Column: Pay attention, you're driving!

After living in the Kingman area for almost three years, there are very few things that still astonish me - a beautiful sunset, the excessive heat in the summer, the lack of snow in the winter, and the aggressive rudeness of local motorists.

The last became brilliantly clear the other day when on my way home from work I was: cut off by someone trying to merge into my lane of traffic from the middle turn lane on Stockton Hill Road; nearly struck by another driver who could not wait for my car to clear an intersection at a four-way stop; and sandwiched between two drivers, one in front of me who was driving 5 miles below the speed limit, and one behind me who wanted to drive 10 miles over the speed limit. The kicker is, I live about 2 miles from work.

Now, in all fairness to Kingman motorists, bad drivers exist in every part of the world. There just seems to be a higher concentration of them here. I can say that after having observed traffic as a passenger in cars traveling in New York City and Los Angeles. They may drive at ungodly and terrifying speeds in both cities, but at least they signal when they're going to turn.

Now, I am not the most perfect driver. I have zipped through yellow lights, not come to full and complete stops before moving through a stop sign, have driven too fast, and on occasion, cut someone off due to lack of attention or a perceived urgent need to be somewhere (usually because I am running late due to a lack of planning on my part).

But really, the driving situation in Kingman and Arizona at large is rather frightening. AAA recently released its 2009 Traffic Safety Culture Index, which surveyed more than 2,500 drivers. According to the report, 35 percent of drivers said they felt less safe driving then they did five years ago. Also, nearly one half of the 119,000 crashes in Arizona were caused by the top four concerns of motorists: distracted drivers, running red lights, tailgating and speeding.

The interesting thing about the report is that about 80 percent of drivers listed distracted driving as a very serious threat to their safety. Yet, 67 percent admitted to driving and talking on a cell phone in the last month, 18 percent admitted to text-messaging while driving in the last month, 44 percent admitted to driving 15 mph over the speed limit on freeways (24 percent reported doing the same in a residential area), and 27 percent reported tailgating another driver. Most drivers surveyed listed the above behaviors as unacceptable.

Kingman, in my opinion, has its own list of dangerous driving maneuvers. The first is what a friend of mine refers to as the "Kingman Sneak." This can usually be observed on Stockton Hill Road but can be found on any road in town with a center turn lane.

What usually happens is a driver stopped at a stop sign on a side street wants to make a left-hand turn. Stockton Hill at most times of the day has a high level of traffic, which makes it nearly impossible to make a left-hand turn unless you're at a light (with a turn arrow). Once the driver sees that oncoming traffic is clear, they pull out into the center turn lane and then attempt to merge into traffic.

According to Arizona Revised Statute 28-751, "Two-way left-turn lanes. If a special lane for making left turns by drivers proceeding in opposite directions has been indicated by official traffic control devices:

(a) A driver shall not make a left turn from any other lane.

(b) A driver shall not drive a vehicle in the lane except if preparing for or making a left turn from or into the roadway or if preparing for or making a u-turn if otherwise permitted by law."

Using these lanes as merging lanes is extremely risky and extremely frustrating to drivers who need the lane to make a left-hand turn. I've lost count of how many times I have come face to face with an oncoming driver trying to merge from the center lane while I was trying to make a left-hand turn onto a side street or been prevented from making a turn or been cut off by a driver merging into my lane from the center turn lane.

So what is the solution to this problem, other than what my father refers to as the one-fingered salute? As much as I hate to say it ... more traffic signals. The reason why people can't safely make left turns onto Stockton Hill Road is because there is too much traffic. The only way to slow traffic is to use traffic signals, which no one likes because they make for more stop-and-go traffic, but I'd rather waste a few minutes waiting at a light then to have a distracted driver trying to merge into traffic crash into me.

While we're on the topic of merging, changing lanes and turning, lets talk about turn signals. Drivers everywhere, including New York, Los Angeles and my hometown in Ohio, as well as Kingman, seem to be confused about turn signals. At least that's what I assume, since many people don't use them.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation's Drivers License Guide, drivers must signal at least 100 feet before a turn and must use turn signals when they change lanes, turn at an intersection (that includes if you are in a turn-only lane), merge onto a highway, pull away from a curb or attempt to pull to the shoulder of a road, and when turning onto a roadway from a parking lot. The guide recommends using turn signals even when there is no one behind you. That way you won't forget to use a turn signal when there is someone behind you.

Turn signals let other drivers know what you're about to do. This usually prevents them from plowing into you, although that depends on whether they're paying attention while driving or texting on their cell phone.

One last pet peeve, give the other drivers on the road some space! According to the Az Drivers License Guide, most rearend crashes are caused by following too closely. It recommends the three-second rule. If you pass a mark, such as telephone pole, less than three seconds after the car in front of you, you're too close.

Can you stop in time? It was something that my dad always asked me when teaching me how to drive.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, it can take a driver nearly 0.75 of a second to react to a situation, and that's without the distractions of passengers, cell phones and makeup. At 20 mph, it takes nearly 50 feet on dry pavement to stop a vehicle, according to the FHA. It takes nearly 100 feet to stop a vehicle driving 40 mph and just over 500 feet to stop a vehicle traveling 70 mph. The distance needed to stop a vehicle increases when roads are wet.

Cars today are stronger and have better safety features such as front and side curtain airbags, but they don't prevent crashes, they only minimize the damage and increase the likelihood of survival. Paying attention to what you're doing and what other drivers are or are not doing is what prevents accidents.