Friday, July 12, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The ultimate etiquette guide for Seattle-area commuters

Here's a list of the most important, helpful, safe traffic tips for commuters ... in Hell.

Actually, the list began several years ago when co-workers at a Bellevue software outfit began to blow off steam with each other about clueless drivers they ran into — uh, encountered. The horror was still too much to keep to themselves.

Co-worker Susan Atherly put their sarcastically inverted "rules" on a Web site (, and horror begat horror. Testimony about Seattle drivers has since come from as far as Australia, where "Foster's" means "beer" and "Seattle" now means "traffic problems so gigantic they make us whimper in fear."

Now see it for yourself, if you dare:

— Mark Rahner

General rules

• Follow the car in front of you very closely if traffic is thick, and never let anyone into the space in front of you — this space is sacred.

• When merging onto the freeway in Seattle, slow to a complete stop at the end of the ramp, then accelerate onto the road in front of a bus or truck — they have the most open space in front of them.

• Accidents happen all the time, but the traffic slows down so much that they're usually gone by the time you get there. If you happen to be lucky enough to actually see the wreckage, slow way down to enjoy it longer.

• Never, for any reason whatsoever, drive as if you have some place to go. It will confuse and frighten those around you who enjoy driving for hours on end.

• It is always OK for just one more car in a turn lane to go through the intersection once the light has turned red. During rush hour (6 to 11 a.m., and 3 to 7 p.m., and also the lunch rush from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), it's OK for three cars.

• At a four-way stop, creep forward when you get to the intersection until you have intimidated all of the other drivers, then go.

• Anyone driving slower than you is obviously an idiot.

• Anyone driving faster than you is clearly insane.

• Anyone who passes you and then slows down is therefore an insane idiot.

When to use your car horn

• That thingy in the middle of your steering wheel is a mistake. Never, ever push it; it makes noise and frightens the people around you.

• The only time it is acceptable to use that thingy is if you have decided that the person in front of you should not be allowed to change lanes but has done so anyway.

• More than one honk from that thingy at any time will alert everyone that you are "not from around here." They will naturally assume you are from California.

When to use your brakes

• Step on the brakes whenever one of those reader-board road signs comes into view.

• Hit the brakes whenever it starts to rain, the sun comes out or a good song comes on the radio. Do it to accentuate your points when chatting on your cellphone.

• Hit the brakes when you get to a good part in the book you're reading while trying to cross the Highway 520 bridge.

Weather guidelines

• When it is raining, look over to the side of the road. If you are traveling faster than pedestrians, slow down.

• If you see a giant ball of flame, that is the sun. It will not hurt you, but slow down, just to be sure.

• If it snows, get out there with your tire chains on and have some fun — few things look as cool as the sparks your chains make at 60 mph on the bare pavement. And in the rainy season (September through August) everyone will enjoy hydroplaning from side to side in the ruts you've made in the road.

The rules of waiting

Merging traffic follows the ancient native rhythms of "you go, I go, I go, I go, we wait, I go, you honk, I signal, you go," repeat.

A few notes about municipal road works in Seattle

• If you decide to take a bus, set aside an evening to plan your trip. You will need: Bus maps, a pad and pencil, a calculator, a compass, a protractor and a ruler. Do not wait until your trip to figure it out. You will not be allowed to ask people at the bus stop; strangers who talk out loud are frowned upon and considered worth ignoring completely.

• Traffic lights are timed according to the same ancient native rhythms described above. Translated, they are: red, green, green, green, red, stop sign, yellow, Pioneer Square, red.

• Never expect to see more than two green lights in a row. If you do, report it immediately.

• There are express lanes on I-5 with an exit in Tacoma, one in the University District and the last one at the Canadian border. These lanes are efficient for trips to or from Alaska.

• Right about now, while you are reading this, I-90 is faster than Highway 520, regardless of your location or direction.

• When traveling to or from work across the Highway 520 bridge, take your family, a pet, a few of your neighbors and the local pizza delivery boy. This will ensure that you can use the express lanes.

• There are three bridges in, on or under Lake Washington.

• If you happen to live in Seattle Center and want to go downtown, don't walk the seven blocks; take the monorail, that's what it's there for.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or


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