The Stop Sign Standoff

If you aren’t familiar with what a Mexican Standoff is, be sure to read this first.

In many suburbs* around the US, whenever you get to an intersection with a stop-sign, the person who gets to the stop sign first has the right to move forward (or right of way).

In a busy intersection, there may be several people who hit the stop sign at around the same time. It’s usually rude to assume that you were first, so you hastily look around and try to get someone else to move their vehicle first. In other words, it is a long game of people waving at each other to have the other person go first instead. As you can imagine, this whole process takes a few awkward seconds to resolve itself - hence the whole Mexican standoffish nature of the whole thing.

Here is what is strange about all of this. For the most part, everyone involved ends up feeling really good about themselves at the end. They feel that they made the world a better place through incessant hand waving and having someone else go first. Just trying to make a genuine attempt at having someone else go first, even if you end up losing and are granted right of way, seems to have a similar positive effect. I would have assumed that the people who threaten by moving their car a few inches to only resume the hand waving would feel bad at their unwarranted aggression, but no, they too seem to be very happy in the end.

All in all, everyone ends up feeling a bit better after having been through all of this.

A few years ago, I noticed this bizarre behavior. It seemed a bit irrational, but everyone was happy in the end, so it is all good.

There was one slight problem though. Not all situations involving multiple cars and stop-signs involve a standoff. Usually, it is pretty clear who was there first. With clear right of way, no standoff occurs, so the happiness of all involved does not really increase. Seems like a shame really.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. Since no conflict existed in many stop-sign situations, I began to engineer them. Whenever I get to a stop-sign, even if I do not have the right of way, I still wave the other person through even though it is very clear to everyone involved who actually had the right of way. Me waving them through is meaningless…or is it?

In a number of those situations (at least 25%), the person who had the right of way would reconsider whether they really did have the right of way or not. They would stop and wave me through as if I was there first. It could also be that they didn’t want me to have all of the glory for having done what may or may not be an unselfish act. Whatever the motivation, it doesn’t matter.

At this point, a Stop Sign Standoff was created even when it didn’t need to be. As Borat would say, “Great success!” This means, besides everyone being a few seconds unnecessarily late, everyone feels a bit better about themselves at the end.

Anyway, hope you all are having a good Labor Day.


[SIZE=1]*I pick out suburbs because the style of driving and the general disposition of the populace makes a Stop Sign Standoff successful without involving the use of actual weapons.[/SIZE]