Tuesday, October 08, 2019

storming through the intersection

Everyone seems to notice the havoc in big things that storms wreak.

Toppled trees. Drowned plantations. Roofless houses.

But it is often the small changes that live on. Sometimes noticed. Sometimes not.

Signs are a good example. Almost all of the free-standing signs passing along helpful hints of better living were humpty-dumptied in the hurricane. What Lorena did not take, Narda did.

But it was not only billboards. Highway directional signs fell like Persians at Thermopylae. Do you know the way to San Jose became more than just an irritating song title. Along with the highway signs went the traffic control signs.

It has taken me weeks to notice, but if you look at the photograph at the top of this essay, something is missing. This is the intersection where the road to Barra de Navidad enters Highway 200 -- the major north-south highway on Mexico's Pacific coast. Usually, there is a stop sign at the tip of that point on the right-hand side of the photograph.

We do not have many stop signs in these parts. They are not really needed. Drivers are quite intelligent enough to decide when it is safe to enter a stream of traffic.

I would venture to say the presence of the sign, rather than the wont of its absence, has been a major contributing cause of several accidents at that corner. Inevitably, the collision is between a local driver and a tourist (Mexican or northern, usually northern).

Local drivers treated the stop sign as if it were a yield sign. At best. A driver would approach the intersection and quickly clear left and right. If there was an opening (or the semblance of a opening), the driver would rush through onto the highway without slowing.

That is the local custom. But, people who do not live here do not know that. They see a stop sign and do what they believe is logical. They stop. Often to their cost.

I know a guy from Ontario who did exactly that. Saw the sign and came to a full stop. The driver behind him lived here. He was clearing left and right as he approached the intersection, not even considering the outlandish possibility that the driver in front of him was going to stop his SUV.

The rear-end collision was bad enough that the police stopped to investigate -- and insurance agents were called to the scene. It is for this very reason drivers pay for insurance. Without an agent, the police may impound both vehicles until a satisfactory settlement is reached.

In this case, the guy from Ontario was quite smug. He was in the right, and his agent would argue his case.

The smugness disappeared when his agent informed him he was responsible for the damage to both vehicles because the accident was excluded by the terms of the policy.

The insurance was conditioned on the premise that the driver did not break the law. It was true that he had obeyed a posted sign, but he had neglected to comply with local custom -- a concept that was included in "complying with all laws."

The guy from Ontario ended up paying 4000 pesos to the man who rear-ended him -- and immediately cancelled his insurance policy. As he put it: "That explains why it was dirt cheap."

Now, I do not know how true that story is. I heard it from the morally-indignant Canadian. My insurance background makes me wonder if the agent was pulling something on him -- or if he might have misunderstood what the agent said.

Most automobile insurance policies in Mexico include a clause that coverage applies only if the vehicle itself complies with all laws. The classic example is where a person with a permanent visa drives a non-taxed vehicle. But I have never heard of an exclusion clause for traffic law infractions -- let alone slipping the surly bonds of mores and customs. What would be the point of an extremely limited policy like that?

Lenora may have helped decide that inter-cultural friction. With the stop sign gone, visitors may avoid the temptation to throw out the anchor -- unless circumstances dictate. Both the motorcycle and the car in the photographed barreled right through the intersection without a moment of pause.

It is nice to be treated as a thinking adult. Now and then.   

No comments: