Drivers can cooperate to make roadways civil

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As you’re heading out for Fourth of July, summer vacations, or just around town, you’re going to run into (hopefully, not literally) other cars on the road. Some of us have been in Colorado for years and understand the culture of driving in Colorado — not just the best roadways to get around potholes, but the “going-with-the-flow” behaviors of most of our drivers historically. For those who are new to the area, or who need a refresher of how to “fit in” and make your driving experience here optimal, here are a few tips you never knew you needed.

Yes, the Colorado driving experience is actually getting worse.

• From 2013 to 2016, there was a 40% increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado.

• Although fortunately, alcohol DUI driving is down overall (possibly partially due to our recent legislative crackdowns), the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana use went up 145% in the same period.

• National statistics now show that per capita, Colorado is second in the nation for fatalities due to road rage and aggressive behaviors of tailgating, speeding, or weaving in and out of traffic.

Why, and what can we do about it?

True to form, Colorado long-timers blame the newcomers. The newcomers blame the “too-courteous” or “taking-their-time” drivers here. Either way, just like our neighborhoods and workplaces, we’ve got to also get along on the road. There’s a culture clash of driving behaviors that needs to be blended for our safety, stress and sanity. Here are some suggestions for remembering that Colorado civility is a thing, and especially necessary while driving.

• Allowing drivers into the lane in front of you (rather than speeding up), waving thank you when you’re allowed in, or merely using your turning signal can help all of our stress levels. Using the zipper method as you’re merging is helpful for the traffic flow and driver stress. And how could it hurt you — maybe arrive three minutes slower to your destination?

• Remember the Move Over Law here. It is required by law to move into the next lane, or if you can’t, to slow down significantly when approaching an emergency situation on the side of the road — tow trucks, workers, pull-overs, tire changes …

• Slow down in inclement weather — drivers respond to our crazy Colorado weather in various ways, but almost always (with the exception of an occasional overly confident SUV driver), we slow down a bit with heavy rains or snow. Most employers or family members understand our weather unpredictability and would rather have you show up late rather than not at all.

• It is much safer and less stressful for everyone to stay with the flow of traffic without tailgating or impeding steady speeds.

• Crosswalks matter in Colorado. Be extra cautious and pause for pedestrians and bicyclists who rely on the safety zone of the crosswalk.

• Prevent road rage — breathe or calm yourself down, if you need to, prior to and while driving. Enjoy the beautiful Colorado scenery and be grateful for it on your drive. Just taking a moment of gratitude (about anything) or a few big breaths can significantly lower your heart rate, stress and anger levels, which contribute to aggressive driving. Remember your drive is not a competitive race to beat or outsmart the driver next to you.

This all boils down to our Colorado culture of civility and compassion that many of us relish. Although we have a 2,000-pound machine around us, we are still humans interacting with each other, all of whom deserve respect and kindness. And this contributes to our life safety. As a chaplain, I have seen far too many injuries and deaths due to preventable driving behaviors. Please join in whether you do so for your safety or others’. It may just save someone’s life.

Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell, of Littleton, is a speaker, filmmaker, facilitator and consultant. She may be reached at senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

Linda Newell

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