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Driving in the Rain

Tonight it took me 2 hours and 20 minutes to get from my office in Redmond to pick up Alexander in Burien. How far away is Burien from Redmond? It is 25 miles. You math majors out there might have figured out 25 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes works out to an average speed of just under 11 miles per hour. Was I riding my bicycle? Slowly? No. A horse? No. Jogging? No. I was in my trusty VW which was operating normally. I traveled on major arterial roads and multi-lane freeways. Well, what in the heck was the problem? Volcano? Blizzard? Alien Attack? Nope. Just some rain. Not a lot of rain. Not build-an-ark rain like we used to have back in Kansas. Just enough rain for me to have to turn my wipers from intermittent to low.

You might have heard that it rains quite often here in Seattle. In fact, it rains about 8 or 9 months out of the year. You might reasonably assume that, since it is raining more often than not, that drivers in Seattle would be world experts at driving in the rain. Oh that it were true. If it manages to not rain for 2 days or more in a row, the vast majority of drivers in Seattle completely forget how to drive in the rain. Perhaps it is a response to trauma like some people block out bad experiences. Then one raindrop falls on the road during rush hour and chaos ensues. Wrecks, stalled cars, snarled traffic, and people driving 20 miles under the speed limit. The local legend that explains this particular myth is that during dry weather a layer of oil builds up on the roadway and when it rains then the oil floats to the top and makes all of the roads slippery. If people are not crashing, they are driving slowly because they are afraid of crashing, or crashing into people who are driving slowly because they are afraid of crashing, or crashing because they are gawking at people who crashed because they hit someone who was afraid of crashing.

This oil on the road theory is the biggest bunch of horse pucky that I have ever heard. A delusion believed by thousands. I wish that the Mythbusters would disprove this myth. In the mean time, let's just think about this a moment. In Kansas where I grew up, it can go weeks or months between rains. If this oil theory had any weight then the roads in Kansas should be swimming with oil when it rains. Well, I never heard of this myth in Kansas and I never saw or experienced any oil. I have also never seen any oil on the road in Seattle, nor have I ever observed that the road is particularly slippery during the first rain after a couple of dry days. We have all seen oil floating on water, right? Kind of a rainbow sheen. The fact that no oil is visible on the road does not seem to stop people from believing in this myth. Apparently it is special, invisible, rain oil. This invisible rain oil somehow *stays* on the road - despite the *rain* that one might expect would wash it away and the thousands of cars that should be splashing it away. Also, if the wind blows more than 5 miles per hour, or if drivers have to speed up their wipers to the "slow" setting, then locals freak out.

I think that the police need to start handing out bus passes. Maybe they should set up a little table in the mall and take a survey. They should ask people if they believe in the invisible rain oil, and if they say yes then they should cut up their driver's license and give them a bus pass. For my fellow driver's in Seattle, here is a little tip to driving in rain or snow or dark of night: don't drive like a jackass. That's it. That's the big secret. The one tip that will put an end to our nightly commute misery. Don't drive like a jackass. What does this mean? Give yourself enough distance to stop, but don't drive so slowly that people behind you feel the need to lay a beating on you. Don't drive crazy fast in bad weather or poor visibility. Don't stop in the middle of an exit ramp and cut across lanes because you didn't mean to take that exit. Don't back up on exit ramps. Don't come to a dead stop in the fast lane and put on your blinker because you need to get over and exit soon. See the pattern? Don't drive like a jackass. It's really just that simple. Jackass.


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