How do Nigerian drivers enter the road and make U-turns?

by on January 5, 2017 at 12:54 am in Economics, Games, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

In the United States, if I am trying to accelerate and enter the road from say a parking lot, I try to minimize the number of misleading movements my car might make.  I don’t “edge out” just for the heck of it, for fear this may spook the other drivers and cause them to suddenly switch lanes in a dangerous (for them) fashion.  Furthermore, I might misjudge and move the car out too far into the lane, leading to a collision.

In Lagos, it seems the practice is to announce your intentions with as many little forward “nudges” of your car as possible.  They seem to mean “I am thinking of going sometime soon.”

After enough such nudges, the oncoming cars either go far away into the left lane, or perhaps they stop for you altogether and let you go.  Or maybe they slow down a bit and you decide you can beat them and so you pull into the lane.

A higher discount rate (for entering the road) is one way to rationalize this behavior, but in a variety of other contexts I have noticed Nigerians who were not massively upset at being ever so slightly late.  So might there be some other explanation?

Maybe there is greater variability in rational assumptions about the other drivers.  You may not know how well their cars can brake, accelerate, and perhaps their lane-switching plans and propensities are harder to predict.  So by nudging your car out in successive bits, you may be “taking the temperature” of the other drivers on the road.  Keep in mind that they, too, may not have a good sense of how well your car can accelerate (furthermore some of the vehicles are tuks-tuks, not cars).  A willingness to make more nudges may be telling the other drivers that your engine is pretty good and your will is strong.

So they read your nudging pattern, and you draw inferences from their lane-switching and stopping responses.  Ex post (one hopes), everyone has a better sense of what the other cars and drivers are capable of doing.

Of course this is speculative.  The key point here is that greater variability in potential performance creates a case for sending more and smaller bits of the signal in advance.

1 Kevin burke January 5, 2017 at 12:56 am

My favorite example of this – many trucks in India have HORN PLEASE written on the back, to ask drivers to honk as they make a passing move.

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2 Nebfocus January 5, 2017 at 2:20 am

Vehicles “nudge” out like Tyler describes in India as well. It seems standard where there are few actually enforced rules of the road (proper lanes rarely exist and are never observed here)

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3 Pshrnk January 5, 2017 at 5:26 am

“nudge” seems a lot like many drivers in Mississippi.

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4 Mark Thorson January 5, 2017 at 1:37 am

I was once stuck behind a black lady in a dilapidated car going about 15 mph up University Avenue in Berkeley. After passing by, I wondered why she was going so slow. It later occurred to me she had no brakes. If someone is going that slow, keep your distance.

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5 Doug January 5, 2017 at 1:57 am

Why? It’s not like she can stop short.

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6 Mark Thorson January 5, 2017 at 2:26 am

You never know what else might be going on. Once I heard this loud screeching behind me. I looked around and saw a car with a wheel that was smoking. It was maybe 30 degrees off normal to the axis. My first thought was “They can’t go much farther, let’s follow them and see what happens.” But then it occurred to me the wheel might pop off and land in front of me. So I pulled over and let them pass. I never did find out what happened to them. I can live with that.

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7 JWatts January 5, 2017 at 11:28 am

“Why? It’s not like she can stop short.”

She could still down shift and use the emergency brake to stop as long as she has enough room. Not that I’ve ever driven a car across town without brakes or anything like that of course.

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8 Chadtech January 5, 2017 at 2:13 am

When I was in Korea, I saw a lot of drivers just kind of play chicken with each other. Like if a parking spot was open, two drivers would go for it, and only one would give up at the very last minute. Maybe we witnessed the same phenomenon Tyler, but I didnt interpret it as a signaling mechanism, I thought it more similar to nuclear armament. No one wants to get in nuclear war (or a car accident), but if you can risk nuclear war more than the other guy, then maybe you can dissuade him from attempting geo-political dominance (the parking spot).

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9 anon January 5, 2017 at 7:41 am

I actually saw someone lose it and bash a car that took the spot he had been waiting for at Costco last week. I saw the guy waiting earlier. The car bashed was a little sneak. Still, vehicular assault? Something like that.

First time I’ve seen an intentional crash in the US.

