Driver's Etiquette for Seattle


General Rules

  • That thingy on the steering column is not a turn indicator, it is a turn "REQUESTER". Once you have placed your request, remain in your lane until the car behind you passes. At that point, begin this process again and continue until all cars have received your request and passed. Should you decide at any time to actually CHANGE lanes, be prepared for a hearty bleat of the horn from the car behind you. Once all the cars have passed, change lanes quickly and slow down.
  • If you are driving and another car is within seven feet of you to either side, subtract 15 m.p.h. from your overall speed, preferably without notice. If you are on a two-lane bridge or limited road, subtract another 10 m.p.h. for safety's sake.
  • When it is raining, look over to the side of the road, if you are traveling faster than pedestrians, slow down.
  • If you see snow, even if you THINK you see snow, pull over and leave your vehicle immediately.
  • Never, for any reason whatsoever, drive as if you have someplace to go. It will confuse and frighten those around you who enjoy driving for hours on end.
  • If you see a giant ball of flame, that is the sun. It will not hurt you, but slow down, just to be sure.
  • Anyone driving slower than you are is obviously an idiot.
  • Anyone driving faster than you are is clearly insane.
  • Anyone who passes you and then slows down is therefore an insane idiot. The roads are filled with them. Be on your guard.
  • Never let anyone into the space in front of your car - this space is sacred.
  • Follow the car in front of you very closely if traffic is thick, to prevent those annoying lane-jumpers from getting in.
  • Someone who signals a lane change is trying to be polite, so be polite right back, and let them into your lane behind you. Remember, you are not responsible for the impolite behavior of the driver behind you.
  • 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.
  • It is always okay for one more car in the turn lane to go through the intersection once the light has turned red. During rush hour (i.e. from 6AM to 11AM, and 3PM to 7PM, and also the lunch rush from 11AM to 3PM, ) it's okay 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.
  • When turning right at a four-way stop, if you can sneak in before the car across the intersection can get there, so go for it.
  • 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.
  • If it snows, call in sick. Even though you know what you're doing on the snow, nobody else does, so just stay out of their way.
  • Alternatively, get out there with your tire chains on and have some fun - few things look as cool as the sparks your chains make at sixty miles an hour 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.
  • And for the really considerate driver, consider importing some studded snow tires. Even though Seattle only has a couple of snow days a year, it's important to have these studded tires on from November to April, because which two days it will snow can't be predicted in advance. Plus they make those nice ruts everyone enjoys so much.

The Rules of Waiting

While waiting at a green light, remember this rule, you must wait at least 3 seconds for every car lined up behind you, if you have trouble with the math, take your time and make sure you get it right.

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

When leaving busy traffic to enter a driveway or other private egress, stop completely before signalling, signal, then follow the same "Rules of Waiting" outlined for green lights.

Pedestrians have the right of way. This includes pedestrians that have not entered the crosswalk, pedestrians thinking about crossing the street, and pedestrians that just happen to be nearby. When in doubt, apply the Rules of Waiting whenever a pedestrian is within sight.

A Few Notes About the Municipal Roadworks 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 that 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. More than two green lights when you are stuck at a red light do not count.
  • 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 SR-520, regardless of your location or direction.
  • When travelling to or from work across the SR-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 the Seattle Center and want to go downtown, don't walk the seven blocks, take the monorail, that's what it's there for.

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 and attempt to make your life as unpleasant as possible in hopes of forcing you to return to California.

When to Use Your Breaks

  • If your car is suddenly grabbed from below and forced to move more quickly, that is gravity and you are on a hill. Step on the brakes and slow down.
  • 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 cell phone.  
  • Hit the brakes to apply your lipstick or eye liner or while shaving in traffic.  It is acceptable to just pump your brakes if your car allows this. Do the same if you are on a cell phone.
  • Hit the brakes when you get to a good part in the book you're reading while trying to cross the SR-520 bridge.

I knew there were more out there...

Just in from James Stichka & Paige Garberding:
  • When making a left turn from a through lane, don't activate your left turn signal until there are at least three cars waiting behind you to go straight through..
  • When travelling on Fourth Avenue through downtown Seattle during rush hour traffic, do not make a left turn from the farthest left lane; make your turn from the inside left lane so that you obstruct a whole lane of bumper to bumper cars behind you.
  • Don't turn off your turn signal for at least a mile after you've used it.
  • Don't consult a map before driving to an unfamiliar destination. Instead, get yourself to the general vicinity of your destination, then drive at least 20 m.p.h. slower than the rest of the traffic while you figure out where you want to go.
  • When merging into freeway traffic, do not accelerate to more than 45 m.p.h.. Cross all lanes of traffic to get to the fastest lane, then decelerate to 35 m.p.h..
  • If you're driving a fire engine or Medic 911 [Ed.: a medical aide car] to a call during rush hour traffic, pick a route that guarantees that the civilian traffic ahead of you will have nowhere to pull over to the right. Honk your horn and blow your sirens even louder as you approach them. Force them into cross traffic for a little added excitement.

Thank you Jim and Paige!


There are more rules out there, I know there are.  E-mail me your rule and you may see it here! (Your name, e-mail address and URL will be put here too, if you wish.)




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