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Heyl: Courteous drivers tying up traffic?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

Time to slam the brakes on all of this civility. Good manners are the foundation of a civil society, so courtesy usually is a trait we admire. But not necessarily every time you get behind the wheel.

Too often, we blame Pittsburgh's challenging topography for people's inability to quickly get from one locale to another. We must negotiate winding curves, climb steep hills and cross scary bridges — many of them over water.

But perhaps a far more compelling reason why traffic congestion here appears greater than it should be for such a modestly-sized city might be that motorists are too tolerant of bone-headed drivers.

That's the implication in a study by AutoVantage, a Connecticut-based roadside assistance service. Pittsburgh came in second only to Portland when it comes to having the nation's most courteous drivers.

The rankings are based on driving activities that participants in a survey acknowledged performing and observing, such as tailgating, abruptly changing lanes and, presumably, running other vehicles off the road.

We're more courteous now than we were in the last AutoVantage study, in 2009, when we finished fifth. But is our politeness enabling us to reach our destinations more rapidly?

Those of you reading this while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with two miles to go before reaching the Squirrel Hill Tunnel have your answer: Nope.

That's because driving courteously often equates to driving passively, which increases travel time. Sometimes people need to be made aware that their negligible driving abilities are tying up traffic. That can be accomplished most easily by resorting to rudeness.

Because we're reluctant to embrace churlish tactics, we are late for appointments and lose irretrievable moments to such things as:

• The left-lane hog

An army of (primarily) seniors exists that believes the passing lane is solely for motorists maintaining a consistent 35 mph speed. Courteous drivers unfortunately refrain from continually flashing high-beam headlights at the hogs to remind them the passing lane is for passing; in their attempt to avoid appearing impolite, they don't realize the headlights are a far gentler reminder than firing a flare gun.

• The premature yield

This occurs when a lane is ceded to a vehicle whose oncoming headlights are barely identifiable blips in the distance. Courteous motorists behind them would rather let traffic back up than deliver the loud horn blasts premature yielders desperately need to startle them into accelerating.

• The tunnel turtles

Although it's hardly their fault, courteous motorists probably blame themselves if they inadvertently tailgate people who de-accelerate in tunnels. Horn blasts or high-beams are equally appropriate to the drivers for whom the phrase “maintain speed through tunnel” might as well be language as dead as ancient Macedonian.

You don't need to resort to road rage, but occasional road rudeness might get you home quicker.

When courtesy prevails, free-flowing traffic fails.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or

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