Driving through our compound the other afternoon, I found myself behind a school bus. The big, yellow bus pulled to the side of the road; and the driver extended the stop arms, ready to eject the kiddos onto the pavement. Now, as a car driver, what does that mean to you?
A) Stop. B) Slow down, but get past. C) Speed up.
I chose A. I drove in the US for five years, where motorists stop 20-25 feet behind or facing a school bus with flashing lights or stop arms, EVEN when it has halted on the opposite side of the road. I was so careful about this in the States, I would have stopped dead in my tracks in instances where the school bus driver had just parked for 10 minutes to eat his sarnies.
The driver behind me opted for C, zipping round both my vehicle and the school bus. (Those who navigate Middle East cities on a regular basis, and already know all the different levels of stupidity, won’t be surprised by this at all.)
There’s another permanent stop sign – just outside our compound – where the correct answer isn’t so clear, though. Imagine this scene if you will: you come off the highway and at the bottom of the exit, where you can turn left into a tunnel (from which cars are also emerging) to make a U-turn or go straight on, lies the largely ignored stop.
Here, your options are: A) Come to a complete stop and risk being rear-ended. B) Stop, and develop dangerously high blood pressure as the car behind rudely darts round you. C) Slow down and go through it carefully. D) Blow right through it at speed, as though you’re still sailing along the highway you’ve just left.
And believe me, this particular junction has been a huge issue for our compound. Several friends have (rightly, in my opinion) followed cars home that have sped through it, to confront the drivers.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a police car behind me, and thought I’d better pick A. It’s clearly an octagonal red sign, with the words STOP in big white letters, and cars make turns from the other direction.
I came to a halt. So did the green-and-white squad car, which I could see in my rear mirror had pulled up just a few inches behind my bumper.
Yes, that came from the police car. I kid you not.