Americans and the mysterious case of the non four way stop

When I emigrated from the United Kingdom to the great state of Vermont 20 years ago, I went through the typical routines of getting driving licenses and other such necessities of life. The driving test was ridiculously easy by European standards, consisting of a 5 minute drive around the block in 6 inches of falling snow.

Once driving had become a normal part of life, the little differences between UK and American driving became apparent. There are many many aspects that are very similar, but there are a couple which have caused endless frustration over the years, and continue to do so today. I’ve tried my hardest to understand, but even now I’m stumped, so will someone please tell me WHY CANT AMERICANS USE A ROUNDABOUT???

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This is a roundabout (or a rotary as it’s called here). It’s a deceptively simple traffic management device, with only a few simple rules that enable four steams of traffic to interact in a speedy yet safe manner, so long as everyone knows the rules of how they work. I’ve experienced difficulties in the way these things are used so many times (like – almost every time) that I thought some light instruction would be in order.

The first issue is that Americans are very familiar with the four way stop sign, and the manner in which that is used. Rules are pretty simple. Whoever gets to the junction first and stops has the right to proceed first. If two of you get to the junction first, the one to the right has right of way. If all four get to the junction at exactly the same time, a little negotiation ensues until someone goes, then the right hand rule applies.

The problem is that a rotary is NOT a four way stop. There’s no requirement to stop at all, so long as you have a clear exit path to your journey through it. You can happily barrel through it at speed, using those wonderful things in cars known as suspension components to steer the car round the rotary. The rules are pretty simple, and basically are as follows:

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If you’re in the red car and you approach the rotary while a car is exiting past you down the other side of the road you are traveling on, and your exit is clear, you can enter the rotary at speed and exit at whatever exit you choose. You don’t need to stop. Also, the act of entering the rotary gives you RIGHT OF WAY over any other cars entering the rotary. Cars can’t cut you off in other words.

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This is the first major rule of the rotary. CARS TO THE LEFT HAVE RIGHT OF WAY.

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If the car already on the rotary is turning left in front of you, IT HAS RIGHT OF WAY, and you can’t enter the rotary until it has cleared.

That’s it! The more I experience this the more I have come to the conclusion that Americans are so conditioned to the rules of the four way stop (and the traffic ticket and fine associated with the act of not stopping) that they apply those rules and fears to the the rotary. I think this is why when they drive in Europe they can sit paralyzed at the entrance of a roundabout unable to proceed until some exasperated soul lets them in. Then it’s quite normal for them to be unable to exit. Once you’re used to the system, it speeds things up dramatically with no increase in accident rate.

So, if you’re a hesitant rotary user, PLEASE take a look and familiarize yourself with this. It’ll be better for all of us, I promise.

This was a public service announcement from Grumpy Old Brits Inc.

Surviving Christmas

It’s the day after Boxing Day and I’m sat in my living room quietly contemplating the beautiful snowy scene outside my window. It’s amazing what a little sun can do to brighten up the day, especially when it shimmers and burbles off the freshly snow laden trees. My daughter is happily ensconced in an iPad video with headphones on on the other couch, and generally all is on an even keel.

It hasn’t been that way for almost all the Christmas period though. The panic attacks from the previous post continued, waxing and waning occasionally but producing the most troubling sensations. Sleep of course has been sporadic, and getting into the Christmas spirit almost impossible. You plod on though and get on with it like a stoical Englishman should and take day by day.

We went over to my partners parents on Christmas afternoon and evening. This is not a trivial matter, as they live across the lake which necessitates a ferry journey so takes a lot longer than the 30 or so miles would suggest it should. This was the first meeting with my daughter, so obviously this added to the stress levels somewhat. As it turned out she was pretty well behaved and they adored her, so all was well there. It was just a nice, pleasant evening. We didn’t get back until late, then she had to take her dog back to her house, so we all were exhausted when hitting the sack.

Yesterday we decided to head up to the local mountain to ski. It was snowing lightly which made the mountain access road treacherous. I passed at least 4 front wheel drive cars with out of state plates stuck up the hills unable to gain traction in the super slippery conditions. I felt bad for them, but they really should know how to drive in snow if they’re headed up this particular road. It should have signs or something too. It’s not for the faint hearted.