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10 Shane M January 5, 2017 at 10:34 pm
11 dux.ie January 5, 2017 at 2:15 am

A taxi driver from somewhere went through a red light, claiming it was safe to do so. However, he stopped when the light was green. When asked he said, “One of my cousins might be coming from the other side.”

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12 Leke January 5, 2017 at 2:15 am

You get used to the idea the next driver might be crazy; he’ll rather press the horn than step on the breaks.

But you don’t want to get your car bashed.

Signal too much and he gets to block you just because he can. Too little and he doesn’t get enough time to respond, causing a crash.
.
What you are trying to achieve is that sweet spot where he gets to see you coming but it’s too late for him to do any other thing but step on the breaks

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13 mkt42 January 5, 2017 at 2:44 am

I think this is the correct explanation. Granted I am unfamiliar with Nigerian culture, but this behavior sounds to me like a variation of driving in Boston, where cars that wish to enter the road don’t wait for an opening in the traffic, instead they make one: they dart into the road and the cars already on the road now have just two choices: slow down and let the intruder in, or have a collision.

I suspect that the explanation above is correct; it’s a finer-tuned version of the maneuver where instead of just darting into the road the intruder edges into the road, perhaps because the intruder’s car has less acceleration than Bostonians’ cars do, and the cars on the road have worse brakes. Or perhaps just greater variance in acceleration and braking as Tyler hypothesizes.

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14 Blowoffvalve January 5, 2017 at 2:54 am

I’m nigerian, and this is exactly what’s happening

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15 Datroof Jackson January 5, 2017 at 5:53 am

Now we’re to believe there’s internet in Nigeria.

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16 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2017 at 5:57 am

I am an exiled Nigerian prince and need to move my riches from Nigeria. Your help would be generously rewarded.

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17 dwb January 5, 2017 at 7:30 am

This sounds more plausible. I do not know anyone who does this in the US: “In the United States, if I am trying to accelerate and enter the road from say a parking lot, I try to minimize the number of misleading movements my car might make. I don’t “edge out” just for the heck of it, for fear this may spook the other drivers and cause them to suddenly switch lanes in a dangerous (for them) fashion. ”

When making a left turn, people edge out all the time in the US. It’s a blocking maneuver where you are trying to create an opening, and there is as fine line between a head-on collision and creating a space.

Anyone I know who drives in a major city and sits in a parking lot idling afraid to spook other drivers is going to get beeped and honked out and practically pushed into the road by the three cars behind waiting to exit. If I did this while my wife was next to me, she’d tell me to grow a pair of balls and go already (according to my kids, my wife is a little crazier than I am, and also a bit overconfident about her long accident free record).

Inching out is a great way to create a little opportunity, as long as you are willing to grow a pair and play a little chicken with the cars already on the road.

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18 anon January 5, 2017 at 7:36 am

I “edge” for visibility only, and do fine. Going for it, when you have an opening is different. As is genuine cutting off.

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19 RustySynapses January 5, 2017 at 2:18 pm

People do this all the time in the US in a different context – lane changing on the freeways. If you signal too early, people will speed up so you can’t move over.

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20 Anonymous January 5, 2017 at 2:42 am

In such situations , the drivers’ motor skills often make up for the lack of skilled motors.

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21 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2017 at 5:56 am

Have tou ever noticed that Nigerians drive this way and Americans drive that way?

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22 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2017 at 5:56 am

Have you ever noticed that Nigerians drive this way and Americans drive that way?

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23 Hoovenson Haw January 5, 2017 at 6:30 am

It’s the same here in the Philippines, drivers nose in a bit at a time until they can make the turn.

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24 ClickByCommenter January 5, 2017 at 6:44 am

I’m loving this “Western Academic in Third World” posts. I imagine Marcus Brody’s Travelogue probably reads much the same.

Perhaps our good professor should read “The Chap Manifesto.”

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25 JWatts January 5, 2017 at 11:32 am

“Marcus Brody’s Travelogue ”

Yep, Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again.

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26 Rich Berger January 5, 2017 at 6:44 am

I wonder how long it’s been since Tyler has driven in northern New Jersey.

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27 mb January 5, 2017 at 9:16 am

or Massachusetts. I can’t see a difference between Massholes and Nigerians.

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28 ClickByCommenter January 5, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Nigerians speak better English.

