Utah drivers should not be allowed to leave the state. It's for our own safety and that of countless other innocent Americans.

I learned that first-hand when I spent a summer in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. I tried to merge into traffic as I always had in Utah, and another car almost hit me. Imagine the nerve of that driver, not getting out of my way."What are you, crazy?" asked my passenger, a student attending the same seminar I was. "You drive like a cowboy riding the open range or a pioneer staking a claim. What state are you from anyway?"

"Utah."

"Well, no wonder. Why didn't you tell me that before I got in your car?"

Drivers absorb the character of their states, he said.

"Do you think it's an accident that New York drivers are rushed and rude? And Southern California drivers never even notice you because, they're `like, into their own trip?' "

He said anything goes in San Francisco. You have to practice safe driving because people use so many alternate styles.

"And you should never drive in Nevada. You could get killed. The place is full of gamblers."

The proper way to drive in D.C., he said, is to imitate the politicians.

"Try to ease out of tight situations like nothing is wrong, nothing bothers you. Seize any opportunities you see, but be diplomatic about it. Any maneuver you can get away with is fair."

I took his advice, and that summer I got to be such a slick D.C. driver that no one on the road trusted me.

Then I came back to Utah and a woman with a beehive hairdo tried to merge into the side of my car and kill me. Who did she think she was anyway, a cowboy?

American drivers would be safest, of course, if people would never leave their home states except to go to states of similar image and history. Maybe we could attach metal rods to our cars and build low-clearance gates at state borders. That's the system my laundromat uses to keep me from rolling its baskets outside to my car.

But, failing that, we should at least compile a list of road rules for new residents or Utahns who have been off driving in other states. Here are some suggestions for Utah driving:

-When merging, stake your claim in the wide open spaces.

-Do not allow your car to smoke.

-Be content with your spot on the road. Tell yourself "this is the place."

-Do not follow the crowd unless it stays on the straight and narrow.

-Try to feel at home on the range.

-Never crowd a Bronco or a Pinto.

-Religiously allot 10 percent of any new lane you acquire to "the provider."

-Drive slowly in the fast lane. Encourage everyone to stick to the speed limit you know to be true.