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Published on August 08, 2016

Surviving Cape Cod traffic

Bourne Bridge

Traffic creeps along as tourists and locals check their phones for texts and directions. Tempers flare in the heat. Bikes weave through cars jockeying for position as they whip around rotaries.

It must be summer on Cape Cod’s roadways.

“The number one cause of collisions is no longer alcohol; it’s the cell phone,” said Mike Hanlon, manager of Professional Driving Schools Inc., in Hyannis. “The number one cause is distracted driving.”

Lev Malakhoff, senior transportation engineer at the Cape Cod Commission, agreed.

“Distracted driving has become a major concern,” he said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,179 people in the United States and Puerto Rico died in 2014 in accidents involving distracted driving. Distractions while driving include texting and talking on the phone, but also eating, putting on makeup and fiddling with a GPS, stereo or other devices now standard in many cars – anything that takes your eyes, and your mind, off driving.

Hanlon has been teaching teens and adults to drive for over 10 years. He said that people should put their phones down, or turn them off if they can’t resist using them, and try to be more patient behind the wheel. Impatience and lack of planning lead drivers to speed and get involved in road rage incidents, Hanlon said. This becomes more important during the summer on the Cape, when tourists and locals clog roads.

“We wouldn’t be Cape Cod without tourists,” he said. “We need to extend a little courtesy ourselves. Give tourists a little consideration and space.”

Drivers should know their route before getting in the car, rather than following a GPS, and give themselves extra time to get where they’re going, Hanlon said. Out-of-state visitors should try to familiarize themselves with Massachusetts traffic laws, such as those permitting U turns and right turns at red lights.

His advice for the possibility of being stuck in traffic for hours while trying to get onto the Cape: pack a cooler.

“Have a picnic,” he said. “Enjoy yourself; you’re on vacation.”

If you’re late for work or an appointment, don’t take it out on other drivers, Hanlon said.

“When you want to flip somebody off, maybe they just made a mistake,” he said. “Move on with your day. It’s a non-event. Escalate it, and it could turn deadly,” he added.

Hanlon listed major causes of accidents other than distracted driving:

  • Excessive speed
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Making a left turn on a busy street.

Cape Codders joke about not making left turns in the summer, but Hanlon said that, nationally, 53.1 percent of collisions involve a left turn, compared with 5.7 percent of crashes involving a right turn. A 2010 NHTSA report said that 36 percent of crashes at intersections involved left turns or crossing over; the report did not include data on collisions resulting from turns from business and residential curb cuts and driveways.

“Taking a left turn at Bell Tower Mall (on Route 28 in Centerville) at 5 o’clock, you may cross two, three lanes,” Hanlon said. “People have died there.”

He suggested that instead of waiting for a break in the traffic to dart across the road, just turn right with the flow of passing cars until you can safely turn around.

As for those Bay State eccentricities known as rotaries, Hanlon reminded drivers that vehicles in the rotary have the right of way and drivers should use their turn signals to indicate where they plan to exit. Drivers going more than halfway around a rotary should use the inner lane, he said.

The smaller version of rotaries known as roundabouts have been shown to have less severe crashes’ than the four-way stop intersections they often replace, said Malakoff. Plus they help reduce air pollution caused by cars idling at a stop, he added.

Malakhoff urged drivers to be aware that during the summer, many people bike to work and for exercise. Cyclists should wear helmets, bike with the flow of traffic and use hand signals to let drivers know their intentions to turn and stop, he said.

Summer also brings out more pedestrians along Cape roadways, most of which do not have sidewalks. Pedestrians and joggers should travel facing traffic, he said.

When opening a door of a car parked along a street, look first for cyclists and other cars, Malakoff advised.

“We all drive by habit,” Hanlon said. “If you stick with good habits, you’ll be OK.”