Portland Leadership Institute - Nourish the Leader Within You
Leadership for the 21st Century

Rules of the Road

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Viet Nam Traffic Circle
We grew up in New York.  For 25 or so years we thought we knew how to drive, how to cross streets.  Don't cut off a cab driver, run whenever you can, be in as much of a hurry as anyone else.  And by all means, when you're driving, stop at most red lights, stay off the sidewalks and don't drive the wrong way.

Then we moved to the Northwest.  In Seattle they gave out tickets for jaywalking, whether there were cars around or not.  Cars waited patiently for people crossing the street, no matter how much it backed up traffic.  How bizarre.   They called it civilized, lauding everyone's behavior.  Portland was no better.  I wanted my NY license plates back, so people knew what to expect of me.

What are the rules in Viet Nam?  Quite simple:

1.  Bigger is better.  The larger vehicle always has the right of way.  
     a.  People have the right of way over vehicles.  Apparently it is bad karma to hit pedestrians, so that doesn't happen.  People are watched as they cross, but never hit.  And no one blows their horn at pedestrians.

2.  Except in the rare case of a traffic light, don't stop.  Even that's not always the case.  Don't stop applies to pedestrians as well as vehicles.

3.  Join the party.  Regardless of how many motorbikes or people, continue into the intersection or circle.  The Viet Nam dept of transportation built the road for you, so use it.  Use it now!

4.  Motorbikes use the right side of the road, autos the left.  Turn right from the left side.  Not a problem.  The only vehicles in the right are bikes (smaller; see rule #1), so they give way.

5.  Blow your horn to let others know where you are and what you might do.  As a New Yorker, I am particularly fond of this one.  Portland drivers are much too polite.

6.  Are you set to enter a road, yet need to go the other way on a one way street?  No problem.  Either
     a.  drive the wrong way on the street, knowing that no one will get in your way (see this at the 22 second mark in the enclosed video), or
     b.  drive on the sidewalk. 

7.  Crossing streets:
     a.  wait for a slight opening.  Any opening will do.  Waiting for a large opening may take 3 days.
     b.  walk at a slow measured pace.  You may want to look at the traffic, but that is irrelevant.  They will look for you.
     c.  do not run.  Running will surprise drivers, who can no longer predict where you will be.
     d.  do not walk backwards.  This is the worst thing you can do, because they have already planned how to cross behind you, missing you by six inches.
     e.  do not stop.  This is not as bad as walking backwards, but still frowned upon. 
     f.  remember:  we're not in Kansas any more, so cars and bikes will not stop!

This is a much smoother traffic flow than in America.  If cars had to stop whenever people crossed the street, no one would ever get anywhere.

Hopefully this gives some idea of the street game here.  In case you need more, Jeanna took a video just for you, from a circle opposite the market in Ho Chi Minh City.  Note how all the rules are in play; traffic blends, a bike goes the wrong way, and during the final 30 seconds you can see how to cross the street.  I'd love to bottle it and bring it to Portland.

So how did we get to the center of the circle?  We waited for a little old lady.  We got on each side of her, staring at her, ignoring traffic, and doing exactly as she did.  We crossed, thanked her, and she smiled at us.  Yes, a little old lady did her good deed for the day, walking two hapless Americans across the street!


1 Comment to Rules of the Road:

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Patty Billingsley on Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:33 AM
Hi - I am enjoying your blog very much. My "adobe" isn't working today, so I can't watch the video but was able to visualize your description perfectly! Can't wait to hear more! Enjoy!
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