Driving habits in Las Vegas

Every day I read in the newspapers or see on TV some mention or complaint about poor driving habits in Las Vegas. What some people complain about I just find ridiculous and a lack of understanding that the purpose of driving is to get from point A to point B in the safest, most effective manner possible. I believe that part of the issue is that people here in Las Vegas come from all parts of the country or are used to a time when the area was more rural and their driving style and knowledge doesn’t match the current demographics. I’ve put together what I call “Advanced Driving Techniques” which lay out common sense driving that perhaps more people should learn to create safer roadways and to more efficiently use the road capacity we have per below:

Advanced Driving Techniques

In this paper I’m going to try my best to explain driving techniques which are designed to get a driver from point A to point B in the quickest, safest manner. Because of the variety of driving styles and knowledge of people driving in Las Vegas, it appears many people have never learned how to properly navigate roadways and make the most effective use of road capacity. Perhaps we could consider these advanced or aggressive driving techniques but really they are just logic and common sense which at one point in my career I was responsible for teaching.

Keep Right Except to Pass
When I was taught to drive it was drilled into me that you do not drive in the left lane unless you are passing. A typical day on 215 sees people cruising in all lanes at the same speed. That seriously reduces road capacity, reduces traffic flow and is dangerous. I’ll tell you why: If the right hand lane is used for access and egress and to get into it without slowing the lane you are in, you need to be going faster. If you try merging into the lane by applying brakes you slow down your lane and introduce the possibility of someone running into you. So the center lane needs to be going faster than the right lane. The same thing applies for the far left lane. If you have to slow to move over to the right, you slow down your lane and invite the same possibility of someone running into you. The left lane needs to be going faster than the center lane and the center lane needs to be going slightly faster than the far right lane for efficient traffic flow. And it really becomes a mess when to get by people going slow in the left lane you have to do lane changes to go around them. With that you invite more danger and risk taking. Compliment this by illegal aliens driving 10mph below the speed limit in the left lane because they don’t want to get stopped and you have the reduced capacity on our highways that we have. Then when you pull up behind someone going slow they don’t even look in their rear view mirror or do and give you the finger. People apparently feel because they are going 65mph they have a right to be in any lane they want and they never learned that an alert driver constantly checks the “box” they are in by knowing where the cars in front, in back and on either side are. “Keep right except to pass” signs would be great.

Acceleration Lanes
This is one of the situations that cause a serious danger. An acceleration lane is as the name implies an opportunity to build up speed entering a highway so that you are at highway speed before the acceleration lane ends. In fact you should be going slightly faster than highway traffic as you merge so that you do not cause anyone on the highway to brake and you can seamlessly fit into gaps. What I see is people who ease up the ramp sometimes at 25 MPH and when they run out of lane they stop dead or end up on a shoulder because they can’t merge into a lane which is going 65MPH. This danger is compounded because you as you should be doing are looking at the lane you need to merge into not expecting someone in front of you to stop. It would be helpful perhaps if signs were put up reminding people to get up to highway speed as they enter the ramp.

Merging Properly
When I learned to drive I was taught that the proper way to merge two lanes to one is to fill both lanes and alternately merge cars from each lane at the merge point. Here people merge blocks earlier and fill up the one lane across intersections, driveways and anything else they can block rather than using the capacity of both lanes. When you go to the front of the other lane they look at you like you are trying to cheat the system instead of using merge technique properly.

Merging into Traffic
All the time I see people who need to get onto a roadway from a parking lot on the right side of a road and then get over to the left lane not understand how to do it properly. Typically they will not pull out until all lanes are clear and then they can pull all the way over to the left in one move. They are oblivious to the long line of cars they are holding up behind them. Sometimes all lanes will not clear for up to 5 minutes or more based on traffic light sequencing and time of day. The proper way to do this is to wait for an opening in the right lane pull into it and then work your way over to the left hopefully by getting your speed just slightly faster or slower than the left hand lane so you can pull into a gap. If for some reason you cannot get over to the left then just go by your intersection and come back on the other side of the road.

And the corollary to this is the person who will pull out from the right side of the road and immediately go to the left lane without regard for the fact they are pulling right into traffic causing people they are pulling out in front of to slam on their brakes.

Changing Lanes
Picture you are on a three lane in each direction road such as Eastern Avenue and someone in front of you comes to a dead stop in the center lane because they want to get into the left turn lane to make a left turn. How many accidents do you see where someone runs into someone in the center lane maybe even 10 cars back. The proper way to get over to the left is to build speed slightly faster than the left lane so that you can merge into a gap without either the people behind you in the center lane or people in the left lane needing to apply brakes. You should be the only one that needs to apply brakes once you get to the left. If you need to slow down slightly to fit into a gap on the left that is also acceptable but stopping or coming to a near stop in the center lane never is. If for some reason you can’t get over to the left lane such as no gap to pull into, you should go by and come back from the other direction.

