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Hawaii's courteous driving jamming traffic?

By: staff

Date: Saturday, 13. October 2007

As road traffic congestion increases, the debate about aggression, courtesy, and good driving etiquette is going to get hotter. An article this past week on the web site is probably an indication of the rising tide of interest. It seems that many Hawaiian drivers may be too polite for the new age of driving.

"Hawaii's drivers tend to view themselves as cautious, safe, and courteous, but those may be the very qualities that contribute to growing congestion and frustration on the road," writes Advertiser transportation writer Mike Leidemann.

"Unusual niceties by some local drivers" sums up the main issue. They stop to let cars merge, slow down too much when it rains, yield to drivers making left turns across traffic--very kind, but not necessarily in everyone's best interests, according to Leidemann. He quotes a survey that places Hawaii second only to Massachusetts in lack of driving aggression. (Drivers in the state of Pennsylvania and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia were rated the most aggressive.)

Do Hawaii's nice drivers need to become more aggressive? Some professional observers seem to think so, writes Leidemann. However, a quick look at some of the complaints indicates that the issue is not courtesy or aggression, but rather lack of driving skill and tactical abilities.

One of the top complaints, and one we can all relate to, is the driver who lets too many cars merge into the lane ahead. This isn't an excess of courtesy. This is a driver who has a limited view of courtesy . . . relating to the needs of drivers ahead, but not those behind. It's a driver with good intentions but who has perceptual limitations and is unskilled in the social nuances of driving.

And as for the driver who backs up traffic behind while allowing too many cars to make left turns--once again, it's the "too many cars" part that pops out. Some drivers don't let any cars through. Some drivers will be over courteous. But often, drivers behind are honking at you to get on with it, even though there's no place to go. If the traffic lights are red ahead and there's no advantage to moving up there, why not be courteous?

Traffic culture

Sometimes it seems as if you can't win in traffic. You get honked at even if you are driving excellently. Drivers whose tactics are poor want you to use the same tactics they do. Drivers behind may want you to move ahead and tailgate, presumably under the false notion that simply moving along and using up space is a good driving tactic and will get them somewhere sooner.

Traffic experts are increasingly concerned that what modern traffic lacks is a "culture of the roadway"--a common set of values that the vast majority of drivers and other road users know about, understand, and practice. Some experts also feel that traffic is getting worse in this regard due to falling levels of traffic law enforcement and a flood of poorly trained drivers and other road users coming into the system.

Improving road culture won't be easy. Styles of driving, driver attitudes, and philosophies vary from country to country, state to state, province to province, and even city to city, town to town within a region.

Drivers from New York will think California drivers are worse. Rural drivers may scorn the skills of city drivers and vice versa. Some North Americans think Italian drivers are crazy. Italians may think North American drivers lack skills and are slow thinking.

Education and training set standards and establish a common ground of attitudes, skills, and expectations.

Be a hero--or more precisely, stick to truth, justice, and The American Way. In other words, don't budge from the middle of your lane. Remember, we're not talking about motorway driving here. The road safety tip we're about to advise does not apply to six-lane carriageways. Obviously we don't mean you're to stay at 40mph in the outside lane of a motorway. No, we're talking about normal two-lane highways here. Let us explain: After nearly three years of observation Romebuddy has concluded that most road accidents in Italy are encouraged by a major design fault in highway construction--THE ROADS ARE TOO WIDE!
Each single carriageway is wide enough so that there is in fact just enough room to overtake the car in front without needing to cross the central white lines into the opposing-direction carriageway. This sounds good in principle, but in practice is highly risky when another car coming from the opposite direction is also using this extra space in his lane to overtake.

Meanwhile, things are apparently deteriorating in Hawaii. Drivers in Hawaii have their ways of communicating courtesies, such as the uniquely Hawaiian "shaka sign" salute, writes Leidemann. But even this is becoming contentious as driving congestion increases and impatience begins to predominate. "It seems like you don't see that little wave as much as you used to here," Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa told Leidemann.

