Kiwi Kommuters in Krossing Kerfuffle, Khronikles Kent

Reader Kent (sorry about the headline, mate) writes in from New Zealand to comment on a quite controversial traffic rule, which seems as if it may be on the outs. As the image above shows, at uncontrolled intersections the car making a left turn (remember, they drive on the other side of the road, folks) must yield to an oncoming vehicle waiting to make a right turn across the intersection.

Judging by articles like this one, which clocked hundreds of violations at a single crossing, this is a law that is in serious conflict with the social norms.

The government is now looking into altering the law:

He said an initial analysis of a rule-change proposal in 2004 estimated it would mean at least eight to 24 fewer intersection casualty crashes a year.

Another ministry official confirmed later that the figure could be as high as 56 fewer injury crashes, yielding annual social cost savings of $12.8 million a year, if intersection safety improved as much as it did in Victoria after that Australian state reversed a similar rule in 1993.

Kent thought this practice might be called the “shortest radius” rule, and he speculates it had something to do with farm implements. He’s not sure where and when (and why) the practice began — any NZ engineers out there who can enlighten us?

The New Zealand Herald article notes this curious observation:

Left-turning drivers appeared to rely more on the whites of the eyes of those lining up in the opposing direction, rather than checking rear mirrors to see whether there were straight-heading vehicles behind to lend them cover.

Institution of Professional Engineers transport group chairman Bruce Conaghan believes it too risky to rely on left-turning traffic to predict the intentions of vehicles behind them, and says right-turning drivers have a far safer vantage point from which to judge when it is safe to go.

Maybe it’s late in the day here, and my head’s all turned round with this “wrong” side of the road stuff, but does this mean drivers can turn left on a multi-lane street from the lane not closest to the corner — i.e., so they’d be making a left turn across a stream of “inside lane” traffic that might be continuing straight from behind? That’s what I’m discerning from the quote above, but I may have it all wrong.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 5:09 pm and is filed under Cars, Traffic Engineering, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Kiwi Kommuters in Krossing Kerfuffle, Khronikles Kent”

  1. Brian Ogilvie Says:

    My guess is that the law was written when there were very few if any multi-lane roads in NZ and the goal was to prevent a long row of cars from getting stuck behind the right-turning vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to require cars going straight through to yield, but if someone is turning left, they have to slow anyway, and then the driver of the right-turning car can turn first, freeing the cars behind him or her to proceed.

    I’ve seen enough analogous situations in the not-quite-rural-anymore environs of western Massachusetts: lots of cars piled up, stationary, behind a left-turning driver who can never get enough of a break in the traffic to make that turn. We have a local custom that the first one or two left-turners at a stoplight that has just turned green will make their left turn ahead of oncoming through traffic. I’m presuming it’s because they can clear the intersection safely (especially if the oncoming drivers expect it) and thereby allow the drivers behind them to proceed. It drove me nuts when I first moved here but now I’m used to it.

  2. LarryH Says:

    As shown in the diagram at the top the driver in the blue car, must give way to the driver in the red car, except if it is a multilane road and there is another vehicle traveling in the same direction as the blue car and is overtaking the blue car and continuing on straight. In this case it is not safe for the red car to turn, so the blue car can go. Checking for this third car is what the article was refering to, by watching the eyes of the red car driver. The red car will be in the center lane on his side of the street, or on the flush median.

    I drove for 10 years before coming to NZ, and this is still one rule I have to think about.

  3. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Thanks for the explanation, Larry; for some reason I was having trouble getting my head around that one. And Brian raises a good point too, which is echoed in the New Zealand case — the emergence of local traffic “customs” which more or less can work fine until a non-native driver comes along. As the post about the maps with traffic laws shows, there can be considerable difference state to state (things like the permissibility of u-turns, etc.).

  4. Rich Wilson Says:

    What do you mean “(remember, they drive on the other side of the road, folks)”. Ok, that’s rhetorical. I know what you mean. But isn’t ‘other’ a matter of perspective?

  5. Geis Says:

    This remonded me of the Pittsburgh Left. For those not in the know, here in Pittsburgh (and apparently as mentioned above in Massachusetts as well) someone making a turn across traffic may jump the light rather than be held back my opposing traffic advancing straight through the intersection. There is also a more friendly version of the Pittsburgh Left wherein the driver going straight pauses when the light turns green to allow the opposing car the chance to turn. My daughter failed her first driving test (not taken in Pittsburgh) because she came to an intersection at the same time as a truck coming from the opposite direction and instead of claiming the right of way, allowed the other driver to turn. I was upset because she was being penalized for being courteous and generous.

  6. Daniel Says:

    The two problems I see with being “courteous and generous” in this case is that 1) you are not respecting simple priority rules, thus possibly confusing the opposite left turning truck who is waiting for you to move, and 2) you are blocking the way for the drivers behind you, who are also expecting you to move. I don’t think anyone should fail a driving test just for doing that (and God knows there is a lack of courtesy on the roads), but IMHO that is not a correct way to be courteous.

  7. geografree Says:

    I find the “courteous” discussion interesting. As a cyclist I’m often on the losing end of drivers being courteous to each other. For example, on congested arterials drivers flash their lights and slow to let turning cars pass in front of them. Of course the drivers can’t see all the other participants in the roadway including bicyclist travelling on the outside shared area.

  8. Allister Says:

    Hi. A bit late to this discussion but I have just been pointed to it.

    The rule was introduced after Victoria, Australia introduced it and because they introduced it. Well, I’m sure there was another initial reasoning, but that is often mentioned.

    What you must realise about Kiwis is that we are, on average, terrible drivers. Pick just about any basic rule and I will show you people breaking it every day. Even something as simple as a red traffic light.

    I have stated my case on my blog ( that I don’t believe we need to change the rule and I do not expect it to achieve anything other than a period of confusion when the change is made.

    The short answer is that if everyone follows the rules for a start, there would not be anywhere near the number of problems we currently have. All of the reasons being cited for the change (which is now definitely going to happen) are ridiculous, as explained in my blog post. While I don’t really mind which rule is in force, I vehemently disagree with changing anything for dubious reasons, as change, in itself, is a factor we can do without in this nation of lousy drivers.

  9. Allister Says:

    I should add, that I have found debating this subject to be an interesting experience. People who agree with me are very vocal about it. People who disagree with me won’t continue the debate beyond a few short exchanges. This tells me that most are willing to believe their government knows what’s best for them – even though many previous governments did not agree. Sad, really.

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