A variation on this issue is the situation where you are again in the center lane needing to get into either the left or right lane to make a turn and no one will let you in as if it is a macho issue. Here you have someone with his or her turn signal on obviously trying to get over and people refuse to let them merge; in some cases actually closing a gap to prevent someone from changing lanes to make a turn. This causes some of the stopping in the center lane that I see per the description above. Common courtesy is lacking.

Beeping Your Horn upon a Green Light
Excessive or long beeping is an irritation and beeping is ultimately designed primarilly to warn someone of your presence. However at a traffic light with perhaps a 15 second window, how irritating is it to have someone in the front of the line not paying attention and making you miss a light which might not turn green for another 2-5 minutes after you’ve already waited 2-5 minutes for it. A gentle tap on the horn to wake someone up is a courtesy to everyone waiting in line behind you.

Use of Cell Phones
How many times have we watched people not paying attention while driving with a cell phone to their ear or texting away as they swerve from lane to lane oblivious to the traffic around them? I heartedly applaud the new law but take exception to the perspective where some people have written editorials that no call is important enough to take while driving. I own a Video Production company and my work can take me all over the valley. I can not miss calls for the 30 to 40 minutes I spend traveling from one end of the valley to the other or when I’m held up in traffic. I have a Bluetooth headset because I cannot miss a call nor can some calls wait. I’m not out for a leisurely drive, I have to get places and arrangements need to be made, my people need to be scheduled and monitored, workplace topics need attending to and most importantly if a potential client calls and they just get voicemail they don’t leave a message they just call the next company on their list and move on with me missing the business. If I need to write down something, I will not risk doing it while driving; I will pull over on a shoulder with my caution blinkers on or off the roadway or better yet have someone email me the information. For this city to grow and diversify there has to be understanding that business often needs to be conducted at a frenetic pace to accomplish goals/avoid emergencies/satisfy customer objectives and wasted time in a vehicle is unacceptable, save phone usage is acceptable.

Driving in a “Box”
When I learned to drive I was taught to think of your vehicle as in a box which has a front, back and two sides. We were taught that you know what is on all sides of that box at all times by using your mirrors in a constant scan. If someone is next to you, you’ll know not to pull into them. If someone is coming up behind you, you know to pull over to let them by. If you are paying attention to what is in front, you can react to it.

Driving far in front
We also learned to watch the roadway way in front of you so that you can react to changing road conditions such as a needed lane change way before you come up to it and might need to stop or maneuver in an unsafe manner. This style is in contrast to the driver that just watches the car or two in front of them and gets caught or causes unsafe situations.

Highway Design
It appears that all too often every road project is done and redone at least twice because of poor planning, a faulty traffic estimate or perhaps an effort to keep highway construction workers employed. I’d like to see planning that encompasses needs far into the future not just projects that are based on outdated estimates or estimates based on average usage as opposed to peak usage. I am very concerned and active in doing whatever I can to make the business community in Las Vegas grow and I feel the inconvenience road construction forces on businesses is a tremendous loss of productivity.

I can use many examples of errors in highway design and “redos” such as the turn lanes on St Rose Parkway for making a left turn heading south on Eastern Avenue needing to be torn up and extended immediately after they were built because not being long enough, left turn traffic backed up into the through traffic lanes. An accurate metering of traffic during peak load periods plus a component of growth based on new construction and planned construction in the area might have prevented this.

The recent renovation of the exit lanes heading south on Eastern Avenue off of 215 is another example to me of a design not adequate to handle the load. They did a great job of making it pretty with rocks, gravel, plants, etc. but neglected to make it efficient.

On the exit instead of building three lanes matched to the three exit lanes into Eastern Avenue at the bottom of the ramp; at the top of the off ramp, they built a one lane exit that backs traffic up into the highway even though there is adequate right of way area.

I really wonder who plans these projects and if they have any concept of building for adequate traffic flow. I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 10 years and some of these designs just plain baffle me

What I’ve explained in this piece is my perspective on making traffic best utilize road capacity and avoid dangerous situations. I’ve covered driving techniques and road design. As I drive around the area my wife has to remind me that people don’t drive the way they should in this town and I can’t drive their car so watch for the illogical and be tolerant when someone does something dangerous or dumb.

I’m more than willing to do anything I can to help our designers understand urban road design and help to teach common sense rules of the road but don’t know the vehicle for constructive input other than the “Road Warrior”. Cognitive Dissonance is when you say “others must be crazy because I’m not” and I hope I’m not way out there with my perspectives. However I come from an area of the country where people knew all these common sense driving techniques until patterns changed in recent years with our waves of immigration and less skilled driver training. If I’m on the right track I wish there was a way of getting advanced driving techniques into mandatory driver training and testing in Nevada.

Let me know your thoughts.

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