Island Driving Safety Tips

You won't need many Island driving safety tips because there isn't that much traffic. At any time of day. Downtown Friday Harbor doesn't have much traffic either, for that matter, but there are two exceptions worth mentioning, situations where driving safety tips are good to know.

Westside Road rush hour

1. When the ferry is unloading, traffic is substantial along Spring Street and it can become quite congested. However, it clears quickly and everything returns to the usual, low-volume traffic we are accustomed to.

2. Around 3:00 or so, there are higher levels of traffic around the high school. Students are leaving, parents are arriving to pick up their kids, and lines of cars wait at the stop signs on both sides of the school. Again, it doesn't take long to clear, but it's a daily reality during the school year.

So, apart from those exceptions, there really is no congestion on the Island. No rush hour. No stop lights. Traffic flows easily most of the time, making work commutes or shopping trips as easy as can be.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind when maneuvering through town that can make your time in the car safer and easier. Read on for more safe driving tips:

Parking spaces are sometimes difficult to find, though in terms of a large city, there is no problem at all, so it's all in one's perspective. Many Islanders usually expect to park right outside their destination and when they have to park a block or two away from where they are going, they tend to consider that 'crowded.' If you're used to city life, though, parking in Friday Harbor may be a literal walk in the park.

On this subject, while the Town of Friday Harbor does not have parking meters, we do, in fact, have 2-hour limited parking spaces enforced by a parking attendant. The attendant patrols the entire downtown area, placing a chalk mark on the tires of cars to mark arrival times to a particular parking space. If the chalk mark is still there when the attendant returns 2 hours later, that car gets a ticket. To avoid this just keep track of how long you are parked in any given space and move your car before the 2-hour time limit. You can drive around the block and park in the same spot, of course, but you do need to move the car. It's a niggling little rule but you save yourself grief and money by keeping it in mind.

Stopped Cars
It's a long-standing tradition for locals to have conversations from their cars when they meet a friend passing on the road. It's the relaxed Island mentality that creates the space for roadway conversation, and while it's charming and maybe even eccentric, it can be annoying if you are simply trying to drive down the road. What to do?

- You can honk your horn and gesture frantically at the affronting vehicle and hope they get the idea. This option will immediately identify you as either a tourist, a Californian, or just a rude person. Maybe all three. Not the best choice.

- You could pretend to be intensely interested in the contents of your glove compartment, silently fuming. Not too brilliant.

- If it's easy to maneuver around the 'offending' car, that's another potential option.

- You can assume that the exchange will soon end, and really, this is most often the case. Most of the time, the best way to proceed is to practice being patient and go your own way when the road clears.

Ferry Travel
Probably the only time you'll have to even consider what traffic is doing is if you plan to catch a ferry. This is true mostly in the summer months or near holidays, when there is likely to be more travel to/from the Island. In the winter it's still common to arrive at the ferry immediately before the boat departs and just drive right onto the boat. No waiting. In general, though, it's a good idea to get your car in line at least an hour before sailing time, longer if it's around a holiday or a weekend. Yes, you have a longer wait, but you'll be more relaxed knowing that it's almost a guarantee that you'll get on the boat, and you can spend your waiting time any way you like.

Time-Honored Driving Safety Tip #1: Slow down. Being in a hurry and driving too fast is an obvious formula for catastrophe. In the immortal words of War, "... low rider drives a little slower...."

Time-Honored Driving Safety Tip #2: Remember the 4 second rule -- you and your car are safe when there is at least 4 seconds of time between you and the car in front of you. To check this, watch when the car in front of you passes a stationary object, and start counting slowly to yourself. Adjust your speed so that you pass the same object after four seconds. If road conditions are not optimal, like when it's raining or at night, double it.

Time-Honored Driving Safety Tip #3: Pull over to make a call on your cell phone. It's tempting and convenient to talk while you drive, but multi-tasking on the road shifts your attention away from where you are physically and radically weakens your driving ability. If you appreciate statistics, talking on the phone while driving increases the possibility of a collision by nearly 400%. You know how people think "it" will never happen to them? It never does, until it does. Driving safety tips are good to know.

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