Arriving in California this summer we noticed the strangest of phenomena: The four way all stop crossing.
Over at Posterous my old friend Kendall Thu responded:
Though I much prefer roundabouts for a variety of reasons, the cultural world of 4-way complete is interestings, particularly as I watch our oldest daughter learn to drive. Laws vary by states, but I believe most states have provisions that in the event two cars arrive at the same time, the car to the right has the right of way. But that’s law, not practice. Much of what occurs is, as you rightly point out, cultural and not legal. In the rural Midwest where I live, there is typically eye contact accompanied by an arm gesture giving a polite nod for the other vehicle to go first. This may be followed by a physical gesture of thanks as the first vehicle enters the passage way. On the other hand, there are drivers who want to go first and will stop their car abruptly before they reach the stop line creating a clear signal that they were there first and are anxiously, or rudely, declaring their intention to go first. Younger drivers often make the mistake of waiting too long, messing up the order and creating confusion. But there’s not substitute for cultural practice in driving as in life–still, I prefer roundabouts!
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My response to Kendall
The American system certainly forces people to be very careful. In Europe Yield signs and roundabouts force you to slow down, but never to stop completely. The situation therefore never becomes “friendly” in the way you describe it.
Susanne and I did definitely get a chance to test our ability to handle roundabouts in Scotland last year. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road is one thing. Handling and inverted roundabout is another.
The Brits also has this annoying habit of putting direction signs before you enter the roundabout, and not inside it. The trick is, of course, to drive around it until you grasp where to get out or you get car sick.