Thursday, December 11, 2008

Driving me crazy - part 2

The inspiration to write this post came whilst driving from home to the grocery store [supermarket]. In less than three miles I witnessed several drivers total disregard for other road users. Examples included not using turn signals [indicators], chatting on their cell [mobile] phones, drinking coffee or other beverages, and a real dangerous maneuver [manoeuvre] - pulling out in front of me when, although I had a green, they were turning “right on red” without stopping.

I must explain the latter to UK readers. In North Carolina (although not in all US States), it is permitted to turn right on a red signal at an intersection (unless signage instructs you not to) if, and only if, it is safe to do so. In the UK, this is the equivalent of turning LEFT at a red signal [traffic light]. As this is a RED, you must also STOP before continuing but it seems that whilst behind the wheel, stop is a word many Americans seem incapable of interpreting and it is not unusual to see many do what is known as a “Californian roll” at any stop sign.

Traffic circles [roundabouts] are very few and far between here, although there seems to be a move by some local authorities to introduce them. Most neighborhood intersections [junctions] are controlled by a stop sign in the minor road. Where two major roads intersect a “Four-Way” stop is used. This is a very civilized (if at first scary) system whereby the first vehicle to arrive goes first. Outside neighborhoods, on the major roads, traffic signals are the norm with filters, just like Europe, depending on the size of the intersection.

Whether driving standards are any better or worse here than in the UK or continental Europe, it’s difficult to say. I do know that it seems acceptable to travel a few miles per hour over the posted speed limit here and my biggest gripe is that only a minority use turn signals and many who do use them do so after making the maneuver – grrrrrrrr! Old school I may be, but I consider I was taught well, to always make a turn signal, even if I was the only car on the road (a good habit to get into) and to always follow this basic rule – "mirror, signal, maneuver". Okay, it's time for me to polish my halo and get on with the American-English – [British-English] translations:

Vehicle or automobile [car], usually pronounced “veer-he-cal” especially in the South.
SUV [4x4, even when it’s a 4x2], SUV = Sports Utility Vehicle
Minivan [people carrier]
Van [minibus]
Muffler [silencer or exhaust pipe]
Trunk [boot]
Hood [bonnet]
Fender [bumper], although common usage as in “bumper sticker” not “fender sticker]
Antenna [aerial]

There are many differences in vocabulary associated with actual driving. For example: Let’s say we are going on a trip [journey]. You crank [start] the engine [car], back-up [reverse] off your driveway [drive] into the street [road]. You might pop [open] the trunk [boot] to get something out or crack [open] a window to get some fresh air. Our son told us when he first came here he would mix American and British English in the same sentence, e.g., to his wife “honey, can you “pop” the “boot”, I need my jacket”!

Whilst driving (on the right of course) you will need to be careful as being involved in a wreck [accident or RTA] is the last thing you want. Of course you will not want to be pulled over by a cop, deputy or trooper [police officer] in his/her cruiser [patrol car]. There are very few “Yield” [Give Way] signs here, mostly “stop” signs or traffic signals [traffic lights] (see part one). We will want to get onto the highway or interstate [motorway] as soon as possible so we carefully merge from the ramp [slip road] into the right lane.

One of the many phrases which get a confused look is if we ask someone if they “want a lift”. No thanks, I don’t have to reach for anything and anyway I don’t think you can lift me! We soon realized that the question should be phrased “would you like a ride?” There, easy isn’t it?

Getting back to intersections and traffic signals – Americans tend not to slow down when approaching a “green”. We soon discovered that this is because the yellow [amber] holds for a lot longer than in the UK, so if green is just changing or changed to yellow you still have plenty of time to cross before it changes to red. That’s the theory anyway. And just like continental Europe, after red, it changes direct to green, not red and amber.

I must admit, that one place where drivers here take it easy and are extra vigilant, is on parking lots [car parks]. Pedestrians always have right of way. I know that’s the case in Europe, but the Spanish in particular treat pedestrians as “fair game” and assume that the species has no earthly right to actually walk from car to store. That’s a big plus for American (at least Southern) courtesy.

Whatever nationality you are and wherever you drive – “Let’s be careful out there”!

Footnote: Why is it that the car that overtakes you is going too fast (probably driven by a mindless moron) and the one you overtake going to slow (probably driven by a doddery old fool)?


Lyn F. said...

Interestingly enough, for me, who learnt how to drive in California, some of North Carolinians' driving habits also drive me mad. I nearly got into accidents in the past because once I see the light turn yellow, I slow down, especially if I notice I have enough room to stop. You see, the yellow lights in NC last at least 2-3 times longer than the yellow lights in CA (or at least in San Diego). Turn signals are a must, and I get really bugged whenever I notice people not using them here. Contrary to your experience, I notice people tend not to yield to pedestrians here. I was always taught the pedestrian is right, even when s/he is wrong. A friend received lower marks on her driving test when she failed to yield to the pedestrians, and yet on the NC roads, I see people plowing through crosswalks, in some cases, while there are pedestrians in them!

I could go on, but I think I'll just blow a few gaskets, so I'll stop.

Cheers. :D

NorfolkBoy said...

I agree with you about "pedestrians on crosswalks" Lynn. I was referring to parking lots, where we have observed this courtesy toward the pedestrian. Perhaps that's because the the motorists KNOWS that the pedestrian is a driver who is just left or going back to their car!