I’ve purposely switched off from all business matters for the last few days to try and give my head a chance to clear and get back in the groove. I’m looking forward to picking up the reins again in a few days and hitting the ground hard with Half Dead sales, distribution and product development. There are exciting things happening and if all comes to plan, 2014 is going to be an incredible year.

So this is a bit of a rambler once more, but it’s therapeutic for me, so if you like it all the better. If not – well try the next one!

Mortality – that’s all folks!

For the last 7 years, I’ve suffered from severe anxiety attacks. It’s a genetic predisposition – mom suffered from it terribly – and it is debilitating. I don’t mean the “oh – I’m a little anxious. That makes me sad” kind of anxiety disorder. I mean the “OH FUCK!!!!! I’M GOING TO DIE!!!!!” Kind of anxiety disorder. This morning, I was hit with one of those. I hadn’t slept well, brain was going a million miles an hour but that’s not abnormal. I had my daughter here, so got I up and went through the morning routines to get her to school. Off she went across the garden to meet with the two (older) girls next door to walk to school. This is one of the primary reasons I moved to this house. That walk to school is a wonderful thing. She loves it, and especially loves that she can go without me and with her two new friends.

That weird, all consuming sense of your body running out of control started up. It’s difficult to describe, the closest I can do is saying it’s like your body is filling up with jangly stuff from the feet upwards, and when it hits your chest you know it’s serious. When it hits there, you feel like your heart is going to give out there and then, which amplifies the sensation tenfold. Strategies for reducing that sensation at that stage of severity are tough to come by, but start with very deep breaths, walking outside and if that doesn’t work, head to the ED. So I packed up the recycling while breathing deeply, walked it out to the recycling bin and dumped it, then walked back. Still feeling like imminent collapse, it was into the car and a slow drive with the window open and radio blaring through town to the ED.

Now hospitals have become much more security aware in the last few years with good reason. The amount of nutters out there with firearms and nothing better to do apart from getting roided up and heading to the hospital to shoot up a bunch of SICK PEOPLE!!! Is astonishing. So most hospitals are pretty security conscious. My ED was staffed by a truly compassionate woman who was in exactly the right job for her. I relayed the story “anxiety disorder, massive attack, can I sit here until it calms down please?” She was immediately sympathetic and off I went to sit and read. And read. And read. Then call my doctors to get a tranquilizer prescription but get run around their IVT system (which should ALL be abolished right now by the way) And read some more. After a couple of hours, this started to do the trick and the worst of the attack started to subside. Things were looking up. I packed up and headed out.

Life has a nasty habit of throwing curve balls at you, and mine this time was the ice storm that had started while I was inside contemplating imminent death. The sidewalk, road and car were covered in that oh so wonderful Vermont specialty, the thick sugar coat of ice sealing everything and rendering all walking surfaces slick as a 50’s haircut. As it turned out – this was wonderfully distracting as I figured out how to cut ice off windshields, doors, mirrors and wipers while balancing on unbelievably slippery icy surfaces. Eventually I managed to actually get in and start it up and made my way along the bobsled track which was the parking lot and access roads an hour ago. Again – a wonderfully focussing experience.

My attempts to reach my doctors had finally born fruit and they’d promised to call it in to my nearest pharmacy. Of course that hadn’t actually happened. What is it about basic medical systems that do not allow them to function? Why do we just expect them to go wrong? A discussion for another time. More phone calls and I am the proud owner of grade A narcotics which I know from prior experience will knock me out for about 8 hours, hence rendering them utterly useless as I am now 5 hours away from having to pick my daughter up from school. That just about sums up my life right now. I can’t even schedule a fucking breakdown. FML as the kids say.

Temperature up (no matter what the gas bill does), eat something, drink something, get under a blanket and put on comedy shows from netflix to distract. Of course – that isn’t the end. I needed to write about it all, which is why your reading this. If you don’t see any more posts from me, just take comfort in knowing I was thinking about you all, and there’s a rather tasty 2002 mountaineer in the garage. If you’re going to take it though, please just hop into the house and grab my decaying ass and throw it in the back, then dump it somewhere so I don’t stink the place up. Thanks.