Dear Phoenix, you're driving wrong

How to be a good driver and make the Phoenix roads a safer place

Dear Phoenix drivers, unless you’re about to perform a NASCAR-style bump draft overtake, tailgating isn't making you faster. 

While I’m at it, blocking speeders from passing in the left lane isn’t vigilantism, it’s just dangerous. And apparently a third of drivers around here think they can stare at their phones while in control of a hurtling death machine traveling at 70+ miles per hour.

Oh hey, that Volkswagen Jetta is doing triple the speed limit like it’s no big deal on a Tuesday, that's cool.  

If you aren’t one of these caricatures, any exposure to our dangerous and distracted drivers and the traffic jams they inevitably cause will give you a heart condition. 

After several years working as a delivery driver in Seattle and Phoenix, I've learned some habits and tricks to keep calm and sane while dodging the maniacs on the road.

Chill out

Phoenix Subreddit user IrvinAve aptly described the palpable aggression on Phoenix roads. 

“If you are a defensive driver you can feel the impatience of the drivers around you. You're an inconvenience as you add five whole seconds to their drive time.”

The aggressive drivers ruin it for everyone. Their risky moves cause an infuriating and spooky-sounding side effect: phantom traffic jams. Phantom traffic jams are caused by a single driver who brakes hard for some reason. All the cars behind them slow to a crawl, often resulting in dangerous rear-end accidents. 

So take some deep breaths, you can get through this commute.

Be a cog

Traffic is like a machine. You can't beat it, so join it. 

Many people try to beat it by weaving, speeding and driving aggressively; but in reality, they usually end up at the same stoplight as everyone else around them.

The machine moves smoother when everyone pays attention, drives predictably and politely. 

Stop-and-go traffic is massively frustrating in Phoenix because half the cars change lanes every 10 seconds into a lane that's moving faster. 

Spoiler alert: that doesn't work, stop it. 

Unless there's an obstacle in your lane or you can hop in the carpool lane, you're not going to move any faster than the lane next to you. It also causes more phantom traffic jams.

Eating traffic waves

I learned a trick from a video years ago. While driving in heavy Seattle traffic, the narrator explains that letting drivers merge into a large space ahead effectively kills the stop-and-go effect. 

All the cars ahead are in the stop-and-go waves. If you cruise at a steady speed with a five-car gap ahead of you, you will rarely need to brake and the whole lane behind you won't either. 

But why are we so bad?

For a city with mostly new roads, and relatively low traffic congestion compared to America's biggest cities, why do we have such maddening driving behavior?

It's cliche and obvious, but I think it has to do with the age of drivers here. 

Young, inexperienced and speedier drivers merge onto the same freeways with snowbirds and the result is chaos. In Seattle, I used to cut people off, tailgate and all the other things I criticize here. Every time I was in the car, I was stressing. 

I found that dealing with traffic gets a lot easier when you're not fighting other drivers on the road. Instead, go with the flow, relax and be considerate of other drivers. Don't drive angry and make your commute enjoyable. 

Listening to music or a good podcast helps too.


Reach the reporter at cscragg@asu.edu or follow @monsoonchaser on Twitter. 

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