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29 ClickByCommenter January 5, 2017 at 6:44 am

*these

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30 Y81 January 5, 2017 at 6:55 am

So here’s a guy who doesn’t know enough about Yale or the University of Missouri to comment on what happens there, but he knows all about Nigeria?

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31 Adovada January 5, 2017 at 7:14 am

Maybe this is also a good analogy for Trump’s Twitter behavior.

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32 anon January 5, 2017 at 8:03 am

Today’s assault on Obamacare and Democrats is curiously followed by a call for bipartisanship.

What, the Republican plan isn’t ready to roll?

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33 anon January 5, 2017 at 7:33 am

My driving was influenced by learning boating rules. If I am the “steady on” vessel on the highway, I may keep things safe by remaining steady on.

Not to say I don’t exercise courtesy, but in a tricky situation, stick with the rules of right of way.

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34 chuck martel January 5, 2017 at 8:13 am

Do Nigerians make right turns in front of stopped buses?

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35 yenwoda January 5, 2017 at 9:58 am

Many of these “nosers” in the Boston area. Strikes me as passive aggressive and dangerous, I don’t like it.

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36 Dan January 5, 2017 at 10:07 am

Is this your first time in the 3rd world or Africa? This still of driving is pretty standard is places like this. Walking in Ho Chi Minh City with millions of bike flowing around you is a surreal experience.

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37 VJV January 5, 2017 at 10:42 am

This sort of thing is fairly common in New York. It’s kind of similar to the one-side-at-a-time left, a maneuver which should be familiar to any urban driver.

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38 Daniel R. Grayson January 5, 2017 at 11:24 am

Here’s the preferred way in China to make a left turn onto a busy highway, especially one with multiple lanes. This is based about 4 hours of observation while riding as a passenger on the highway between Shanggao and Yichun City in Jiangxi. Turn into the nearest lane and drive slowly on the wrong side of the highway, directly toward oncoming traffic. Drift slowly to the right letting the traffic stream around you on both sides and then merge into the leftmost lane on the opposite side.
It’s practical! Vehicles here have all possible positive velocities, because many of them are underpowered scooters or pushcarts, and drivers are adept at calmly streaming around them. Thus a vehicle with a slightly negative velocity offers little additional difficulty.
The double yellow line (or even a divider) in the center of the highway is regarded more as encouragement, rather than as a rigid rule, so the entire roadway is available to oncoming drivers as they choose how best to stream around you.
All other road markings are also regarded as suggestions, but stop lights are obeyed. Many busy intersections in the city are completely Libertarian, with no traffic signals or stop signs. The right of way goes to the vehicle that gets there first, and everyone slows down so the merging can be done gently and calmly. Just choose the desired trajectory through the intersection and follow it.
Drive on whichever side of the road that seems most convenient. For scooters, either side is convenient.
Many pedestrians prefer the roadway to the sidewalk. Some even stop in the roadway for a chat.
Honk to warn a driver you are about to overtake him and he should not drift into your lane.
Honk at a pedestrian to inform him that you are angry that he is obstructing your right of way by using the crosswalk.
Turning on your headlamps at night in the rain is optional, especially for scooters. Recall that scooters are often driving on either side of the road.

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39 Philo January 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

Later nudges are more aggressive than earlier ones. Nudging forward when your car is not yet sticking out into the lane (the one you want to access) is much less dangerous and disruptive than nudging forward when your front end is already protruding into the lane.

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40 TallDave January 5, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Human psychology isn’t well-designed for the task of guiding tons of steel at high velocities, so driving behavior can be strongly dependent on status signalling and cost/benefit decisions made on irrationally short time horizons.

Eventually if we get enough self-driving cars on the road, they’ll teach (some) people to drive rationally by example. Except for the Teslas of course, they’ll still decapitate people.

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41 Maximum Liberty January 5, 2017 at 3:40 pm

I think it is a case of multiple possible equilibria around signalling, where the choice is mainly driven by history, rather than anything currently driving towards one equilibrium rather than the other. Once most people adopt a set of habits to send signals, the cost of adopting any other set is very high.

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42 Ritwik Priya January 6, 2017 at 10:30 am

Tyler, c’mon, you make it sound like you’ve need been to an Indian city!

Here’s my hypothesis at a more meta level: the Schelling points of the driving coordination game in India/ Nigeria are less commonly accepted, and hence more numerous, more distributed and less close to the global optimum than those in the US/ West.

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