Rules of the road rule

Who would have thought that being cordial could cause problems?

But overly polite drivers on Midcoast Maine roadways have reached the point of contributing to vehicular accidents. This is the opposite of road rage, as some drivers are forgoing traditional rules of the road to be courteous.

In any other situation, this is a social tendency to appreciate, such as a gentleman holding the door open or allowing a shopper with fewer groceries to get first in line at the cashier. But at the wheel, these small courtesies do not work and overly nice drivers  sometimes end up creating havoc, or even spawning irritation.

Here’s an example: two cars approach an intersection of Route 1 from east and west. Following rules we all learned in driver’s education classes, the vehicle heading straight has the right of way while the left-turning vehicle has to wait, and sometimes wait, and wait and wait, for the right moment to get onto the highway. But sometimes that dead-ahead driver, feeling solicitous, waves the left-turning driver to go first. If that driver doesn’t see the signal, or misreads it, there is confusion and nerves get rattled, especially when traffic is moving fast and a line of waiting cars expands.

Then there is the driver who feels a need to rearrange the rules for police vehicles, or even school buses, creating uncertainty for everyone. But there is no reason to wave a policeman forward unless emergency lights are flashing; otherwise, a police car is one more vehicle in the stream of daily traffic. This week, a highway collision occurred after a driver upended the normal rules of the road while just trying to be polite.

Traffic safety depends on an orderly system of rules. Research “overly polite driving” and there’s not much there; research “road rage” and the returns flood the screen. Citations about problematic overly polite driving seem to pop up in places like Seattle, or the San Francisco region … and now, Midcoast Maine.

There are interesting anthropological theories about the way nations drive, which can be dug up also on the Internet. A California artist, Doug Hall, wrote an insightful essay after living in different regions around the world, commenting on different ways of driving: the Germans adhere strictly to their rules and drive at excessive speeds; the Italians drive by feel, and a lot of gestures; in Vietnam, drivers get along by intuition and unison, and slower driving in general.

In this small corner of the world, we have the advantage of fewer cars, and less traffic, and in general, folks are still polite to each other. On some roads, we still raise a wave in greeting to oncoming cars, a tradition that goes way back. There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging other drivers, making eye contact and letting a little humanity slip into driving; yet it cannot be done at the expense of basic order.

If there’s any confusion about those rules, visit the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, in person or online, and get a copy of the “Motorist Handbook.” Here’s a piece of advice from that well-published manual: “Traffic laws and procedures are designed to prevent accidents and to keep traffic moving. Obeying these guidelines at all times will go a long way toward making you a safe and prudent driver.”


Fishermen get down to business

Every March, those who earn a living fishing, clamming, setting traps or otherwise raising seafood, convene at the Samoset Resort in Rockport for three days of catching up on the state of the fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine. The 35th Maine Fishermen’s Forum begins Thursday, March 4, and runs through Saturday night, March 6, with the event drawing participants from up and down the coast, as well as fisheries managers, state representatives, congressmen and senators.

This year, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association will kick off an international exchange at the forum with speakers invited from West Australia, Tasmania, Ireland, Prince Edward Island, Southwest Nova Scotia, New Zealand and South Australia. The group will also travel to different locations, such as Jonesport, Ellsworth and Vinalhaven.

For years, the fisheries industry has taken its hits, with the recession, fluctuating fuel prices and new management measures adding even more dire variables to life on the sea. The Maine Fishermen’s Forum is free, and represents one of the state’s natural resource industries that we need to promote and protect. If you have time, stop by the Samoset Resort this weekend, visit the trade show, and get a better idea of what the industry faces, and the future it hopes to create.