When driving in a strange place doesn’t turn out quite the way you were expecting

So I flew in from Hobart, with certain expectations and negative assumptions about what driving here in Seattle would be like.  My expectations about driving here in Washington State have certainly been confounded. While I have driven here once before, it was only for a day and I was pretty jet-lagged. Here are some of my observations:

  1. Drivers are courteous; super ridiculously amazingly courteous. If, as a pedestrian, I step out onto the street, all the traffic stops for me. And not screeching to a stop and foaming at the mouth out the window, like you might expect in Australia, but just gently waiting for me to make my own foolish way across the road. Whoa.
  2. If I look like I want to cross the road, all the traffic stops for me. Yes, that’s right. And so of course I get confused by this because in Australia the complete opposite behaviour is the norm.
  3. When I ride a bike, cars approaching from behind slow down, make sure it is safe, and when the road is clear, pass me with a gentle acceleration and plenty of space. Freaky. So different to the Hobart approach of flying past mere inches from you.
  4. But stop signs completely suck. Especially four way stops. Priority is by order of arrival to the intersection. So confusing. And they are everywhere! I reckon the entire US economy could be resurrected just from the fuel savings in replacing these stop signs with roundabouts, let alone via the increase in productivity because of the savings in travel time.
  5. Right turn on red light. So you stop at the light, and if the road is clear, you can turn right even when the light is red (Aussie drivers, remember that Americans drive on the wrong side of the road). The only time you are not allowed to do this is when a sign informs you that there is “No turn on red”. But this typically only happens at intersections where visibility is lacking. Oh yeah, they hang their traffic lights up here, like Christmas decorations (but I did already know that…)

  1. But what about this traffic light?  What do you do here?  This is a trick question for Australian drivers.

    Wrong answer! It turns out that you are allowed to do a right turn on the red arrow. Yep, even though that red arrow seems to be specifically telling you otherwise. I can quote from the Washington Department of Transportation bylaws if you don’t believe me.

Of course there will be exceptions to some of the above – I did see one aggressive driver here. But only one.  And I have no idea about the situation anywhere except the Bellevue/Redmond area. But expectations about driving here completely shattered, in a good way!

2 thoughts on “When driving in a strange place doesn’t turn out quite the way you were expecting

  1. Glad you’re enjoying the driving. I agree about roundabouts. But, good news — I read an article late last year that Americans are seeing the light(?). Roundabout installation is on the dramatic increase.

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