Road rules for ignorant commuters

Far be it from me to preach. Except in matters of politics, ethics, morality, personal behavior and values, I’m content to let most people go their own way.

It’s often the wrong way, as millions of George Bush voters have learned. Still, they go with my blessing.

Today, though, I must address a small group whose conduct is an affront to the common intelligence, an assault on the general welfare and just damned annoying.

I refer, of course, to other drivers.

Nearly all other drivers, but particularly to those who use Interstate 80 eastbound from Gold Ranch to Wells Avenue between 7 and 9 a.m. weekdays. If you’re in that group, try to follow along. What I say is for your own good, and ultimately for the good of society.

Interstate 80 is what’s known as a “freeway.” It was designed to carry traffic safely and at relatively high speeds, and it will do that if you remember a few basic precepts:

1. All traffic should move at roughly the same speed.

If you’re going 60 and somebody else is doing 70, usually no problem. If you’re traveling at, say, 48 or 88 mph, the picture changes.

2. Rule No. 1 starts with the merge.

To “merge” is to blend with traffic as seamlessly as possible. Don’t lumber down the ramp at 15 mph, waiting until the last second to decide whether to accelerate or brake. Spot an opening early, commit to it and adjust your speed to enter it at the speed of traffic.

For most of you, this will mean speeding up. It very rarely means stopping, something you wouldn’t realize if you made my commute every day. The gas pedal is called the “accelerator” for a reason. In a merge, it, and not the “brake” next to it, usually should be your default.

3. Don’t let your keen focus on the situation keep you from remembering your turn signals.

The value of signaling while you merge has been exaggerated: Those around you can see what you’re doing then. Still, a warning: Assuming they’ll draw reasonable conclusions or make logical decisions based on them is risky. Veering from one lane to another without letting others know your intentions, though, has long been accepted as a bad idea.

4. The invisible shield applies only to toothpaste.

Colgate’s mythical shield supposedly protected teeth from bacteria. Many of you apparently believe a similar shield protects your car from the rear of the one ahead. In fact, all that stands between you and a whopping lawsuit are your brakes and reflexes, and many experts maintain that reaction times lengthen when you’re trying to pick onions out of a breakfast burrito.

5. There is a slight bend in Interstate 80 near Keystone Avenue. Every morning.

As traffic from the west has increased, that barely noticeable curve has become an obstacle. Day after day, traffic slows as drivers, surprised again, brake for it. The resulting backup can reach past McCarran Boulevard.

There’s no reason for this. It happens because people aren’t paying attention. Does this suggest a course of action?

6. The freeway exits are in the same order every day.

This may be too advanced for some, but as you approach Reno, you’ll pass Robb Drive, McCarran Boulevard, Keystone Avenue, Sierra-Virginia-Center streets, Wells Avenue and then U.S. 395. The sequence never varies.

So if you intend to get off at, say, Wells, you might start moving to the right as you near Virginia. This “planning” or “anticipation,” as it’s called, will allow a smooth exit without sudden swerves, brakes or handgun fire.