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I only have experience with first world countries, so I do not know what it is like to drive in a country that is lacking in traffic lights.

In poor countries where there are few traffic lights, how are busy intersections managed? Do they just put four stop signs there, or is it often a free for all? In completely open intersections, do people tend to just cluster and move through them slowly, or do people just go for it? Are these intersections dangerous with accidents every day, or are they relatively safe?

For example, if you have driven through such intersections, would you say they are only marginally more dangerous than those with lights, or did you feel that they were much more dangerous?

I am not asking about special situations like reduced visibility intersections. I am asking about completely open, four-way intersections with no lights.

  • It's a great question. Can you give an example? I had Stavropol and Samarkand in mind, but they are not poor cities. – Gayot Fow Jul 18 '17 at 12:35
  • One day while drinking tea at a local shop, I witnessed how traffic worked at an intersection in Istanbul (definitely not a poor city): priority was given to the first vehicle playing its horn. – mouviciel Jul 18 '17 at 12:36
  • Some of these countries will have "manual" traffic control at a busy intersection at certain times of day, i.e. a police officer or similar civil servant will direct traffic. – Crazymoomin Jul 18 '17 at 13:05
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    Place de l'Étoile can certainly push one's adrenaline to the max at certain times of the day. – Gayot Fow Jul 18 '17 at 13:10
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    @GayotFow: I assume the OP is thinking about something like Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. I can't see any rhyme or reason myself, but then I'm used to developed-world traffic norms. – Michael Seifert Jul 18 '17 at 13:54
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Generally speaking, things tend to just go slower and jam up in poorer countries but this makes it a lot more safe. There are fewer collisions when vehicles move slowly and accidents become less serious when they do happen.

Depending on the culture, things move differently. People all want to go some place so they advance as much as they can, honk, move a little, honk again and repeat. In some places like Bolivia, it seems like things just do not move at all. Others, like in Vietnam, they never stop completely and move slowly but almost continuously, constantly maneuvering to avoid collision. This was fascinating to me as the concept of lane is barely used in the north, when as many fit passed side-by-side and it was very hard to tell which way a street went. In Saigon though, lanes were marked and people more or less stuck to them, except for wides ones made for free-flowing motorbikes.

When there are no traffic lights, there are rarely many stop signs either. In Hanoi, it took me a while to notice but there are traffic lights, only most of them are not working or turned off. There and in many African countries, they have some type of traffic police at the busiest intersections. Still, most streets with no traffic lights, do not get someone there but my experience is that they mostly watch and on some occasions whistle, but they rarely actively manage traffic as traffic police in modern countries like Canada.

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I don't think it will be particularly dangerous.

Pedestrians will take precedence and they will thus allow some cars from the opposite sides to pass.

In ex-USSR countries (and probably other European countries too?) there's a rule of "obstacle from the right". It means that you have to let cars coming from the right pass while you have priority over cars coming from your left. If all four sides of intersection are occupied by cars then the order is undefined.

In USA when traffic lights break I've witnessed that cars take rounds to cross the intersection, two cars a time. Was pretty efficient without any horn honking.

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Busy intersections with no traffic lights are actually less dangerous. And a complete lack of markings or expectations is not too bad either in those conditions. My experience in places like Lebanon is indeed that cars cluster and move slowly. At some point there is no clear paths anymore, people will try to cut through the intersection in every conceivable way.

It feels like complete chaos (this video I just found on YouTube seems quite representative), it's not very efficient, but it's not dangerous per se. If there is a collision, it will be at lower speed and that'll be it. Motorways, intersections with lower traffic (allowing driver to speed through), or even traffic lights (because it creates empty space and too many people ignore them in unpredictable ways) can be more dangerous.

Things like a taxi driver pulling back in reverse after missing an exit on the motorway feel much more dangerous (last time it happened to me was in Istanbul).

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