Right of Way

Your right to the right right of way.

Art by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, STEPDOG, comes out this August from William Morrow.Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:

Are there rules of the road and Vineyard rules of the road? Please tell me I am right about this. If you have the right of way, shouldn’t you take it? In other words, don’t stop unless you’re stopping for a hearse, ambulance, fire truck, or police car. Why is it that on this Island the right of way is treated like a conversation?Shall I go first or would you like to? I know it’s legally my turn, but you look so nice in your car, why don’t you go first?” If you have the right of way, take it. Am I correct?
Anonymously Yours,
Congested

Dear Congested:
The point of a right of way is, by definition, that it’s right for you to have the way. Under ideal circumstances, it is best if that’s how things proceed. However, there are so many extenuating circumstances (besides hearses, ambulances, etc.), and it is so rare to find oneself in ideal circumstances, that it cannot be considered a hard and fast rule by anyone other than traffic cops (maybe) and whoever grades the written part of driving tests.

In reality, here’s what actually happens: 1) People sometimes go out of their way to be considerate, 2) People sometimes act like jerks, but most of all, 3) You can never tell if another person is going to be obeying the letter of the law, or leaning toward 1), or leaning toward 2). It doesn’t matter what they SHOULD be doing, only what they ARE doing. We might all be on the same roads, but we’re not always on the same page, and no amount of “shoulds” can realistically fix that. Even fire trucks and EMS vehicles, who legally ALWAYS have the right of way, cannot always take it, as many of us learned rather dramatically this past weekend on Beach Road, when a fire truck could not access a burning vehicle because of traffic.

If you feel it is important that the letter of the law be observed, I recommend the following action: Please print up cards, and distribute to each individual driver as he or she exits the ferry in Vineyard Haven, with the following statement:

“Welcome to Martha’s Vineyard! We realize you might be driving here for the first time ever. You are about to encounter the Beach Road/Main Street/State Road exchange, meaning your heart rate will become elevated and your spouse will scream that you are driving directly into oncoming traffic in front of Educomp. A moment later, in very heavy traffic, you will arrive at a contentious intersection while trying to determine where to go. Please make sure to obey the right-of-way rule.”

Until that happens, I will always take the right of way when I safely can, but I will never judge others for failing to do so, even if I know they are in error. Sometimes it is better to be wise than merely correct. “Caution” is a healthier attitude than “righteousness.”
That’s my take,
Nicole