This post addresses two important items: 1) how we as Americans deal with traffic circles, and 2) how we as Americans deal with other motorists on the road.
Picture, if you will, that you’re sitting in bumper to bumper traffic slugging it out inch by inch heading out of the city when a thing uncommon to most American drivers appears on the horizon. That uncommon feature is a circle in the middle of the road. A what? A circle. No way! For us in the US that is almost as confusing to us as trying to convert Celsius readings into Fahrenheit or understanding Jug Handles in New Jersey to make left hand turns (which is brilliant by the way!). Anyhoo, you come upon this circle in the middle of 3 lanes. To the left is a minivan which looked the best years were well behind it, and a questionable future before it. On the right side of us is some ubiquitous economy sedan, name/brand unimportant. The key element in this circle of danger traffic feature is timing the gap. Much like surfers searching the ocean for the right wave, drivers approaching circles must time their entry into the feature. Too soon, and you could end up being hit by of one of vehicles already in the circle. Entering the circle too late and you probably have clipped one of those vehicles.
Another variable in this scenario, and probably not common in surfing is lane integrity. Leading up to the circle you are organized into lanes denoting temporary yet somewhat sovereign rights to a specific amount of pavement. While were on the street heading straight, no problem. When the road turns, no problem. When the road encounters a circle people just assume that whatever lane they’re at when the arrive at the circle is arbitrary, and that they can jump to one or another lane regardless of the vehicles that entered the circle with them.
And here we arrive at the heart of the matter. The minivan in the left lane waits before venturing out into the no-man’s (or no-woman’s) land. Then there’s the car in the right lane. When will they enter the circle and will they deviate from their lane? The question for you in the middle lane, if you see an opening ahead can you enter the circle if the vehicles on either side of you do not enter? In this scenario there was an opening for all three lanes to enter the circle, and the mini van on the left chose not to proceed. I, however did not hesitate. As soon as I entered the circle the mini van began to enter, and started to veer into my lane. As I continued on as I was ahead of them at this point, they laid on the horn. Now they came close to clipping my car due to the fact that they were not maintaining lane integrity when they entered the circle. We exited the circle and eventually came to a traffic light. Again, I’m in the middle lane while the mini van approached in the left lane. My windows were down, and I purposely turned down my music. They pulled alongside and two people in the front seats proceeded to let me know that my driving was less than perfect. I countered that I entered the circle first and in my lane making them the party guilty of straying into my lane and nearly striking my car. We continued to disagree for what seemed like a few minutes. Something struck me about this interaction, besides my unwavering belief that I was right and they were wrong just as they felt they were right and I was in the wrong. No, it was the fact that this exchange was remarkably civil. No cursing, no loud shouting or innuendos. It was simply a motorist taking another motorist to task for a perceived injustice. Of course I maintain I was right, and that they were clearly not paying attention. And I might have also added that if circles were too vexing for them to navigate properly they might be perhaps better suited to roads that don’t contain 360 degrees of turns. We parted a few minutes later both feeling that our own cases were made and we were right.
One takeaway is that if you are that minivan driver I met on the road, thank you for your civil discussion about our differences of opinion. I didn’t and still don’t agree with you, but I appreciate that we were able to have a conversation without resorting to tantrums or name calling. The other takeaway just as important to being decent to other members of our species behind the wheel is whether they were right (I still don’t think so) or I was in the right (not sure if they came around to my argument) it doesn’t matter, each of us have to pay attention to what we’re doing on the road behind the wheel and to take nothing for granted. Stay focused means not texting, playing with the infotainment system. Get in the habit of planning for contingencies should someone suddenly veer into your lane or possibly forces you off the roadway. In my short time behind the wheel, I’ve discovered that when things go wrong, they go quickly without a lot of time to think through countless scenarios. Wow, I didn’t mean this to sound like a PSA, just be cool behind the wheel, and we as Americans still struggle with circles. Oh one final thought, don’t drive a minivan (if you can avoid it).
See you on the roads!