Maryland's merging motorists get thumbs-up

August 13, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S RARE for compliments about other drivers to arrive in my inbox, so when I received Ronald Spoor's comments last week, I whooped and hollered with delight.

"To counter the Maryland merge criticism that I often witness in your column, I would like to offer that I am generally impressed with drivers in Maryland and their ability to merge efficiently," the Columbia resident said.

"In Pennsylvania, drivers actually stop on on-ramps regardless of the fact that there may be 10 miles of heavy traffic in the right lane and that it will take 10 minutes before they will find the large gap they will need to accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph. This creates tremendous backups on on-ramps and is extraordinarily inefficient, not to mention the danger of bringing a car from 0 mph to 70 mph in heavy traffic," he continued.

"The Maryland merge that I witness daily is one where drivers generally allow a little space for cars merging at 35 or 45 mph to assimilate into traffic quickly, safely and efficiently," Spoor said. "I must say after living in numerous states and provinces in North America, the Maryland merge is the best merge I can remember seeing."

Thank you, Mr. Spoor, for the chance to share something upbeat about Maryland drivers.

Now back to business as usual.

"What is so frightening about making turns?" wonders David Towle of Ellicott City. "There are many folks on the roads that seem totally baffled by the concept of `two lanes turning left.' They don't seem to know that if they are in the near/inner lane, that's the lane they need to aim for and if they are in the far/outside lane, that is the one they need to aim for. In the same vein, I doubt drivers face any real possibility of flying off the face of the earth and hurtling into space if they exceed the rate of 10 feet per minute when making a `U' turn."

Four-way stops

Donna Banks of Ellicott City responded to last week's column: "I agree with the comments about the intersection of St. Johns Lane and Dunloggin Road," she said. "If four-way stops are going to be installed, drivers need to be reminded of who has the right of way. I have watched people stop [and] sit there waiting and wondering who should proceed." She asked me to publish the correct procedure for these stops.

Four-way stops make me long for roundabouts. Drivers kind of go wacko at four-way stops. They hesitate. They go anyway. They wave everyone and their dog through before proceeding. Or they go by the "me first" rule. The way drivers act when they encounter four-way stops, you'd think they were invented on Mars and imported by the demons of driving.

The Maryland Driver's Handbook isn't much help: There is no clear-cut explanation of how to handle these intersections.

But the clues are there in the manual's discussion of right-of-way and situations where drivers must yield to other cars.

Put simply, a four-way stop is the driver's version of "first come, first serve." Keeping in mind other yield and right-of-way laws (always yield to emergency vehicles when they are giving visual or audible signals and to pedestrians in crosswalks), when Driver A comes to a four-way stop, Driver A should stop, wait for all vehicles previously stopped at the intersection to clear the intersection, then proceed carefully through the intersection.

Unfortunately, it can get complicated if, God forbid, two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time. In that situation, if Driver A and Driver B approach the intersection simultaneously and Driver B is on the approach to the right of Driver A, then Driver A needs to yield to Driver B before proceeding through.

If Driver A and Driver B approach simultaneously from opposite directions, then Driver A should yield to Driver B if Driver B intends to proceed straight through the intersection and Driver A intends to turn left. Unless, of course, Driver A also intends to go straight through, in which case both drivers can safely proceed through at the same time.

It gets tricky, though, because so few drivers actually use their turn signals to let other drivers know what they intend to do. In that case, it's a guessing game.

So despite the "yield to drivers to the right" rule, even if it's in my favor, my rule to live and drive by is that when other drivers approach the intersection at the same time I do, I wave them through first. That way, I know I can proceed through the intersection without some idiot bashing into the side of my car and killing my passengers or me.

The remaining option is to just wing it, and hope there's a hospital nearby.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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