A thrilling show at every intersection.
I used to live at an intersection like this in North Cambridge, at the corner of Rindge Avenue and Mass Ave. My room was on the second floor, overlooking a junction of five streets; frequently I could hear crashes, broken glass, colorful epithets loudly expressed, delicious local accents. What fond memories.
As Cars Collide, Belgian Motorists Refuse to Yield
A Shortage of Stop Signs And Quirky Driving Rules Create Culture of Crashes
By Mary Jacoby for the Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2006
BRUSSELS -- The intersection outside Isabelle de Bruyn's row house in a quiet residential neighborhood here is a typical Belgian crossroads. It has no stop signs. Now and then, cars collide outside her front door.
"The air bags explode. One car flipped over in the street. Part of one car ended up here," says Ms. de Bruyn, a real-estate agent, pointing to her front steps. Her brother-in-law, Christophe de Bruyn, adds: "In America, they have stop signs. I think that's a good idea for Belgium, too."
The suggestion isn't popular at the Belgian transport ministry. "We'd have to put signs at every crossroads," says spokeswoman Els Bruggeman. "We have lots of intersections."
A traffic rule [is] at the heart of Belgium's problems. It is known as priorité de droite, or "priority from the right."
The law evolved from a rule adopted nearly a century ago in neighboring France, intended to offer drivers a simple rule of thumb: Always yield to any vehicle coming from one's right unless a sign or other road marking instructs otherwise.
Even more confusing, a driver in Belgium who stops to look both ways at an intersection loses the legal right to proceed first. Such caution might seem prudent, given the lack of stop signs. But a driver who merely taps his brakes can find that his pause has sent a dangerous signal to other drivers: Any sign of hesitation often spurs other drivers to hit the gas in a race to get through the crossing first.
The result is a game of chicken at crossings, where to slow down is to "show weakness," says Belgian traffic court lawyer Virginie Delannoy. Neither driver wants to lose this traffic game, she says, adding: "And then, bam!"
To make matters worse, cars on many of the smallest side streets still qualify for priority over those on major thoroughfares -- so long as they are coming from the right. That forces drivers on many boulevards to slam on their brakes without warning, and some get rear-ended as a result.
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