I was recently riding shotgun with my son who is a newly minted teenage driver. We were headed to a soccer game down south when we saw an accident in Highlands Ranch. It’s unnerving enough to witness an accident when you’re the driver, but as the passenger in a new driver’s car, it’s absolutely terrifying. I wasn’t sure if my son would lose control of our car as he reacted to the nearby accident. Luckily, he kept his cool.
Later, I wanted to see if I could find any news stories about this car crash in Highlands Ranch and ended up finding stories about quite a few accidents but not the one we witnessed. The most noteworthy among the stories was about a car that blazed across Fairview, crashed all the way through one garage before catching air and flying into a home! Thank goodness no one in the structures was hurt and the driver ended up with minor injuries. (Authorities reported that the driver may have been enduring a medical episode at the time of the accident.)
Oddly enough, there have been at least two Highlands Ranch car crashes involving homes in 2019. In March, a teenager who was apparently under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, was driving on Copeland Street, just south of C-470 in Highlands Ranch, when he lost control of his car and crashed into two different homes.
What is going on in Highlands Ranch? I had a hunch that the issue was speed, but I did some more digging and – sure enough—I discovered an article that ran in the Highlands Ranch Herald blaming speed and distracted driving for an increase in accidents. The Herald reported:
“Chronic issues among Highlands Ranch drivers are texting, speeding, following too closely and being inattentive on the road, said Sgt. Chris Washburn of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.”
This experience and research got me thinking: I had just spent a year with my son helping him to learn the rules of the road. In that process, I discovered that I had forgotten a lot of those rules myself! So, I thought I’d revisit a few of the basic “Driving 101” lessons that we all learned but may have forgotten. Hopefully, this will keep you safer on the road (or at least spare you a ticket).
Believe it or not, those big red signs that say “Stop” really mean STOP. I see people rolling through the stop signs at my kids’ school all the time. Not only is that illegal, it’s a hazard to both the kids and to other drivers. When you see a stop sign…
- Anticipate the stop by slowing down
- Come to a complete stop
- Recognize the type of intersection. Is it four-way? A “T-stop?”
- Look both ways for traffic. Then look again.
- Are there any hazards blocking your line of vision? Make sure there’s not a pedestrian or a biker on their way to the intersection.
- Obey the right of way rules. (I’ll cover that below)
- Cross the intersection at a reasonable speed. (Don’t gun it on the heels of the pedestrians who may have just walked across.)
Right of Way
We all do it: You reach an intersection with other drivers and think, “What was that rule? Who has the right of way?” Here is the simple rule: “If you reach an intersection at close to the same time as another vehicle, the vehicle that reaches the intersection last must yield the right of way. If you reach the intersection at the same time, the driver on the right has the right of way.”
There are different rules for just about every type of intersection you may approach. Review this super-short video that I found on YouTube for a quick refresher.
Of course, as proven by our own driving and by the Highlands Ranch accidents above, not everyone knows the rules! And we often get in such a hurry that if the other driver pauses, we just take the right of way. Don’t be that driver. I encourage you to treat every intersection as though there are children nearby and pause, let other drivers take their turn first if they seem antsy, and just be calm! Our roads will be safer.
Speaking of children, pay attention to school zones! I even see parents speeding through their own children’s school zones. I don’t understand that behavior. Every parent knows that kids dart. They jump. They burst into runs. They are unpredictable. The slow driving areas through school zones truly save lives. When you speed through a school zone, you’re risking a child’s life. Are you ok with that?
Take these steps when driving through school zones:
- Note the big yellow sign and, perhaps, the flashing light.
- Slow down. All the way down to the posted speed limit.
- Notice that there are probably all kinds of cars parked (parents dropping off kids) blocking your line of sight.
- Expect increased traffic. Schools are busy places.
- Watch for buses. If they are dropping off kids right in front of you, you’re in for a wait. But just sit tight and let those kiddos get to school safely.
- Obey crossing guards, cones and other visual cues that are there to keep children safe.
If you ignore these rules, hopefully the worst that will happen is that you’ll get a ticket. Take note: fines are very high in school zones. Usually hundreds of dollars. Is it really worth the extra two or three minutes you’ll gain by risking children’s lives?
Road Sign Colors
I remember when I was a kid learning to drive and I discovered that every sign’s color had meaning beyond just making it noticeable. It was like another language opened up to me. But do you remember what those colors mean?
- Red: regulatory. You must follow the directions on a red sign (i.e. Stop).
- Yellow: warning
- Green: guide
- Blue: services
- Orange: construction
- Brown: recreation
- Fluorescent green: school zone
I was driving on a highway over the weekend (come to think of it, I was on C-470 in Highlands Ranch) and came across one of those left-lane drivers going five miles under the speed limit, just moseying along in the left-hand lane, oblivious to the cars piled up behind it and the people who, in anger, swerved around him. Now, of course, the people who got angry should not take out their frustrations by driving erratically, but left-lane drivers should know that they need to move over and that they are making the roads less safe by holding up traffic. I’ve been behind people whom I think are literally behaving like hall monitors, thinking that they are keeping traffic at a safe speed for everyone by putzing along in the left-hand lane. That is not their job! We have police for that task. No one is safer when you decide to block traffic in the passing lane.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when driving on the highway:
- Maintain a consistent speed
- Maintain a safe following distance (especially around motorcycles)
- Keep right and leave the passing lane open (see above rant)
With school back in session, the roads are much busier than they were just a few weeks ago. Please stay safe out there and practice good driving skills!