandwich-eating that makes you weave into the next lane, for example, or almost rear-ending another car while putting on makeup — can net you an infraction and a hefty fine as well.

Since Washington has no state law against "distracted driving," Judson says, law enforcement has only one citation at its disposal: reckless driving. It's a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to 364 days and a fine of up to $5,000. "Driving has become secondary for many people. They're brushing their teeth, they're putting on shoes" while driving, she says. "People have lost respect that they are driving machines that could kill people."

A final note:
courtesy is contagious. Lindsay, Judson and Kappel each noted that common courtesy seems to be becoming less common on the roads. If you can let another car in ahead of you, do it. Communicate your intent: use those turn signals, especially in roundabouts. Give bikes and people extra space when passing. And by all means, pay attention. It could save your life.

"Drive as you would if your driver's-training instructor were sitting next to you," Kappel says.

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