Yikes! It’s Friday the 13th!

Unless you’re camping out at Camp Crystal Lake tonight, there’s no legitimate reason that Friday the 13th should be a day of misfortune.  In fact today should be like any other day of the year.  Thanks in part to a certain movie franchise, this date has been stigmatized in popular culture as a day of bad luck.  And though this is clearly a superstition, perhaps this is a good opportunity to review a few super basic roadway safety guidelines that, if we all followed them, would instantly improve traffic safety today and throughout the year.  

First and foremost, pay attention when you’re behind the wheel.  Between 2008 and 2010 more than 3,500 collisions attributed to distracted driving occurred in the City of Seattle.  That’s more than 3,500 preventable collisions!  Research has clearly shown that using a cell phone while driving increases the risk of collisions.  A driver who is texting while driving is as impaired as a driver with a 0.16 blood alcohol content and a driver talking on a cell phone has a four times greater likelihood of being injured in a collision.  Automobiles generally weigh between 2,000 and 4,000 pounds so the laws of physics are working against you.  When you’re driving an object with that kind of mass, a crash at any speed will have a big impact.  So be sure to focus on the road when you’re driving.

Second, traffic signals are your friend.  The primary function of the traffic signal is to assign the right-of-way to drivers and cyclists and indicate when pedestrians should cross the street.  A green light means go, a yellow light means prepare to stop, and a red light means stop. Running red lights often leads to severe collisions so just don’t do it. 

The “walk” signal is intended to move pedestrians off the curb and into the crosswalk.  The “flashing don’t walk” phase is intended to inform pedestrians that they should not begin to cross the street if they are still on the sidewalk or curb.  Pedestrians already in the crosswalk should continue crossing the street and vehicles should remain stopped to allow pedestrians to complete the crossing during the “flashing don’t walk” phase.  Crossings should be complete by the time the solid “don’t walk” phase appears.  A solid “Don’t walk” signal means just that – don’t walk.

Third, don’t be a “left lane camper” – a driver clogging traffic by travelling below the speed limit in the left lane.  On multi-lane roadways drivers should stay in the right lane unless they are passing another vehicle.  Slow vehicles traveling in the left lane create unsafe conditions as other motorists grow frustrated and start to pass on the right side. The problem causes traffic congestion as motorists follow too closely to the slow-moving vehicle. 

While “left lane campers” can be frustrating, jockeying and/or weaving through traffic on multi-lane roadways is in very poor taste.  Drivers that exhibit this behavior often end up stopped at the same red light as the drivers they just passed anyway and shave little to no time off their commutes.  These risky maneuvers often lead to collisions.  Give yourself a few extra minutes to reach your destination rather than put yourself and others at risk.  

Remember, collisions hurt people, waste public dollars, increase insurance rates, and create congestion.  Bad things most frequently occur when we make poor decisions; not because the thirteeth day of the month falls on a Friday.  By following these basic safety guidelines, our streets will be safer on Friday the 13th, Thursday the 12th, Monday the 5th, and every single day of the year. 

For more rules of the road, click here and check out the Washington State Patrol’s “Good to Know” video series.