CHOKEPOINTS

Pandemic-era speeding with a side of standard Seattle congestion: A driver’s guide for 2022

Mar 29, 2022, 6:06 AM
Mount Hood mid day in very early spring, Washington State highway 14 eastbound (credit David Prasad...
Mount Hood mid day in very early spring, Washington State highway 14 eastbound (credit David Prasad via Flickr)
(credit David Prasad via Flickr)

Is it just me, or have drivers gotten worse over the pandemic? That’s the perception from a lot of people, now that more of us are on the roads again.

Washington state, most of US sees increase in fatal car crashes in 2021

I think we all noticed a difference during the height of the pandemic when the roads were wide open. Speeding was way up. It was like drivers were just ready to take advantage of open lanes to open up their engines. I have noticed that my speeds have gone up, just to match the traffic, and I’m still getting blown by.

But now that the traffic and congestion have returned, neither speeds nor aggressive driving have gone down.

Frank McCahill has been a 911 Driving School instructor for a decade, a second career after a lifetime as a police officer. He noticed the speeding, but he doesn’t think drivers have gotten worse. He also doesn’t think the lack of driving during the pandemic has made much of a difference either.

“I don’t think it’s changed drivers that much,” he said.  “Some have become a little rusty, but for any experienced driver, it doesn’t take very long to get warmed back up.”

For McCahill, it’s the aggressiveness and the lack of common courtesy on the roads that he has noticed, and that started before the pandemic.

What’s his advice?

“You’ll see that aggressive driving coming up on your right at a high rate of speed, and you know when he gets up to you he’s going to dart in front of you,” McCahill said.  “A lot of people would tend to pick up their speed and block him in.  Now, you’ve just created a road rage situation.  Back off your gas and let him go. Just let him go.”

I have a very aggressive driver on my commute that I see almost every morning on I-5 southbound into Seattle. When I see the lights screaming up behind me, I know it’s going to be that same gray pickup truck weaving between lanes and using the HOV lane to bypass the congestion.

McCahill said you have to resist the urge to engage that driver. Don’t speed up. Don’t switch lanes to get in front of that driver. It’s just not worth it, and it’s not your job to police the behavior of other drivers anyway.  “People will put out a gun and shoot at you for the stupidest thing now,” he said.  “You honk your horn.  You flash your lights.  Just let them go.”

And while aggressiveness is a problem, the biggest issue McCahill sees on the roads today is our phones.  “I think a lot of that has to do with people being stuck at home and getting addicted to their electronic devices, and now they’re back in their cars, he said,  “They just can’t put their phones down.”

So put your phone down. Learn to let that aggressive driver go. Anticipate bonehead maneuvers from others, and let’s return a little courtesy behind the wheel.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Pandemic-era speeding with a side of standard Seattle congestion: A driver’s guide for 2022