Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four-way stops: windows to the soul?

When I'm driving, I pay particular attention to the road, I really do. I constantly check my mirrors and am always cognizant of what is going on around me. This is because I don't want to die--or cause anyone else to die--while simply going from Point A to Point B. And in that regard, I pay a great deal of attention to the culture of the road, how it can vary, where it can vary, and when it can vary.

One of the conclusions I have drawn from these observations is that it's good policy to avoid being on the road on New Year's Eve or early New Year's Day. Fatalities are up on those days and the risk is not worth the reward at this stage of my life. And in that same vein, here's something surprising: traffic fatalities are also higher--on average--on tax day.
Over all, nearly 6,800 people — drivers, passengers and pedestrians — were killed in car crashes on tax day during the study period. Compared with other days, there was an increase of roughly 6 percent in fatal crashes on tax day, equivalent to an additional 13 deaths.
The research shows this is likely due to added stress caused by the filing deadline, as opposed to more intoxicated drivers on New Years. Still, it's a stat worth filing away in memory, so as to remember on the next tax day. Nothing wrong with a little added caution, after all.

Another conclusion that I've drawn--which goes way beyond traffic safety--has to do with four way stop signs. These intersections may very well be one of the most egalitarian and community-driven institutions in existence. At a four way intersection, everyone is equal, period. And how one acts--upon arriving there--says a lot about how they view their community and their role within it, in my opinion.

First, the rules of an intersection with four way stop signs:
  1. Everyone must come to a complete stop at the stop bar (in line with the sign). No exceptions.
  2. Whomever arrives and stops first has the right of way.
  3. In the event of cars arriving simultaneously, the driver on the right goes first.
  4. If two cars arrive simultaneously across from each other, both can go unless one is turning left. Then, the other has the right of way.
  5. If four cars arrive simultaneously, all going straight, all bets are off. 
Simple, right (aside from the last situation)? Yet how many times are these rules broken or completely ignored?

So what do we have, what are some of the character types we might extrapolate from actions at such an intersection?
  1. "I'm more important than everyone else"--they ignore rules 3 and 4 completely; as soon as they stop (if they even stop completely), they go.
  2. "I'll fudge my way to the front of the line"--they stop quickly, but well behind the bar, when it looks like there may be a simultaneous arrival, so as to make it seem as if they clearly arrived first.
  3. "Rules don't apply to me"--forget rules 3 and 4, these drivers can't even be bothered with 1 and 2; they don't come close to a full stop, but merely roll through the intersection as if they had a yield sign and everyone else had a stop sign.
  4. "I'm not sure if it's my turn, so I'll go unless someone honks at me or starts going first"--they kinda want to do the right thing, but are willing to ignore a rule they're unsure about.
  5. "I'm not sure if it's my turn, so I'll wait it out"--cautious to a fault, these are actually the people that make others mad--which is probably unfair--since they don't go on their turn, causing other drivers to jump and drivers behind them to wait.
  6. "I know exactly when it's my turn, and that is when I will go"--self explanatory.
  7. "I'll go when I'm ready; right now, I'm texting someone"--a new breed; they may actually fit into one of the above groups, but set other personal needs ahead of driving etiquette.
I would argue that out of these types of drivers, numbers 1, 2, and 3 have a disjointed view of a community; they do not, in fact, even understand that they are a part of a community for the most part. Other people are in the way, obstacles to overcome or avoid, as they go about their daily lives.

Numbers 4, 5, and 6--in contrast--recognize there is a community and that, as members of it, they shoulder some responsibility for holding it together, via following rules. Of course--at times--they can forget this, especially when they are in a hurry, frustrated, upset, or the like. And that's the nature of life, really. Everyone has their bad moments, but we can get past them as a community.

Number 7? As I said, a new breed in some ways; they can be any of the other, but their attachment to their own desires impacts their behavior. And again, it's not all that unusual. Selfish people can still recognize their communal responsibilities, even if they're willing to ignore them.

So, which one are you? And what's your attitude about your place in your local community? Do I have it right?

Cheers, all.


  1. I am #6 to the core, and not just at stop signs. Colour me "recalcitrant", but with more concern for my fenders, and yours, than whether or not I get my turn.

    That being said, there have been some interesting studies done about traffic signs and speed limits which would seem to indicate that the aforementioned devices are nominally anti-productive. Meaning, if individuals are forced to be responsible at a 4 way intersection, there are far fewer actual incidents.

    Have you heard any similar reports?

  2. I'm a #6 with caution; I don't assume the others at the intersection understand all the rules.

    That said, you need to get out of SE Florida. I seem to mostly see #6s wherever I go. But perhaps that's my pollyanna blinders at work.