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New Zealand yields to world on quirky road rule

Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand is finally yielding to the rest of the world on a unique road rule that confounded foreign drivers for decades.

For nearly 20 years, New Zealand has been the only place on Earth to force vehicles hugging a turn at an intersection to yield to traffic making a wider arc across the intersection. New Zealanders drive on the left, but in the U.S. it would be like making right-turning traffic yield to left-turning traffic.

That will change at 5 a.m. Sunday, when the reversal takes effect. The big question may be what took it so long.

The rule is “universally despised,” said Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website

“I’ve had several near accidents with foreigners who were unaware the rule even existed,” he said. “The rule was a shambles from the beginning.”

Just why New Zealand introduced such a quirky rule 35 years ago remains unclear. The Australian state of Victoria also toyed with a similar rule but abandoned it in 1993, leaving New Zealand a lone outlier.

Some argue that the rule encourages civility by allowing cars making the more difficult turn to go first, but defenders are few. Some 77 percent of 6,000 drivers surveyed by the Automobile Association said they thought the change will have either a neutral or a positive effect on safety.

The New Zealand Transport Agency, which implements road rules, says Sunday’s switch will speed traffic flows, reduce accidents and avoid an estimated one fatality and 97 injuries per year.

In the short term, the agency is encouraging extra civility as drivers in the country of 4.4 million adjust to the change.

Spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the agency is encouraging motorists to give a friendly wave when things go wrong. And to be clear, he said, a one-fingered wave doesn’t count as friendly.

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