Out of Chaos Comes Driver Courtesy Part 2–Readers Comments: NMA E-Newsletter #584

Editor’s Note:  A number of our weekly newsletter readers had responses to Part 1 of Newsletter #582 Out of Chaos Comes Driver Courtesy. Not only did they send comments, but two also had videos to share of an earlier time when courtesy among all road users was the true rule of the road.

This Cambodian Street traffic video reminds me of when there’s a power outage in the area where I live. There are four traffic lights which don’t work. When this happens, nearly everybody simply takes their turn at the intersections. No muss, no fuss. Just people doing what is reasonable for the situation.

Anonymous, Pennsylvania Member


It used to be like that on Market Street in San Francisco in 1906, pre-regimentation. 

No traffic or intersection controls, no signs (or license plates because people had the right to travel), plenty of jaywalking, and only two cops the entire length of it. By the way, now Market Street doesn’t even allow cars as it was just converted to a car-free street in January 2020.

Warren, Arizona Member


What is the real psychology here?

Laws, rules of the road, etc. do not as much serve to prevent things from going wrong as they do to provide a basis for who to punish when they do go wrong.

Failure to understand this universal concept is at the root of many of today’s socio-political conflicts.

Jim, Illinois Member


One of the remarkable differences I noticed when living in Germany in the late 1980s was the dearth of traffic signs. Oftentimes, there was NO sign when obviously it was the priority road: no stop signs, even.

Here is a quote from a Getting Around Germany article that explains this in more detail:

“The basic premise of German traffic law is the “doctrine of confidence”, which in effect says that motorists must be alert, obey the law, and drive defensively at all times so that all motorists and other road users (including pedestrians) can have confidence in each other. Motorists must be especially alert for and anticipate the actions of elderly or disabled pedestrians or children, all of whom are exempt from the doctrine of confidence. All road users must act to prevent endangering, hindering, and unreasonably inconveniencing other road users.”

Eric Berg, NMA Board Member


Two recent articles found in the NMA daily email Driving News Daily (subscribe now) and on the NMA Driving News Feed provide interesting perspective on the shared use of streets.

Note from the video that the speeds of anything or anybody are pretty slow that even bicycles can go as fast as anything else powered by motors or horses.

Chaos is manageable when the speed range is comparatively slow. That’s what the bike/pedestrian advocates are getting at—a return to some aspects of yesteryear with shared-use streets. The obvious problem for them is that the streets have evolved to support cars so now they strike back and denigrate motorists and our “car culture.” Is history repeating itself?

It is amazing how the lack of controls force people to pay attention to the environment and not develop a false sense of security.

One might assume that once the automobile became common, the car also became a status symbol — class wars were tied to those who could afford to drive and those who were stuck walking. But in fact the opposite is true.

According to an essay in Salon, motorists were the outsiders and were outnumbered by pedestrians who resented being displaced to the sidewalks. This phase lasted well into the 1920s, when the automobile industry lobbied to make cities more car-friendly and to make jaywalking first a faux pas, and eventually a crime. Crosswalks were added to streets in 1911 and laws against jaywalking were widespread by the 1930s.

Steve Carrellas, NMA Foundation Board Chair & Executive Director


“. . . it is amazing how the lack of controls forces people to pay attention to the environment and not develop a false sense of security.”

And I would add how drivers are generally less competitive (or perhaps “less territorial” is a better way to put it), as in “I’m not going to let him merge in front of me,” when the controls are less noticeable. The two videos, Cambodia and San Francisco more than 100 years ago, show that a common courteousness and a shared sense of purpose come to the forefront when there aren’t prescribed rules to the game.

Gary Biller, President, NMA


a common courteousness and a shared sense of purpose come to the forefront when there aren’t prescribed rules to the game.”

This is exactly the phrase I’ve been wanting to describe what I saw on the crowded main roads of Manila last month. 

I decided that Manila traffic was generally more polite than in the U.S. 

I managed to figure out that the difference stemmed from the lack of presumption of right-of-way in a system where lanes did not mean much, and drivers did not have a sense of possession of the roadway real estate. 

Although the system wasn’t perfectly adhered to, the attitude seemed to be, “we’re all in this together,” instead of “I own this lane, so screw you if you need to merge.” 

Turn signals were almost never used, and a horn (usually) seemed to mean, “I’m here, don’t merge into me,” instead of, “I intend to go first.”  

The cars were nowhere near as beat-up as in New Jersey, despite driving the roads with inches to spare, and motorbikes occupying all unused lane space.

Anonymous, Michigan Member

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!