You can feel it in your hands first. The clench. Your fingers tighten on the wheel of your Honda CR-V the second you see the headlights of a car behind you, driven by the world’s biggest jerk, barreling toward the back of your car as you blaze down the left lane of Interstate 225 at close to 70 mph.

Hate. Is he — although it could easily be she — going to rear-end you? Will he pull the slot-switch-fast-brake-full-throttle NASCAR ditch and dodge, or just ride inches from your back bumper until you relent and give up the lane in terror?

Mile-high car wars sucks, and we all know it.

Almost everyone has an opinion about the sudden plague of tail-gating, brake-checking, lane-swerving, speed-raging, off-cutting, lane-budging buttheads that seems to have infested every single commute these days.

You’re not alone, state and local highway and police officials say. It’s not your imagination. It’s hell on wheels out there.

“Definitely,” said Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher. “I see it every day.”

Like most folks, he has a few theories about why there are so many people on the roads these days who don’t just drive poorly, they drive him and just about every other cop in the state crazy with stupid moves.

Walcher said he sees the worst of the worst in his unmarked police SUV and sometimes just has to pull over the most dangerous cases and hand out tickets.

Recently, he saw a man on a “crotch rocket” motorcycle pull wheelies on Broncos Parkway in the middle of the day, then stop dead in the road and nearly get rear-ended. That was followed by swerving antics between cars and lanes before Walcher could catch up to him and write him a ticket.

Just like the rest of us, Walcher says he sees things that are absolutely jaw-dropping.

He’s interested in hard research about why extremely dangerous drivers have seemingly become so prolific, but he has some guesses.

Majestic mountains: Even the serene setting of the Rocky Mountains isn’t enough to pacify drivers who succumb to the perils of road rage. Sentinel file photo

“We’ve all seen how much worse traffic has become,” Walcher said, who’s lived in Colorado his entire life. Rush hour starts before 6 a.m. now in southeast Aurora and beyond, he noted. It creates a great deal of angst in everyone.

He’s noticed, too, that illicit road-ragers are generally younger drivers. He wonders if these drivers are so immersed in realistic video games or prolific movie scenes that they carry out their reality TV right here on the road.

And there’s no shortage of studies showing that America’s spoiled millennial Generation Me-Me-Me acts pretty narcissistic, a personality trait blamed for a host of modern-day behavioral issues.

It’s for real though, Walcher agrees. It’s the worst he’s ever seen, and his police department, among others, are looking for ways to stop it.

Road-rage relays are hardly the only egregious traffic trouble, though. And obnoxious lane-whipping millennials are hardly the only scofflaws. Texters, drifters, wide-turners, all of them make a trip across town or across the state unpleasant like it never has been in Colorado.

Here are a few of our favorite pet peeves. Feel free to chime in on yours.

— Dave Perry, Staff Writer

Urge to merge

Few things bring terror to nervous drivers as does a car picking up speed on the on-ramp of an interstate, realizing their auto and the merging one will meet at the same time.

I see this almost every day. I’m getting on the highway and doing just what I was taught to do. You accelerate steadily, trying to reach the speed limit, or the relative one, by the time I get to the bottom of the ramp. That’s when it’s my job to decided whether to slow down, and pull behind the car on my left, or speed up and merge onto the highway in front of them.
That rarely happens. The driver in the car to my left invariably panics, and they either step on their brakes right while I am, or, as is usually the case, they gun it. God forbid they have to follow me instead of the car in front of me.

What happens is that you end up playing a game of high-speed, brake-and-gun-it chicken on the worst part of any highway, right while the merge lane is about to end.

Stop doing that.

You’re not supposed to do anything when you’re driving in the right lane of an interstate. Just drive and let the merging car yield to what you’re doing, just like the sign and common sense says.

If you see a car speeding up to get in front of you, it’s kind and safe to ease up a bit until the merge is complete. Or if you see the merging car is going to slow down to get behind you, just keep driving, or maybe speed up just bit. But pay attention. Don’t slow down. Don’t freak out. Just drive. For godsake. Just drive.

— Dave Perry, Staff Writer

I LIKE BIKE: How Eisenhower’s experiment has jumped the shark in Aurora

Aurora is a driving town. Comprising 1,445 miles of road over some 155 square miles, the city revolves around machines with at least four wheels and two axles.

