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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 24, 2005

Local-kine drivers

 •  Cover art chart
 •  Being a responsible driver
 •  Aloha in the merge lanes ...
 •  Test Your Driver IQ

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Don't know how to merge. Never use turn signals. Can't drive in the rain.

An accident further adds to the congestion on the H-1 Freeway as drivers slow down for a look.

Advertiser library photo • Feb. 13, 2004

But wait, that's not all.

According to some fed-up frequenters of Honolulu roadways, Hawai'i drivers also ...

• Don't know what the left lane is for.

• Don't know what the right lane is for.

• Block intersections.

• Roll past stop signs.

• Drive too fast.

• Drive too slow.

• Aren't courteous enough.

• Are way too courteous.


Surely, Hawai'i drivers can't be as bad as all that? We may be isolated from the Mainland by 2,400 miles of ocean and centuries of distinct cultural history, but as a community of drivers, are we really that different from our continental counterparts?

"The people of Hawai'i are wonderful, considerate, sharing people," says Merle Trotter, who has split time between O'ahu and her home in San Diego since retiring in 1997. "But they do have certain peculiarities when it comes to driving."

Trotter finds it strange how some local drivers will hit their turn signals only when they're already halfway through lane changes.

"(The signal) blinks one time and then they're in the lane already," she says. "Why bother? What is the point in that?"

Trotter is less amused by the number of tailgaters on O'ahu's freeways.

"So many people do that here," she says. "It doesn't matter how fast you're going, they'll still be right on top of you. It's a stupid, dangerous thing to do."

Steven Fan grew up in Wahiawa, attended college in Washington state and worked for seven years in Oregon before returning to Hawai'i.

He says the daily commute between his new home in Mililani and his office downtown is an exercise in anger management.

"So many of our traffic problems are directly related to really dumb driving behaviors that have become habits for people here," he says.

"On the Mainland, if you have someone who enters the intersection late and gets stuck when the light (changes), he knows he messed up and he'll change lanes or move out of the way as soon as he can," Fan says. "Here, you see three or four cars jamming into the intersection when the light turns yellow just because they don't want to wait for the next green. They block two or three lanes of oncoming traffic, and they don't care."

Ralf Oide, a driving instructor, says this sign at a Hawai'i Kai intersection often confuses drivers, some who don't even bother to stop.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

One of the first things Derrick Norgaard noticed when he moved moved to Hawai'i from Minnesota was the lack of what he calls "standard freeway etiquette."

"In most places, you can take it for granted that the left lane is for passing and the right lane is for getting on and getting off," the 27-year-old Hawai'i Pacific University student says. "In Hawai'i, it seems like anything goes. People drive at whatever speed they wish in whatever lane they feel like being in. It's not what I would call conducive to good traffic movement."

Wot, boddah you?

Precy Ancheta of Pearl City has heard all of the gripes before. Her take? Park it.

The 44-year-old mother of two says the only real difference between drivers here and on the Mainland is that locals drive with more aloha. To her, that means sharing lanes, laying off the horn, and being flexible about the right of way as long as it doesn't affect traffic.

It also means that every good deed deserves a shaka.

"That's the essence of driving local style," Ancheta says. "Someone does you a courtesy, you give them a little shaka or little wave to show them that it's appreciated. The second part of that is when it's your turn, you then do something nice for someone else."

Manoa resident Casey Walters says Hawai'i, like any other distinct region or community, has its own mix of driving habits that can be disconcerting for newcomers. She chafes at the way Hawai'i and its longtime residents are characterized in complaints from tourists and Mainland transplants.

"The undercurrent of all these kinds of complaints is that we're somehow backward here," says Walters, who moved to Hawai'i from New Mexico more than 20 years ago. "People drive differently in the South than they do on the East or West Coast, but you don't hear people from those areas calling each other 'Third World' or saying they don't know how to drive.

"I get furious when I read letters in the newspaper from tourists who don't like the way we drive," she says. "People come here with this attitude that everything has to be geared to their taste or their service or their convenience. We have driving laws and we have police to enforce them, so if there's stuff that happens in the gray areas, that's our kuleana. If you don't like it, take the bus."

Andrew Ogata, 39, of Hawai'i Kai, said Hawai'i drivers do an admirable job in dealing with poor highway design ("there is no safe way to enter the freeway from the University onramp going east," he says), inadequate signs and an excessive amount of cars on the road.

"I think Hawai'i people are generally good drivers in a challenging driving environment," he says.

Ogata says Hawai'i's tradition of courteous driving is especially valuable given the diverse mix of drivers on the road.

"In more homogenous places, people can operate on shared assumptions," he says. "Over here, we have people from all over the world who are used to driving different ways, and yet we manage to make it work. I think that should be seen as a positive thing."

Myth vs. reality

Retired police sergeant Ralf Oide is as qualified as anyone to separate the popular perception of Hawai'i drivers from the reality of the road.

Oide, 59, spent 25 years with the Honolulu Police Department, serving as a solo motorcycle officer, and tactical and defensive driving instructor. He's spent the past 13 years working as a private driving instructor.

"Driving is a passion for me," says Oide, who has extensive experience driving in other states and countries. He once drove more than 4,000 miles during a one-month family vacation in California. He hasn't had an accident since 1991, when he backed into a pole while pulling over to break up a domestic altercation.

Standing on the corner of Keahole Street and Kalaniana'ole Highway on a recent weekday afternoon, Oide demonstrates his trained traffic cop's eye.

