Fall afoul of traffic regulations and they might just throw the book at you, as the saying goes. In the case of Estonia's new Traffic Act, that would really hurt. The new law that came into force on July 1 is a thick book, literally.
it's apparently popular, or a publisher thought it would be. You will see the 2011 Traffic Act on sale in the aisles of small town supermarkets alongside the latest bestsellers, wall calendars, and coffee-table pictorials. It's a handsome-looking volume. It's the same on the digital level: e-books just became available for purchase and download by smartphone a few days ago and well, sure enough, the Traffic Act is among the first 400 titles, right alongside Petrone Print's travel books. So basically, the e-books include the "My…" books, the Traffic Act and a few other books.
If you go to the "puzzles" section of the book aisle in that same small-town supermarket, they will have a couple volumes of brainteasers based on traffic situations, most of them from nowhere in Estonia that I know, all of them based around the question, "who has the right of way here?" I call them brainteasers, because although they are supposedly to help people study toward their theoretical driver's license test, I'm sure the Estonian chapter of Mensa could use them to thin the field. My advice to most people seeking a more gentle mental workout is to stick to su dokus. Because the traffic puzzles are hard, definitely beyond soccer score tables and close to British crosswords.
So now there is a new Traffic Act that has ramped things to an even more difficult level. I haven't read the original in all of its glory, but I have absorbed much of the main points by word of mouth and bullet points. As far as I can see, there is one huge advantage to it, not that it will necessarily be enforced - it gets tough on tailgating, which is truly the bane of driving in Estonia. It even codifies a three-second following distance in some situations, which is far beyond what I (a defensive driver) would ever practice.
But some of the Act is obscure, such as the new rule that you must yield to a car in the opposite lane making a left turn if there is a tram behind the car. How many Estonian cities have tram lines? I don't know about you, but I can think of one. In that X-shaped tram system, how many such situations are there? I can think of about four or five. Of course, maybe the Reform Party has plans to build tram lines in every town -- after all, I have read as little of the coalition agreement as I have of the 2011 Traffic Act that I am reviewing.
Another interesting point in the 2011 Traffic Act concerns pedestrians, who are now required to wear reflectors even within city limits or face fines. Putting this as gently as I can: I'm not sure that, in a still-relatively-early-capitalist country such as Estonia with a large share of impatient idiots behind the wheel, I would increase the onus on pedestrians. If I were dictator, I would (being a judicious and wise dictator) not put any more obligations on pedestrians at all. Instead I would decree that drivers should drive within city limits as if there were a pedestrian lurking in every shadow and should face even more severe consequences.
You'd think that if they decided to reform traffic regulations, they'd do something sensible, like get rid of the use of the "yellow diamond" to designate a road with the right of way. One thing is certain: I have NEVER seen a yellow diamond sign when I have needed it. (How was the yellow diamond ever considered a good idea?) Time after time, I will approach an intersection where the tributary road is about as big as the main road. I see the drivers on every side slowing down, everyone obviously has the same question: "am I on the yellow-diamond road?". I'll turn to my wife and ask, "I didn't see any yellow diamond. Am I still on a yellow-diamond route?" She will think a bit, then confirm this, at which point I will proceed with extreme caution. Which would save lives. Were it not for the "Yo-yo, I must be on the yellow-diamond road" people.
Another major issue is the sheer amount of signs. In the US, road signs generally indicate the places you aren't supposed to go and the maneuvers you aren't supposed to execute. But here in the EU, it's the opposite. You can generally only make a turn if there is a sign that says you can. Now without going into the details, there are clearly only two possible schemes, the US one and the Europe one, and both of them cannot possibly both be right. Though I can't prove it outright, I suspect that, as in life in general, more things are allowed that are prohibited, and if you have to have an enabling sign in every situation, you are wasting a shitload of sheet metal that, who knows, maybe you could burn in oil shale plants.
But some signs are prohibitions, too. "Do not enter" is the same as in the US, I have to admit. But there is another type of specialized do not enter sign. And it was designed by a challenged person. The sign for "trucks may not enter" is a red circle with a truck inside. Not crossed out, mind you. I went years thinking I could roller-blade on a pedestrian path because the in-line skate was not crossed out. Now I don't know about you, but if I want to indicate to an illiterate person that there is no smoking on the premises, I would draw a picture of a cigarette and then cross it out emphatically with a big fat red line. If I wanted to indicate to someone that smoking IS allowed, I might draw a cigarette and then circle it in red. Or am I a cretinized American?
By the way, the sign for "no entry whatsoever" is just a red circle with nothing inside. You have to admit, there is a poetic logic to it all. Too bad it isn't fixed by the miles of prose in the 2011 Traffic Act.