Leon James, Ph. D,
University of Hawaii, psychology professor
" . . . The implication is: be more aggressive and the traffic will go faster. Or, be less polite and the traffic will flow faster. These are questionable ideas.

Instead, one needs to see that being polite is always preferable. But yielding at the wrong place, waving others on, and slowing down when one is supposed to keep the flow going, are not polite things to do but aggressive driving acts because of how they affect the safety and convenience of others."

"Mostly, it's the younger drivers who are acting more aggressive now," says one young commuter. "Sometimes, if I'm in a good mood, I'll be helpful and let people in. Then there are times at the end of the day and I'm in a hurry where I'll squeeze up tight so nobody gets a chance."

However, as any driving expert will testify, cooperation is better for traffic flow than competition. In places where drivers work together, life is smoother on the roads.

Unfortunately, up to now, these more sophisticated aspects of driving have not typically been included in driver training programs. But that may change soon.

A fascinating array of technologies is on its way to our cars--from GPS navigation systems to night vision assistance, traffic information systems, electronic warning devices, and even smart cars that drive themselves. However, as driving expert Lawrence Lonero points out in his chapter in the book Driving Lessons, "the main bottleneck on the road to 'smarter' highways, cars and drivers will be in the driver's head."

Lonero calls for an expanded notion of "driving skills"--from one that focuses mainly on steering, braking, and acceleration to something far more comprehensive.

"In the modern, human-engineering sense, driving skills can also involve the purely mental activity needed to maintain situational awareness and manage vehicle systems in a wide range of conditions," he writes.

Advanced driving skills are usually thought of in terms of emergency handling skills. But these, Lonero points out, are rarely needed and, if they are learned in the first place, easily degrade over time. Advanced skills in situational awareness, in knowing what's going on around you and having the skills to deal with it are going to be essential to our driving future, regardless of how smart and advanced our cars and roadways become.

Maybe if such ideas are included in driver training programs, discussions about courtesy and aggressive driving will be better informed and more productive--and life for road users will be easier.

Further comments to this article have been disabled.

All Comments (6)

Showing 1 - 6 comments

Aloha Driver,

We should actually be proud of our laid-back style of driving. Instead of leaving it and going more aggressive, living in the fast lane, we should actually be trying to accept it as apart of Hawaii driving. Remember that it's Hawaii. It's who we are with the Hawaiian hospitality and the slow living. In many proverbs you would see that patience is the key. I'm not saying that we should let too many people merge ahead. I'm just saying let it be and be patient. The driver letting too many people in isn't trying to be mean, is he? If you can't accept the island living, maybe you shouldn't be living in the islands.


What one believes to be safe may actually be dangerous. For example, slowing down when entering the freeway could cause an accident. I see this all too often. A driver should be speeding up on the on ramp to match the speed of other drivers, then safely merge.

kiva parks,

not right attiudent during drive can be crush or killed very anger

Jay Johnson,

Are you kidding? How often does a slow driver here fail to move to the left lane to allow someone to pass? Very seldom. How often does a driver here use their turn signal to let others know that they're turning? Seldom. And how often does a driver here slow to an absolute crawl to observe a traffic cop stopping someone or an accident. Very often. I love the attitude of taking your time to get some place but beyond that, this is a very frustrating place to drive.

Sanjaya Varma,

I need to always remember how my driving is affecting the other person on the road. Is it impeading him or am I following the diktats of defensive driving. If one keeps this in mind, one will be able to take the correct decision as to what action one should take in a particular traffic situation. Courteous driving "aids traffic jamming" only makes good copy for debate : remember that aggressive driving results in poor hazard perception and this KILLS people !

The Duke,

I wish everyone would drive as they do in Hawaii,it should'nt be who can get there faster,but who can get there the safest,giving way to other motorist makes you feel good and it puts them in a better mood,making for safer roads,I do agree however that when you stop to let the other car go only let one or two then proceed if the other drivers waiting give you the same courtesy,then the people behind wont be held up,also if everyone drove in the right lane except when passing and move back over as soon as they can this would avoid the road rage of people getting stuck behind the slow driver in the fast lane,education regarding these matters is what is needed.

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