And it makes sense. The City of Aurora went through municipal puberty squarely in the middle of the golden age of the automobile. Largely due to the annexation of nearly 2,000 homes in Hoffman Heights, the city ballooned from about 11,000 people in 1950 to a population of more than 50,000 less than a decade later. That growth spurt took place right as people were told to explore America by car, venturing to newly paved crannies and permanently peeving nature purists like Ed Abbey. Hell, the old Lowry Air Force Base served as the summer White House for former President Dwight Eisenhower, godfather of country’s interstate system, in the years leading up to passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.

The city became the archetype for so many neighbor-to-the-capital burgs across the country after World War II: affordable homes, slotted into a grid, connected by well-maintained asphalt arterials. (The city finished paving its grid in 1957, right about when the number of registered cars in the country had nearly tripled in less than a decade.)

Road woes: Traffic can contribute to an overall sense of road rage. Sentinel file photo

All that’s to say: this town loves cars. Other means of transportation? Not so much.

The farther you get from East Colfax Avenue, the more convoluted getting around the city by foot or by pedal becomes. Shoulders shrink, trails have a habit of vanishing into porous sidewalks, and, perhaps most critically, motorists are about as willing to share the road with cyclists, or even pedestrians, as Editor Dave Perry is to write a headline without a pun. (Read: unimaginable.)  And sure, politicos have done a fine job of beefing up bike trails in recent years, and city wonks would be quick to point to regular bike-way studies conducted since the early 1970s. But cars remain king, and Aurora’s efforts are a far cry from the infrastructure — and more importantly, the culture — implemented in places like Minnesota and Oregon years ago.

Take for example my regular commute to The Sentinel offices on East Iliff Avenue. I often take the H Line from Denver to the Nine Mile Station, and either walk, bike or take the 121 bus about a mile up Peoria Street to the newsroom.

It’s a simple, and quite convenient commute — especially for someone who has experienced years of car woes (here’s looking at you, Jeep Cherokee that didn’t go in reverse) and a lease with mileage limits. But I regularly have to stare down motorists who steal through crosswalks and appear downright flabbergasted to see a living biped or bicyclist moving through suburban space. The double, triple or, yes, quadruple take from behind the wheel is a regular interaction I have with drivers who inch into the crosswalk, trying to turn right from Yale onto Peoria.

It’s a shame I’ve grown accustomed to slowly maneuvering across intersections in central Aurora, defensively making eye contact with late-to-work speedsters who are more interested in their lattes than the road. But it’s a practice I’ve honed due an unfortunate education on a painful thesis: getting hit by a car stinks. While my femurs have been immune to car fenders in the state’s third-largest city, the front wheel of my Raleigh has kissed a bumper a couple of times — once in Denver and once in an odd pocket of Inverness. Both times I hogged a big portion of the blame, but to say it was unpleasant would be an overwhelming understatement.

Still, some bruised legs and a slightly shaken constitution were a minuscule price to pay when compared to the fates of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists across the U.S.

There were 840 cyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2016, which is the latest data available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of bike vs. car fatalities has ticked up each year since 2010, according to NHTSA data.

Regarding pedestrians, there were an estimated 5,984 pedestrian fatali-      

ties across the country last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The organization reported 37 pedestrian deaths in Colorado in the first six months of last year, and claimed five states — California, Florida, Texas, New York and Arizona — accounted for more than 40 percent of all pedestrian deaths. Also of note, there was a reported 16 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in the seven states that legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016.

There’s no question it’s a car’s world east of Yosemite, and that’s fine. But, for Pete’s sake, buckle up, clip in and look both ways before cheating across the white stripes at Yale and Peoria. If not, I’ll be the tall guy with the steely glare shaking his head and imitating Robert De Niro’s “I’m watching you” tirade from “Meet The Parents.” Heads up, Aurora.

— Quincy Snowdon, Staff Writer

Heads up: Construction sites, like the one pictured here, can lead to frustration in drivers and can contribute to an overall sense of road rage.       Sentinel file photo

Bad life in the fast lane

Much like A.J. MacReady in “The Thing,” I discovered it too late.

In the classic horror flick, MacReady is trapped on a remote research base with a parasite turning dogs and researchers alike into horrifying alien beings. MacReady never really knows who is infected with The Thing until it rears its ugly head, mandibles and all.

On a long drive to the Vail Valley last month, I found myself trapped in a personal adaptation.

