11 Points

11 Driving Rules That Americans Actually Seem to Follow
written by Sam Greenspan

I thought of this list idea a few days ago when I approached a stop sign at the same time as another cars and we got into a polite waving match with each other. After a few moments of waving and insisting that the other person go, we did that thing where we both simultaneously hit the gas, then see the other person do the same, step on the brakes... and resume waving.

Eventually my waving had more Force behind it as he crossed the intersection. And that's when I noticed he was texting.

This list features 11 driving rules (almost all of which are laws and not unwritten rules, I believe) that people in this country actually tend to follow. Perhaps not 100 percent of the time, but most of the time. We clearly don't follow all of the laws -- this country still has still plenty of texting, plenty of speeding, an absence of turn signals and an absence of people with insurance. But these are a few we all really do respect...

  1. How is this photo relevant? Sadly, you'll have to read to find out.
    Moving over for police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. People are always surprisingly good about getting out of the way for emergency vehicles. And not just because if you're subtle about it they serve as the greatest blocking fullback on the roads. They're like the Mack Strong of rush hour.

  2. Taking turns at stop signs. People very rarely pull selfish moves at stop signs. Everyone takes turns. We don't follow the same rules of courtesy when a freeway lane is closed and two become one. Or when we're trying to leave a stadium parking lot and cars create dozens of their own paths toward the exits. But at stop signs, people are fairly equitable.

  3. Not parking in front of fire hydrants. I think this is fully borne from the fear of getting a ticket... not from a deep humanitarian concern that if a fire breaks out the firefighters will be able to get to the hydrant unimpeded. Since we follow this law and break so many others, in a way, it also suggests that we subconsciously believe that meter maids are more likely to catch us breaking a law than an actual cop. Which is probably not a good thing.

  4. Go Lakers.
    Letting funeral processions drive unimpeded. Every time I see a funeral procession getting a police escort through the city, ignoring red lights, with everyone dutifully stopping for them, I get that brief instinct of "Hey, what if I got my hands on one of those funeral car flags and just joined funeral processions to get around town?"

    And there are three things stopping me, ranked from least to most. (1) There's probably some bad luck/karma/whatever in doing that. (2) Unless the only place I have to drive in Los Angeles is from a funeral home to a cemetery, the plan is a bit fruitless, right? (3) Putting a funeral purple flag on my car is dangerously close to putting one of the ubiquitous Lakers flag on my car, and I will never be that person.

  5. Letting pedestrians cross the street without getting run over. This varies from city to city in the U.S. In L.A. people are surprisingly good about it; in Chicago, they're far less good. But even the most dangerous city for pedestrians in the U.S. (which, oddly enough, is Orlando) is still safer than anywhere in most other countries. In places like Argentina and Thailand I'm fairly sure walking is some kind of mix between chicken and Frogger.

  6. The piano really makes the bit work.
    Not illegally using tire chains. No one really pulls the "woo hoo, look at that pavement fly!" move.

  7. Slowing down for school zones. We all know that if we're going over, like, 15 in a school zone and God forbid we hit a kid, we're looking at (no exaggeration) $45 billion in fines, legal fees and lawsuits. Also, there's a lot of groupthink here -- since most other people are going slow in school zones you can't be the one a-hole zooming through, bobbing and weaving around other drivers.

  8. Not going the speed minimums. I remember when I was first learning to drive, my dad repeatedly telling me that the speed limit signs are "just the maximum limit, you don't have to drive that fast." Apparently he was the only one who showed up the day they taught that. Virtually every non-senior citizen in the countries drives at or above the speed limit, and that keeps the roads moving.

  9. Maybe we abide because of the witty sign copy?
    Properly utilizing the to-go spots outside of Chili's. I don't quite understand it, but I'm fairly sure that in my 31 years I've never seen someone parked in one of the "10 minute pick-up" spots outside of a Chili's, California Pizza Kitchen, Applebee's or any other chain restaurant who wasn't just grabbing carry-out. Do the restaurants really enforce these? Anytime when their parking lots would be crowded enough to require taking one of these spots the staff would be too busy to enforce them. And yet people respect them. Arguably more than handicapped spaces.

  10. Stopping at railroad crossings. Obeying the rules, self-preservation, whatever... why bother with semantics?

  11. Stopping at red lights and stop signs at 3 am. I don't know why we do this. But on a street that's completely empty, not another car for miles, we'll still sit at red lights for minutes. We respect lights and follow them blindly even when they're ridiculous. It's like the law-abiding, 3 am version of the Milgram experiment. And frankly, our behavior shocks me.

This post was originally published on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Travel.

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