Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rules of the Road

The other day I came across an op/ed article about whether or not we should try to globalize traffic rules, particularly which side of the road we drive on. I read the piece with mild interest; the author did a quick, but fascinating, historical overview of why some nations chose to drive either on the right or the left, and he also ran down the details of some tragic accidents that occurred as the result of tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.

I remember years ago renting a car in England. The agent at the counter handed over the keys to this Yank with only the slightest of hesitation. "Mind the round abouts, and don't curb the tires," were her sensible parting words to me. I found that driving on the opposite side of the road than the one I was used to was not really that difficult. It was like looking at one of those optical illusion posters where there are two images: there was a switch in my brain, and once I saw the other perspective, I couldn't not see it. I was amazed by how easy it was; I drove all the way from London to Stonehenge and back, and I only curbed the tires twice.

That rental agent was right about another thing, too-- going to the left on the traffic circles was really hard. In navigating them, I found that it never hurts to consciously check to see that we are going the right way, keeping in mind that it's all about context and perspective. Of course there's a larger lesson here: when confronted with predicaments, that switch in my brain doesn't always work the way I want it to, and it's always sound to mind the roundabouts.

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