Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Green Man Means Go!

September 9, 2010 · 6 Comments

Of all people in our Humanities Program, I may have had the most difficulty with adapting to the rules of the road in England. Now whether or not this is because I come from a small town in New Hampshire, I seem to be making a habit of nearly getting into a car accident almost daily. Despite the possibility that I could just be oblivious or thoughtless when crossing the street, I would rather not focus on that contentious topic. Instead I will take the time to compare the driving methods I have experienced in the U.S., specifically in New Hampshire, to London, England.

New Hampshire strictly follows the written law of stopping for all pedestrians in crosswalks. If caught breaking this law, the driver will receive a hefty fine. In regards to customary rules of the road though, to a large extent pedestrians and cyclists rule the road in New Hampshire. Even when pedestrians jaywalk and stroll across the street blissfully unaware of any possible danger, vehicles will stop (at least try to, let’s say). Additionally, in my small hometown of Hanover there is little road rage toward pedestrians and cyclists.

In regards to London though, the driving rules differ entirely. Of course it was a challenge adapting to looking left instead of right when crossing the road, but that was only an initial problem. Over these past two weeks, I have witnessed several drivers ignore red lights and many do not use their turn signals. This is not to say that there is a complete disregard for the written law though. It just seems that English people emphasize the observance of unwritten and widely accepted road rules instead. One significant principle is that it is the motorists and not the pedestrians who manage the traffic. Unless permitted to walk in the zebra crossing (crosswalk), people must remain on the sidewalk. I have learned that vehicles will maintain their speed if you try to bravely venture out into the road without heeding the walk signal. Furthermore, motorcyclists will rev their engines as soon as the traffic light turns green, ignoring the pedestrians attempting to cross the street at the last minute.

All in all, when in doubt—and when in London—follow this rule: “green man means go, red man means no.” The “green man” and “red man” of course refer to the walk signals for street crossing.

Walk Signal in England

In response to this blog, I would like to hear other people’s experiences with interacting with drivers in London, as well as their understanding of road rules at home in the United States.

Categories: 2010 Mary
Tagged: ,

6 responses so far ↓

  •   guya // Sep 9th 2010 at 17:30

    The lack of stop signs is quite distressing. I never know when a car is going to stop, unless there is a light.

  •   mattg // Sep 9th 2010 at 17:35

    When in doubt…RUN.

  •   stepheniem // Sep 9th 2010 at 17:54

    I’ve noticed the same. In fact, when I went back to the US after visiting England for the first time I would just cross the street- no matter what. Most of my friends would yell at me, wondering why I would just cross. I’d have to explain that in the US 99% of people will stop for you, whereas 99% here would run you over. I think there is an unwritten rule to ignore the written rule. Not that I’d encourage any experiments, I’m curious to know if someone hit you would they yell at you for crossing (regardless of if it the little man was green) or say sorry first.

  •   Matthew Michrina // Sep 9th 2010 at 17:57

    I’ve had a very similar experience, coming from a small town in Central PA. I think I have almost been hit by every kind of vehicle on the road in London (car, taxi, lorry, motorbike, bicycle, etc.). I’m really not sure how this happens, but I guess I just have bad luck with traffic or something. I agree with your “green man means go, red man means no” philosophy, but it doesn’t work at intersections where there are no lights for pedestrians, which is where I have most of my problems. I guess we can adopt Matt G.’s perspective, and just run when in doubt.

  •   Karl // Sep 10th 2010 at 13:10

    I think the issue is that the rules are simply different. UK legal crossing points are fewer and much better marked in order to keep traffic flowing. Do you think it safer to cut between Morgan quad and the library than an equally well-marked zebra crossing here? If you enter a marked crosswalk with the yellow lights, the car has an obligation to stop. Same goes at red lights. Intersections, unless marked otherwise, give priority to cars. That means that they do not have to stop at intersections, so cars roll forward into what we would view as a crossing point so that the driver can better see the oncoming traffic. The problems we encounter are because of different laws and expectations, and likely less so with the agressiveness of drivers.

  •   bowmanc // Sep 10th 2010 at 15:42

    I am also driven crazy by those who refuse to use turn signals. After a near-death experience, in which I presumed the driver was going straight as I attempted to cross a side street, I have simply refused to go until I am 100% sure they will not hit me. No matter what.

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