My friend drove us in a crappy SUV that crawled up I-70, well below the speed limit at times, but in the left lane nonetheless. The line behind us grew and grew until the whole Interstate looked bottlenecked.

She didn’t move over.

“Oh, God,” I thought, mortified. “You’re one of them.”

Unlike MacReady, though, I’m not alone. It’s easy to see that many Colorado drivers hog the left lane. And worst of all, they could  be your best friend, your wife — even you.

Colorado law is clear about the left lane: If the speed limit is 65 mph or more, the left lane is only open for passing — unless you can’t safely get out of the lane.

Aurorans enjoy the 65 mph speed limit on Interstate 225 and I-70. In a perfect world, with no traffic and metro-area transplants, we could all zip down the corridor. But even when the interstate is clear, you can find folks camping in the left lane when they shouldn’t be.

Sgt. Bill Hummel, spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department, blamed a lack of awareness for lane-hogging on Aurora stretches of the interstates. It could be that Colorado residents and out-of-staters alike aren’t aware of the law.

Hummel said he has personally pulled people over for impeding the flow of traffic, either by backing up traffic behind them in the fast lane, or forcing others to pass on the right.

“Sometimes the best course of action is to stop the driver if they are blocking traffic and just educate them,” he said. “Commonly, people don’t know that it is a law.”

He gets to do that. As citizen drivers, we don’t get to.

Hummel said APD could not immediately provide the number of tickets issued for this common driving blunder. The law is usually enforced if a driver is “obviously” impeding traffic or endangering other drivers.

Is there hope for those of us stuck behind slowpokes? Will more people learn that lingering in the left lane is a no-go?

Probably not.

If you’re claiming a lane, you’re not paying attention, and drivers are increasingly distracted. In a CDOT survey last spring, almost 90 percent of respondents admitted to driving distracted in the preceding week, mostly preoccupied with reading messages or typing on phones.

Or, you could be one of the Judge Judy motorists who knows you have the right, because the law’s behind you. It’s the few who believe that, because they are driving the speed limit, no one else behind them should drive any faster.

I offered to drive back and was confronted with a dose of asphalt karma, having to follow a left-lane hogger all the way back.

They’re everywhere. And just like The Thing, you never know where they will strike next.

— Grant Stringer, Staff Writer

Don’t look now

The traffic on the other side of the median always seems to be more desirable, especially as you wait your turn to sneak past another highway crash probably caused by some distraction that didn’t need to be.

That is until you realize that those drivers are also moving at a near-glacial pace because everybody is tapping the brakes, quenching their curiosity about the minor fender bender taking up an entire lane of highway.

Call it rubbernecking. Call it curiosity slowing. Call it completely unnecessary and dangerous. Call it a perfectly good reason to scream obscenities from behind the wheel.

A 2014 study from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas focused solely on rubbernecking and how traffic incidents create slowing in the opposite direction. It turns out that rubbernecking isn’t just infuriating as the drivers ahead of you inch along with their heads permanently glued to the lanes of highway that have nothing to do with their own driving, it also causes more accidents, and potentially creates a downward spiral of highway hell.

“Rubbernecking is a result of a human response to the surroundings, such as freeway signs, scenery, billboard ads, and many other visual ‘eye-candy,’” the report says in defining the practice.

“From a traffic operations standpoint, rubbernecking is a serious issue that can sometimes create traffic congestion and even traffic incidents.”

Rubbernecking causes about 16 percent of all vehicle crashes, according to the Crash Investigation Team of the Transportation Safety Training Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. And 35 percent of all accidents are caused by some distraction outside of the vehicle.

The UNLV study found about 10 percent of all the crashes it observed on a stretch of highway in Virginia were because of rubbernecking. And the slowing was even more significant, about 107 vehicles per hour were held up because of looky-loos.

What can alleviate rubbernecking? The study cites barriers large enough to block off the site of potential accidents.

Other studies show those barriers could work. Psychological scientists from the University of Central Florida put that theory to the test in in 2013 by sending volunteer drives through a course with various distractions and different barriers that blocked the perceived distractions.

Eye-tracking goggles recorded the drivers, and, of course, accidents with barriers mostly blocking the distraction were the drives who slowed down the least.

— Kara Mason, Staff Writer

I said, turn it down

I love music.

I’ve been a DJ for nearly a decade and have always held a special place in my heart for the soundtracks of our lives.

