föstudagur, febrúar 10, 2006

"use yih indicaytahs"

In order to stave off criticism at the pass, I'll admit that I'm a Boston-area driver, by training and practice. And while many of you will think that disqualifies me from any discussion of what follows, I'll beg to differ.

Because in my experience, drivers in Boston (and likewise New York) drive with a purpose. They may not always be the most courteous: they may, say, cut into a lane in front of you, but they know precisely what they're doing and aren't cutting you off because they hold any ill will towards you. Their behavior comes from a sense of mission, a get-where-you're-going sensibility that is shared by everyone on the road in Greater Boston. Everyone's on the same page, and it's only the uninitiated slowpokes from other, less advanced areas of the country who complain about Boston drivers. Boston drivers have to always be thinking, and thinking fast, because the very infrastructure of Boston roadways - lanes that drop without notice, mile-deep potholes, two-ways that become one-ways, and meandering old streets - wouldn't allow it any other way.

Not so in Iceland. Iceland drivers, much like California drivers, are woefully clueless. If you get cut off in Iceland, it's because the other driver didn't know you were there in the first place. Even native Icelanders agree: drivers here are terrible.

The most egregious abuse by Icelandic drivers has to involve turn signal use, or lack thereof. A Boston driver does consider turn signal use optional, but this comes from a clear conscious (or bred-in subconscious) decision on the part of the driver: maybe she's changing lanes but there's enough clearance that a signal isn't warranted, for example.

In Iceland, on the other hand, drivers don't seem to even know about the existence of the turn signal stalk. It's completely foreign. I'll be driving along a busy road like, say, Kringlumýrabraut, going maybe 50-60 km/h, when suddenly the car in front of me will slow. And keep slowing. He'll slow to a crawl. I'll jam on the brakes behind him, thinking maybe the Greenland Sea has frozen over and a rogue polar bear has made it over to Iceland for the first time in 100 years and that bear is right now crossing Kringlumýrabraut in front of this red Hyundai. Wow! Can't wait to see the bear! Maybe I'll make Fréttablaðið! I'll be thinking. And then, when the clown in the Hyundai is going maybe 5 km/h (translation, for American readers = very slow) he'll make a right turn into a neighborhood street. No signal, nothing.

Even better is when an Icelandic driver slows to a crawl in front of you, and then as he's rounding the corner, puts on the turn signal. It's like, thanks, guy, but I could have used that information just a little soonah.

So, for the benefit of my 40% Icelandic readership, here is the correct step-by-step process for making a turn:

1. Say to yourself, "Hérna, ég ætla að fara Bræðraborgarstíg í dag, sko."
2. At the exact moment that your intention to turn crystallizes, put on the relevant turn signal.
3. Only once the turn signal is blinking (you'll hear a clicking sound) apply the brake pedal, slowing down to turn speed.
4. Make the turn.
5. When you have completed the turn, the turn signal will actually shut itself off and the clicking will stop. It's automatic: no need to do anything more!
6. Resume driving normally.

Hope that helps. Forward this to your friends here in Iceland, and maybe it'll even make the Icelandic driver's ed curriculum eventually. We'll watch all our commute times halve, and traffic will flow smooth as a jökulhlaup. It's gonna be lovely. (Now here's hoping I still have that 40% Icelandic readership...!)


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

I don't need your kind telling me how to drive! Go back home yankee!!!!


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Dear Admiral J
I fail to see this as a big problem here. First, it is the car in front of you who is making a turn, if you have a problem with the speed change the lanes. If there are no lanes available to change onto, then simply slow down and admire the curving ability of the driver in front of you.
Second, use the time to enjoy our excellent scenery in the summer time, or the christmas lights in the winter time.
Third, if we would use turn signals it would take all the excitement of driving in Reykjavik. Who wants that?
Kapitan M

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Please stay Yankee! Your opinion is needed.

Blogger Alda said...

Whoa! Looks like you may have hit a nerve there...

Great analysis. And as you know, I couldn't agree more. Icelanders are terrible drivers. I swear it's the country mentality - they still think they're the only people on the road. It doesn't occur to them that the choices they make out in traffic might just have an impact (sometimes serious) on someone else.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Alda! You and JB can take the same plane home!


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

To the new arrival (be it on a short trip, moving there for school, or permanently relocating), Boston drivers are terrifying. Cars are flying every which way and performing all kinds of outrageous maneuvers, many of which are blatantly illegal.

However, it takes little time to realize that these seemingly insane drivers are actually amazingly skilled. The number of accidents is startlingly low given the infrastructure (clearly out to get you, as you note) and the acrobatic/gymnastic/fantastic contortions people put their cars through. I came to view it as a sort of competition -- who can pull off the most daring move? Do you get more points for a no-indicator U-turn across six lanes of traffic, or for slaloming cleanly around yet another new traffic pattern caused by tunnel construction as part of the Big Dig without once having to ask someone to "let you in" to their lane? After a particularly audacious move, one imagines the silent applause of the hundreds of drivers around you.

Which is all just a long way of saying that your Boston origins probably qualify you more than anyone to say who's a skilled driver and who's not. It's not like being from Washington, D.C., where people think they're hard core but really they're just incompetents who freak at the whisper of impending snow, or from New Jersey, where the raw aggression of driving on the Turnpike or Garden State Parkway appears to blind drivers to all else. Or even my home city in Texas, where people are barely qualified to drive (and being behind the wheel of an SUV or pickup truck does not improve things, let me tell you) but are at least exceedingly nice about it.

I'm headed to Iceland for a short stint in March, and hlakka mikið til að sjá hverning ástandin er.

Oh, and me? I'm an excellent driver, of course.


Blogger JB said...

Magnús, sometimes the scenery on Kringlumýrabraut leaves a little to be desired.

Skúli, thanks, I plan on staying as long as Helvítisútlendingastofnun keeps the one-year visas coming.

Alda, thanks! I think you are right on with the "country" mentality... that explanation helped soothe my jangled nerves when that VW Polo that slid into the lane in front of me just now. Not even a look back over the shoulder.

Árni, Alda is from the Land. So even Útlendingastofnun can't get rid of her. Stop talking, OK, Slick?

b, I don't know who you are, but this is the best-written comment in Iceland Report's history. I couldn't agree more. 5 stars for you, my friend. Want to ghost-write a post or two? Be a guest columnist during your visit? Og hvernig lærðir þú íslensku?

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Just have to put in my $1.83 on the driving biz. First off, using your indicator when changing lanes or making a turn in just plain common courtesy. This is sorely missing in the 'younger persons' of the world, especially in Boston. Secondly, "...when in Rome, do as the Romans do!" We go to Iceland and eat Icelandic lamp with vegetables grown in Iceland. We love the Icelandic scenery and appreciate the culture and music. But when it comes to driving, we have to drive as if we were still in Boston? No way, Jose! Thirdly, Boston drivers may be 'skilled' as you say but lo'unto those who can't 'go with the fast flow'. There is no forgiveness. FB

Blogger EnuhCorK said...

Your post made me laugh out loud. I had to share so I read it to S and she laughed as well.

Check out my Driving To Work report and learn from a true Boston driving expert.


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