Ozzie in Oregon

On the road

New rules to learn

Last updated:    January 12, 2008 (PST)

Freeway stop light - one car per green

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Where I come from...

Over here...

Roundabout in Oz 4-way stop intersection in US

"4-way stop" intersections and roundabouts

When I first saw a 4-way stop intersection (i.e. with a stop sign on each corner), it looked all muddled, with cars stopping and starting unpredictably.  Steve explained that the first car to stop was the first to go, and if two cars stopped at the same time, then you "yield" to the right.  If in doubt, apply common courtesy.

They are used here to control the flow of traffic and also to slow down through traffic in residential neighbourhoods, and take the place of roundabouts in Oz. They do seem to work, and you're not stuck at busy intersections for ages.  It took me a while to grasp the concept though, and every time I'd explain it to Ozzies, they would be incredulous. 

Well, I have had lots of practice using them, as there are an awful lot of them around here. After a while, I called them "pot luck" intersections, because I'd eventually just go and hope for the best! Nowadays, I have them sussed out, and my eyes automatically look at the other 3 ways in what is hopefully the right order (anti-clockwise? er, counter-clockwise?). However, when I'm preoccupied I occasionally have a tendency to just stop then go without paying proper attention to the other traffic. Eek! No accidents so far though, thank goodness!

One of the drawbacks of using 4-way stops is that Americans appear to behave more unpredictably at normal stop signs (i.e. when the intersecting road has the right of way) and are likely to turn into your path.

They are also less likely to understand how to use a roundabout, as it requires giving way to your left and they are used to giving way to their right. In Oz, Steve was nonplussed when we'd approach a roundabout, as he had no idea who was giving way to whom. In the end, he decided to let me do the driving (yes!!), seeing that the system seemed to be working very well and he didn't want to muck it up.

I have heard that roundabouts are more common on the east coast, but they are few and far between here in the Pacific north-west. I have seen a couple in Bend and there are two out in the sticks, er "toolies" near Forest Grove.

Right turn on red (RTOR)

This is a handy rule that helps move traffic along. The idea is to stop at the red light, then proceed to turn right as though it were a "Yield" sign, giving way to pedestrians and other vehicles first. I occasionally forget this rule when I'm preoccupied, and just sit there with no traffic coming, with possibly someone behind me getting impatient!

US center turn lane

Center turn lane

This is a lane in the middle of a main road, marked on each side by solid yellow lines. Traffic from either side of the road uses it when making left-hand turns.  It can also be handy for turning left into from a side road or driveway before merging with the other traffic on the main road, but I'm not sure of the legality of this. 

It took me quite a while to get in the habit of using the center turn lane, and a couple of times I turned left from the lane next to it, which is apparently illegal.

Pedestrians and crosswalks

Unlike in Oz, pedestrians are God over here, and a pedestrian crossing is a crosswalk. If there is no marked pedestrian crossing at an intersection, it is deemed an "unmarked crosswalk" and any pedestrian on it will still have right of way. 

In Oregon the law recently changed so that motorists now have to give way to pedestrians "on marked and unmarked crosswalks" for the whole time the pedestrian is on the crosswalk (with a few exceptions). This has necessitated a rather drastic change in my driving habits!

Ozzie in Oregon