We need music to help color our worlds. It provides inspiration. It lifts our souls and moves our feet.

But everything, even tunes, should be enjoyed within reason.

All too often, I encounter drivers blasting their sound systems at near-concert decibel levels, with eardrum-splitting bass lines that shake car windows and teeth.

No one needs to play their music that loud. People flying in airplanes at 30,000 feet don’t need to know how much you enjoy Young Jeezy or Two Chainz.

I get it — you like rap. I like rap, too. I just don’t need to be reminded of that fact at 9 a.m. as I’m waiting for the bus at Iliff and Blackhawk. Your subsonic bass ripples through the morning air, overpowering the cacophony of jackhammers and power drills employed by the construction crew working across the street on the new mixed-use development.

Driving with the music blaring isn’t just annoying to other drivers and pedestrians — it’s also dangerous.

A 2011 study on The Influence of Music on Mental Effort and Driving Performance, conducted by university researchers in The Netherlands, found that listening to music while driving significantly increased levels of mental effort. The study explained that drivers displayed increased stress levels while performing relatively routine driving tasks when listening to music; and that the group of subjects who did not listen to music while driving displayed lower levels of stress.

Less stress equals less wrecks.

The study also found that it did not matter whether the test group of drivers who listened to music enjoyed the music that they were played during the study. They displayed the same levels of results driving to various types of music, even types they showed no interest in.

Local highway authorities agree that safety should come first.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said local noise ordinances govern the volume levels in which drivers can play their stereos within city limits. However, he strongly urged drivers to maintain sensible noise levels to ensure safer driving experiences for all drivers on the road.

“When it comes to the dangers of having music playing too loud — we certainly think of driving as an ‘all-sense experience,” Lewis said, noting that drivers must quickly respond to various types of stimuli, including changing traffic lights, other drivers, pedestrians and signage. If their music is blaring, drivers can get distracted and may not be able to safely react to any number of situations they can encounter on the roads, according to Lewis.

“Anything you can do to give yourself a chance to keep your driving safer is best,” Lewis said.

— Sasha Heller, Staff Writer

Honked off

To honk or not to honk?

If Shakespeare had to deal with the traffic we have today and the distracted, short-tempered people crammed on our roads, The Bard likely would have continued with “blasts and blares of outrageous drivers” in place of “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Certainly not as romantic, but neither is sitting in your car in the right-turn lane going from Iliff to Chambers with a red light in front of you, a photo traffic camera on the corner waiting to take money from your wallet and no way to see to what’s coming from the left. It’s not a free right turn, people, so no matter how much horn you give, we will not go.

We get it, you want to be where you are going and you don’t have time for anybody to get in the way of that or maybe your boss caught you napping at your desk and gave you a tongue-lashing. But laying on the horn — the mechanical equivalent of a middle finger — is not only mean in most instances, it is dangerous.

Most of us don’t think a trip to the grocery store is dangerous. But any metro commuter can honestly assert that a quick trip to pick up a gallon of milk can quickly become a high-stakes game of poker — with your life as the bet.

That’s why car horns came into being in the early 1900s, to help drivers warn other drivers of emergencies or hazards while operating 4,000-pound battering rams with little more qualification than a few written answers and a couple of spins around the block in a driving test.

The horn most certainly is not supposed to be an extension of your personality, yet some people use it just like that. You can almost hear the things coming out of their mouths by the way they lay on the horn, the only good part being the horn serves as its own censor bleep. Communication in general is dead in this world and so honking is the refuge of people who don’t know how to make others get their point.

Horns scare people and sometimes stress them into doing unintended bad things with their vehicles, like smash into others, swerve into other lanes — which is likely to prompt more honking from drivers who previously had no reason to honk — or run into cyclists, pedestrians, fire hydrants or any other number of things in or near the road’s edge.

Elderly drivers, the kind that help create gridlock in the middle of the day on a Tuesday for no apparent reason, already have a deer-in-the-headlights look just trying to get to the store, they don’t need a frightening horn blast behind them.

Of course this doesn’t mean the jerk who is on his or her cell phone texting or snapfacing or instachatting instead of paying attention doesn’t deserve a little prompting when the light turns green and they don’t move right away, but give them a few seconds before venting your horn-powered anger.

Of all the traffic problems enumerated in this story, this is the easiest one to fix by simply laying off. Only use the horn to warn!

