Monday, January 21, 2013

Red Light, Green Light, Agh!... (Driving a car in Astana part 3)

(For previous posts on driving in Astana, see Driving A Car in Astana, and Driving in -40)

Goal #1 while driving is to not hit a pedestrian.

Goal #2 is to not hit anything or get hit by anything.

Goal #3 is to not get pulled over.

So far I've succeeded in all three goals, but for how much longer, I don't know!  If I hit a pedestrian, it'll be one of those pedestrians who likes to dart out in 60 kph traffic.  If I fail Goal #2 or #3 it'll most likely be due to the traffic lights.

This is the way the traffic lights work in Astana:  First, the green light flashes.  This lets you know that it's about to turn yellow.  Then it changes to yellow, then to red.  By the time it's red, you better be fully stopped or long gone.  You can get pulled over if you're in the intersection at this time.

This all sounds great.  No problem, you say.

The yellow light flashes for a total of 2 seconds.  The speed limit in Astana is 60 kilometers per hour.  Even if you chronically under-speed, like me, and go 40 kph or less, there's no way you can stop in 2 seconds.

That's what the flashing green light is for.  Except it only flashes for a few seconds.  So it's quite possible that when it starts flashing, you are unable to safely come to a complete stop yet you also are unable to fully get through the intersection before it turns red.  Especially when the road is covered in ice and if you slam on your brakes your car might spin.

Let's add to this problem the fact that everyone knows that everyone wants to stop well before the light turns yellow. Which means that when the green light is flashing, everyone who's waiting to turn left assumes that on-coming traffic has stopped and they can safely turn.

If you are driving a car, and have forgotten that you have to stop well before the light changes to yellow, and a bus decides to turn left on a flashing green light, that bus driver might not stop for you.  He might prefer to run into you.  I was nearly hit by such a bus, because I hadn't been driving in Astana long enough yet to fully comprehend the importance of stopping on the flashing green, and so I was in the intersection when the green light was flashing, and the bus was turning.  It did not stop, but it did drive slowly enough for me to veer around it.

Many lights also have counters (counting down to when it changes), and my Kazakh friend told me that if it's under 10 when she can see it, she stops if she has time.  Better to sit at a green light for a few seconds than risk getting hit by a bus (or pulled over for running a red).

But my vision's not the greatest and not all lights have these numbers.  So if I'm anywhere near a light and it's green, I just go slowly and pay attention.  If it starts flashing, I need to stop!  If I really can't stop, I'm too close to the intersection, then I need to get through as quickly and safely as possible.

It's quite terrifying for someone who's used to stopping on the yellow.  (And sometimes going through on the yellow, depending on where I am.)  I'm paying attention more, but still scared, and I've still gone through on flashing greens, worried I'll be hit, and I've slammed the brakes on flashing greens, worried that I'll be hit from behind and worrying that the car will spin on the ice.

Before the red light turns green again, it will turn yellow for a few seconds.  Also, there is sometimes a counter there, too.  And many drivers will start early.  I wait for the green, and they honk at me.  Oh, well.  I'm an extremely cautious driver (even in the US) and am quite used to impatient drivers honking at me.

I'll get used to this system.  And next time I drive in the US, I'll drive other drivers crazy by stopping when the lights are still green.

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