Over there is a woman driving with no seatbelt. In front of her, a car has crept past the stop line. One lane over, a car is making a right turn on red without stopping. The driver in the car behind stops to look but misjudges the speed of traffic and almost collides with an oncoming car.

"That's a near fatality right there," he says.

While Oide maintains that drivers make the same basic types of mistakes here as in other places, some driving tendencies are noticeably prevalent on Honolulu roads. His pet peeves include drivers who slow down or stop on on-ramps, tailgaters, cars encroaching on pedestrians and drivers who drive too fast in wet conditions.

"People never consider that their vehicle can hydroplane at 35 miles per hour with just one-tenth of an inch of water on the road," he says. "People are in their car with this steel wall around them and they feel secure, but they don't realize how much energy they're generating by moving something of that mass. The potential of losing control is really high under those conditions."

Oide says drivers here often fail to pay proper attention to signs. When he was patrolling the streets of Kaimuki, Oide would pull over dozens of drivers for turning right from Koko Head onto Wai'alae Avenue, despite three large signs warning that the move was illegal.

"People get so focused on what they want to do, they're not aware of what's right in front of them," he says. "And awareness is the most important thing when you're driving."

Oide says that, in general, people in Hawai'i drive too fast.

"People have to understand that driving involves risk, and that risk increases the faster you go," he says.

As a solo motorcycle officer, Oide would give drivers an allowance of 12 mph over the speed limit.

"You've got to find that sweet speed somewhere close to the speed limit yet moving with the general flow of traffic," he says. "That's the realistic approach — close to the speed limit but not an inconvenience to others."

Oide says that as the population has grown, attitudes about driving have changed.

"Culture has a lot to do with the attitude of people and how they handle the car," he says. "Hawaiians tend to be more tolerant of people, not as aggressive.

"You hear people from the Mainland say that Hawai'i drivers are really courteous, but I think that's changing because of the increase in urbanization," he says. "Honolulu is not a small town anymore. It's a big city that runs 24 hours a day, and there are people on the road at all times of the day and night."

Oide says the sheer number of cars on Honolulu roads often leads to impatience and frustration, which in turn can lead to selfish behavior and poor driving decisions.

He says people drive "way too close" on freeways because they don't want to let other cars change lanes in front of them.

"Some people won't use their turn signals when they're changing lanes, and the reason for that is there are people who, when they see that turn signal, for some reason get real territorial about that space in front of them and speed up to prevent the other car from moving ahead of them," he says.

Oide is quick to point out that residents aren't the only ones to contribute to traffic problems. While working in Waikiki, Oide became well acquainted with what he calls "tourist syndrome."

"Tourists will just stop in the lane if they need to make a lane change and wait and hope that someone lets them move in," he says.

"It would be very simple for them to continue forward and make a U-turn or a three-point turn, but they're so focused on needing to get there at that moment that they'll hold up traffic, or cut left in front of an oncoming vehicle, or even turn right in front of another vehicle and have a collision."

Tourist syndrome also manifests in people who attempt to drive while reading maps, or drivers who cruise down two-lane highways at 15 mph admiring the scenery while a half-mile of backed up traffic crawls behind them.

"The key word is awareness," Oide says. "You can't be anything if not aware."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461.

• • •

Being a responsible driver

With more than a million cars registered in the Islands, and most of those cars on O'ahu, traffic congestion is a fact of life in Honolulu. Here are a few tips to minimize the problem.

• Don't block the intersection. Never enter an intersection unless you are sure there is adequate space for your car on the other side and you can make it there before the light changes.

• Do not slow down or stop in traffic when attempting to change lanes — especially near intersections. Know where you need to go and give yourself adequate time and space to get there, then signal your intention and wait for an opening. If you can't get in, turn off your signal and proceed forward until you can safely and legally do a U-turn or three-point turn, or make a turn to head back in the right direction.

• On the freeway, leave the right lane open for vehicles entering or exiting traffic. Use the left lane for passing.

• Do not slow down or stop on onramps. Accelerate until you are moving with the flow of traffic and maintain adequate spacing until it is safe to merge.1. A; 2. C; 3. C; 4. C

• • •

Aloha in the merge lanes ...

Not enough: If you tailgate the car in front of you to keep people from merging ahead of you.

Too much: If you stop and let in everyone in the merge lane while traffic behind you waits.

Just right: If you maintain moderate speed as the lanes converge, allowing adequate spacing so that cars in both lanes can come together like a zipper, alternating one from each lane.

• • •

Test Your Driver IQ

1. If you are planning to make a left turn across an intersection and you are waiting in the middle of the intersection for a break in oncoming traffic, your front tires should be turned:

a. To the left.
b. It depends on the sharpness of the turn.
c. Straight ahead.
d. To the right.

2. You want to change lanes. You can see if another vehicle is in your blind spot:

a. Only if you check your rearview mirror.
b. Only if you check your sideview mirror.
c. Only if you turn and glance over your shoulder.
d. Only if you check both mirrors.

3. The best response to a "Roadwork Ahead" sign is to:

a. Continue driving at the posted speed limit and look for the roadwork.
b. Look for the roadwork.
c. Slow down and look for the roadwork.
d. Brake and be prepared to stop.

4. When backing up, it is usually best to:

a. Open your door and look back.
b. Steer with one hand while looking into the rearview mirrors.
c. Steer with one hand while looking out the rear window.
d. Steer with both hands while looking into the rearview mirrors.

Source: www.aarp.org

1. A;
2. C;
3. C;
4. C