— Courtney Oakes, Staff Writer

Get out there

It’s an act of courtesy often overlooked.

Whether it’s a result of negligence, spite or naiveté, all that is being asked is for the driver turning left at the traffic light to pull into the intersection so more than one car can turn, should the light turn yellow and ultimately red.

Perhaps it is a Colorado thing, but that’s not a certainty, given that the majority of the residents in this state, as of 2015, are transplants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That said, the explanation can’t be blamed on some inexplicable timid characteristic due to region. Natives are outnumbered.   

The seemingly trendy explanation for any bad driving these days is marijuana. But that won’t hold water either, given that this specific driving faux pas has been transpiring since at least Jan. 27, 2004, the day this transplant nestled into the foothills of Boulder County.

No, the influx of those looking to reap the benefits of legal toke was still a healthy nine years out. That’s not to say that there aren’t a number of other instances presently that might be a result of Thai stick and hitting the road.

Perhaps these dubious drivers are under the impression that it is illegal to pull into the intersection when making a left turn and that is what keeps them behind the proverbial pearly gates to the heavenly adjacent thoroughfare that are the crosswalk and stop line.

Well, it would be remiss not to inform that it is in fact legal in Colorado to pull into the intersection so long as the light is green. Beautiful.

The law states that you can pull into an intersection during a green light, but not a red.

The Colorado Driver Handbook does recommend that you not pull into the intersection in these scenarios, but it is in no way illegal.

Perhaps it can be a little sketchy in some intersections, and proper judgment is suggested in these situations.

But, please.

Let’s not abandon the idea of simply scooting four or five feet over the stop line or crosswalk so not only you can make it through, were the light to turn red, but at least a car or two behind you. At least me.

— Phillip B.  Poston, Staff Writer

Beep, beep: Congested roads, like the one pictured here, can contribute to road rage incidents as drivers combust out of frustration over driving conditions.  Sentinel file photo

Waving While Driving

Hospitality is overrated. As an exiled East Coaster, the regular assault of “hey how are ya’s” from Midwestern yokels still comes across as an alien tongue. The same goes when behind the wheel. Driving is driving — not a meeting of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Please don’t wave or give a thumbs up at me or other passerby who you think might be flashing you a grin of thanks or flirtation. It’s unnecessary. It’s confusing. It’s too damn friendly. What’s more, incorrect waving could actually be grounds for a lawsuit, according to a Dave Douthit, a personal injury attorney from Virginia. In a blog post penned this March, Douthit wrote that, “drivers who wave another car in front of them could be found liable if an accident or injury occurs.”

Talk about incentive to keep those mitts at 10 and 2.

So go ahead — call me a sociopath; a cold Grinch who doesn’t understand the interpersonal relationships around him. It wouldn’t be the first time. Just promise that you’ll save your phalanges for the only useful digit signal when driving: a tall, proud freedom rocket launched with regularity and fury.

— Quincy Snowdon, Staff Writer

It’s a turn signal — not a duel

You know you’ve done this before. You’re cruising down a relatively un-owned lane on the interstate when every other lane is struggling with too many cars. Suddenly, a driver in a car not too far ahead in the right lane signals they’re going to change lanes into yours. And you speed up.

See? I knew you’ve done it. Years ago, motorists used to courteously slow down a bit and make room for someone coming into your lane. You’re supposed to.

Having a car in front of you turn on their turn signal was a warning, not a request. You let the guy in front of you in right away, because you expected the same from other motorists when you switch lanes. It just works out that way.

Not any more. Throwing your left-turn indicator in the far-right lane of I-70 is like telling drivers behind you that you have Ebola.

These days, you have to make stealth lane changes. You signal and switch lanes almost simultaneously.

That way the guy in the next lane just a ways behind has the hit-in-the-chest-during-dodgeball look on his face but for a few seconds — as he then accepts his fate with you in front of him — for at least the next few seconds.

Related to this are the strategic tail-gaters. People who follow the car in front of them at high speeds just close enough to dampen the temptation of anyone on the highway to change lanes in front of you, but far enough to keep from having more than a 50 percent chance of rear-ending the poor sap in front of you when he simply takes his foot of the gas while looking at his phone to see who’s texting him.

Hate is such a strong word, but when you’re on a Colorado road these days, that’s OK.

— Dave Perry, Staff Writer

MORE? PERRY: It’s true: Millennials are making Colorado roads hell on wheels