Several times in recent weeks I've posted over on my Facebook profile about goofy habits people seem to have nowadays when driving, things that people didn't always do and actually wouldn't do at all if they would just remember the fairly simple rules of Right of Way that we all learned way back in Driver's Ed class. It's starting to get maddening. Maddening, I say!
First off, take the four-way intersection. It's well-established that when multiple cars arrive at such a place, they go in order by who got there first. This is usually easy enough, although I do occasionally see the idiot who thinks that stopping behind someone who has stopped at a stop sign actually constitutes stopping at the stop sign himself, and thus, he goes as soon as the guy in front of him goes, so the person who should be next starts moving forward and then has to slam on the brakes again because Mr. Thinks He's Next In Line is going of his own volition. I've blogged about this before, I think.
But the real problem comes when two cars arrive at an intersection at the same time. Oh noes! What are we to do? Well, the Driver's Ed teacher told us, didn't he? The car on the right goes first. So: assume a four-way intersection where the streets correspond to the compass points. I'm going north; Driver #2 is going West. We arrive at the same time. Picturing this scenario, Driver #2 goes first, because of the two of us, he's on the right. But if we flip this around – I'm going south and he's going west – then I go first, because now I am on the right. (This is from the perspective of the drivers, obviously.) This should be easy enough – but not anymore. I don't know if we've forgotten basic Right of Way in this country, or if we're just trying too hard to be polite, but what seems to always happen now in these types of cases is instead of the person on the right going first, we now engage in an annoying ritual. See, I know my Right of Way, so I know that I have to wait until Driver #2 goes – but I see that Driver #2 isn't going. Instead, he's sitting in his car, staring at me, until he finally waves at me to go.
Even worse is when Driver #2 waves for me to go when they stopped first! Yes, this happens too. So commonplace has the annoying "No, you go!" approach to Right of Way become that if I see I'm going to arrive at an intersection at the same time as another driver, I will actually exaggerate my braking on purpose just so I arrive there second, in hopes of avoiding the whole "I'm on the right" thing and instead triggering the "You go because you got there first" rule. And you know what almost always happens when I do this? No dice. Driver #2 starts the "No, you go!" hand waving.
Well, I used to just shake my head and go, but no longer. My new approach is to refuse to go, no matter how much hand-waving Driver #2 goes. If he's got the Right of Way, I am going to sit there motionless until he goes, whether he realizes he's got Right of Way or, more likely, decides that I'm being a jerk and resumes driving, wondering why I spurned his magnanimous behavior. Maybe I am being a jerk, but we came up with those rules for a reason: so intersections don't become morasses of drivers staring at each other in an effort to determine who's going first. My last straw on the "No, you go!" approach to determining intersection Right of Way came a week or two ago when I guy actually arrived first at the intersection, indisputably first, as in, he was first by four or five seconds. He still waved insistently at me, and as I finally conceded and pulled through, I glanced over and saw that he was intently studying a piece of paper which probably contained directions from MapQuest or something. And I thought, "Yeah, stopped at an intersection is where you want to be doing that."
This sort of nonsense is one reason why I have become an even bigger fan of roundabouts (or rotaries, or traffic circles, or whatever they call them where you are) of late. I've always loved them, but now, I think they are supremely fantastic and I can't believe there isn't more of a drive to replace every single four-way stop in the country with a circle. Even those rural four-ways in the back country of Texas, where you can go six years without seeing two cars arrive at the same time. Roundabouts are awesome because they remove nearly all of the guesswork; traffic tends to keep moving, and drivers arriving at the roundabout only have to concern themselves with the cars in the circle. They are so much easier, so much more intuitive, so much less time-consuming, and so much safer. Whoever invented the first roundabout should be on the dollar bill of some large Western country.
My other big complaint of late? Yield signs, and the fact that people insist on treating them as full stop signs. At a number of suburban shopping plazas I tend to frequent around the environs of Casa Jaquandor I find spots where I have a Stop sign where the other drivers have Yields. This seems pretty obvious to me: I stay stopped until everyone's through the intersection and I can go. But no – there's always someone who thinks that they must stop at their Yield sign, look over at me, and start with the "No, you go!" handwaving nonsense again. Now, sometimes this isn't total jerkiness at play; I realize that. One such plaza has an eighteen-screen multiplex next door to Target, so if you're trying to leave the Target lot in the period after the weekend's big blockbuster has let out, frequently the Yield-stoppers are really being nice because otherwise you'd be sitting there forever. (I myself tend to always err on the side of letting people out of their intersections if it's clear they're never getting out unless someone actually lets them.)
But what happens so often is that it's not an effort to let me into an otherwise steady stream of traffic; what's clear is that people are simply treating Yield signs as Stop signs. Just today I arrived at an intersection in a parking lot/service road at the same time as another car; I was on the right, so had we both had Stop signs, I would have had Right of Way. But while I had a stop, he had a Yield, so all he really had to do was slow down and proceed through the intersection. Instead, he came to a full stop himself and, you guessed it, gave me the "No, you go!" bit. This annoyed me on several levels: first, he obviously didn't know what he was really supposed to do at a Yield, and second, he didn't even notice that he was in the right lane of the wide-enough-for-two-lanes driveway, so the two or three cars behind him just swung over, went around him on his left, and proceeded through the intersection! Had I obliged his "No, you go!" waving, I'd have been T-boned by the people he never saw because he was too busy trying to be magnanimous to me. Ugh!
Other annoying things I've noticed lately haven't fallen into the "Right of Way" category, but a more general "How to be a dick when driving" thing. Case in point: last week I'm approaching a big intersection near Casa Jaquandor, where two different four-lane roads come together, plus another two-lane road off to one side. (For those familiar with the area, it's Southwestern Blvd. and Orchard Park Road; Lake Ave. also goes off from there.) I'm northbound on Orchard Park Rd, but I'm going to be turning right onto Southwestern, so I'm in the righthand lane. This was Sunday morning, so the traffic was pretty light; only one car was in front of me, a guy about five or six car lengths ahead of me, in the left lane because he's going straight. So I'm almost at the intersection; I've even got me turn signal on already, as do the two or three cars behind me that will also be making right turns on Southwestern. Easy, right? I'll be able to make a simple right-on-red and go on my way.
Except that the guy in front of me, the guy in the left-hand lane who isn't turning right, at the very last second swerves over into the right lane and stops at the red light, thus preventing any of us behind him from going right-on-red. We had to wait for the full cycle of traffic lights before we could go, and at that intersection, this takes five minutes. I spent those minutes trying to shoot laser beams from my eyes such that they would hit his rear-view mirror and burn the flesh from his head. (This failed. Stupid laser eyes...never work when I want them to....) Now, it's possible that he had a right-hand turn of his own to make after the intersection (there's a large gas station there), but I've been in that situation myself, and it's just not that hard to get from the left lane into the right to make the turn; especially given that most cars in the right-hand lane are turning at the intersection and not after it, thus creating natural openings in traffic to move into, and given that this particular gas station's entrance is about two hundred feet past the intersection and not immediately after it, so this guy really gained nothing by suddenly cutting me off. Other words? He was being a dick.
So that's what it boils down to: learn your Rights-of-way, and don't be a dick on the road. Please oh please.