Three U.S. rules that don’t make sense

As a person from the United Kingdom living in the United States, I immediately noticed customs here that I preferred: petrol pumps that can continue to fill without you holding the handle. Turning lanes. ‘Right on red.’ Drive-through ATMs. These are things I tell my UK friends should be adopted over there.

But a few things I’ve noticed make no sense at all:

(1) The proliferation of STOP signs

Stop signs are a menace. Isn’t ‘Yield’ sufficient in many circumstances? Coupled with ‘complete stop’ enforcement, by which an officer of the law can give you a ticket for not coming to a completely and totally stationary position – even when no other cars are within miles – these things are patently ridiculous and unnecessary. A much better idea is the roundabout, which Americans are coming to discover slowly (like fire and the wheel). With roundabouts, no vehicles need to stop unless absolutely necessary, the flow of traffic is better, accidents are fewer, and the possibility of being ticketed for something which harms no-one is eradicated.

(2) Jaywalking laws

In the land of the free, it is illegal for one to cross the road. (That is, unless one is crossing at a designated crosswalk.) In the United Kingdom, it’s regarded as an individual personal responsibility to cross the road safely as a pedestrian, and there is no such crime as jaywalking. This difference was discovered by a peaceful British conference delegate visiting Atlanta a couple of years ago, who made the mistake of crossing the road to get to his next seminar and found himself face down on the asphalt followed by 8 hours in jail. Welcome to America!

(3) Pulling over for emergency vehicles coming from the opposite direction

The UK Highway Code puts it this way: “If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but do not endanger other road users.” Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But that isn’t authoritarian enough for America. In most states, the law requires motorists to pull over and stop (again, completely stationary!), regardless of the direction or lane used by the emergency vehicle, or the width of the road. Even if there’s plenty of room and no compelling reason to stop, you must stop. Oftentimes drivers will react in a way that, at any other time, would be regarded as erratic. They dive over to the righthand side and make the drivers who haven’t yet seen the emergency vehicle coming wonder what the hell is going on. This leads to accidents. Every year in the U.S., there are almost 16,000 collisions involving fire trucks alone. These accidents result in many injuries; the very thing the emergency vehicles and the laws surrounding them exist to reduce! That’s called ‘counterproductive.’

Maybe Americans simply love rules. A recent guest on my radio show brought with him the Arizona State Statutes. It’s about two bibles thick. That doesn’t include federal law which could fill the whole studio, or the laws of California, a stone’s throw away. Since ignorance of the law is no defense, practically-speaking I’m being required to learn all these rules! It’s a task that would require me to quit my job and spend the rest of my life reading them (never mind understanding and applying them). Time to whittle it down a bit?

We could start with the three above.