There's nothing like hitting the road in your home town to inspire feelings across the gamut of human emotion.
I think it's something to do with the isolating effect of driving in a modern car that's comfortable and quiet, where the bluetooth only ever plays the songs that we like. In that environment, it's easy to feel insulated in our little bubble on wheels, while we navigate one of the most complicated activities of our adult lives; namely, processing a minefield of road rules and information at inhuman speed (literally) while all of these other absolute lunatics in their own bubbles seem to go at it with the improvisational zeal of a jazz drummer with a caffeine drip.
Driving is, to put it mildly, really, really complicated. The road rules are many and varied and once we get our full license and we're set loose on the road, they're usually delivered to us via a road sign that screams past the windshield in a fraction of a second before we're expected to make a decision about what to do next.
We all understand the rules, of course - and for the most part, we do a pretty good job of abiding by them and navigating the asphalt circus. But it's really no surprise, given these circumstances, how quickly things can go array, and how each town can develop their own variations of the driving code that are as unique to the locals as their collective identity.
Sydney, for example, has what we might charitably call a "creative" relationship with the keep-left-unless-overtaking on the M1 convention. Melbourne has its hook turns. It's hard to tell what Canberra has because of all these roundabouts in the way. And Newcastle has it's four-way stop signs.
It's hard to imagine who hurt us so bad that we felt we needed to take a roundabout and somehow make it worse, but they did.
And we did.
And as conversation in the newsroom this week turned to the question of who has right of way at an intersection where it seems the only instruction is to stop at all costs, it seemed like maybe a driving lesson was in order.
"Give way to the right," one of our editors reasoned (thank goodness, we elected a leader).
"First to stop, first to go," suggested one of the journos (following that most famous of road rules: Stay safe, or else be the fastest).
"Whoever is most dominant guns it," offered another intrepid reporter who we'll let be anonymous, but who I'm pretty sure keeps a can of silver spray paint in the glove box for when the evening commute gets a bit Mad Max.
Road rules were Googled. Rules of thumb, learnt from parents and driving instructors were recited. Things were getting tense. Experts were consulted, including one former police officer, to see if we could shed some light on a few uniquely Novocastrian driving quirks. Here's how that went:
It is a rare moment when you find yourself facing off against three other cars at all corners of the four-way Stop signs around Cooks Hill or New Lambton, but the consensus is: give way to the right.
Intersections like these are typically designed by a committee of local council representatives, Services and Transport NSW, and local police to determine what's best for the road conditions. It's possible four-way stop signs are more cost effective than street lights, and less cumbersome on a narrow street than a roundabout, but the rules are the same
Treat it like a roundabout, but slower, was the advice with the caveat that a Stop sign means your vehicle must come to a "complete halt".
There is a common convention that says you have to stop for at least three seconds, but the NSW Road Rules don't technically specify any amount of time; only that you have to come to a "complete stop".
Roundabouts, we're told, are one of the most daunting traffic features for young drivers - and it's little surprise why. They're constantly moving, and negotiating when and where to indicate can be opaque, but the rules are reasonably straight forward.
On a multi-lane roundabout a driver must indicate which way they are turning (with a left or right blinker) unless you're travelling straight through, and you must also indicate with a left blinker when you exit.
The exception to the rule is on small single-lane roundabouts where it's courtesy by not strictly necessary to indicate your exit (but, just for the Mavericks, you do still need to indicate which direction your turning).
An easy rule of thumb: your indicator is there to help other drivers know where you're going so they can act safely and accordingly. Don't be afraid to use it.
We need to talk about traffic lights, Newy. Why are we stopping a full car space before the line? Who raised us?
This one even had our expert a little stumped, but we suspect it's probably a variation on a safe stopping distance rule (which isn't entirely without reason).
In 2023, according to a few major car insurers, the most common traffic bingle was a nose-to-tail collision where drivers are not leaving enough space between them and the car in front. Most Australian drivers are travelling along a congested road at least once a week (according to some Budget Direct data) and this year, most drivers said they felt less safe travelling on suburban streets than they did on the motorways, main roads or even country and rural roads (a turn in the trend since 2021).
Most ranked speeding and tailgating as the leading causes of accidents this year, so it's fair to say that we can use a refresher on safe driving and stopping distances.
But Newy, it seems, has made safe driving an extreme sport.
For the record: the first in the queue approaching the street lights must have your car on the line, but not over it. Safe stopping distances (most described as at least one car space) are recommended for drivers from number two in the queue backwards, reasoning that a car that might collide in the queue from behind could push cars ahead into others. And liability in these situations falls on drivers who do the damage to cars ahead of them.
It's good to be safe, but the first car in the queue should have their car oat the line. Not metres behind it.
The laminator was still warm on my freshly printed full driver's license when my mum offered a piece of advice that has stuck with me: "Drive everyone else's car too," she said.
Look, driving is complicated. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of concentration to make decisions at speed, and there are more Road Rules than is reasonable to count. Being on the road is not only about operating our own heavy machinery safely, but also predicting what other drivers are going to do while we're at it. It's hard.
But, like mum's words of wisdom, generally being aware of others on the road and negotiating carefully, allowing plenty of space, is good practice.
At a four-way Stop sign, the rules are simple, but there's no guarantee that the other three drivers have read the Topics lately, so take it steady, be aware of your surroundings, give way to the right and proceed when the road is clear.
Safe travels out there.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.