The Maritime Law Edition
March 22, 2021 7:44 PM   Subscribe

What if roads worked like maritime law?

(Halfway down, the article goes on to talk about not particularly related topics such as the complex global supply chain for sand, at least one of which I think may have been covered before.)
posted by aniola (46 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
The easiest way to achieve this was figured out on usenet in the 90's- alt.pave.the.earth.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:55 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if it says more about me or the world, but I was really expecting this to turn toward crackpot Sovereign Citizen "Admiralty Law" nonsense. I'm glad it's not that! And that it's also interesting.

I'm intrigued by the idea. In my limited experience, kayaking on a river with big boats doesn't feel much different from bicycling on a road with cars. Assuming everyone is actively trying to kill you is an appropriate strategy. I've more faith in physical neckdowns and protected lanes than better right-of-way laws, given how people drive in places with very clear bicycle laws and signage everywhere. (But, I'll happily sign off on making jaywalking legal world-wide. It could only help.)
posted by eotvos at 8:15 PM on March 22 [9 favorites]


global supply chain for sand

Which, by the way, is my new sockpuppet name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:41 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


He has a very idealized view of the maritime rules of navigation.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:43 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


It's an interesting thesis, although I feel like the underlying argument is a little squishy. (For example, the article would seem to imply that countries with more ethical traffic cultures have more straightforward right-of-way laws, which I'm not at all sure is the case... and if it's not the case, I'm not sure what to do with the rest of the argument.)

Also, as noted, the juxtaposition with maritime law feels like it could benefit from a bit more experience being the proverbial shrimp among whales -- the convention that motor yields to sail yields to human-power is a necessary check on the power dynamics but doesn't really change them, much like "pedestrians always have the right of way" on shore.

Few canoeists would play chicken with an oncoming barge in hopes of their estate winning a wrongful-death settlement from the operator. That is, even if the legal authority behind it were unambiguously clear, "kill me at your peril" isn't really a very strong argument when jockeying for right of way, although it's certainly better than nothing.
posted by Not A Thing at 8:52 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


What a great thought experiment.
if we want our streets to be more ethical, we should do a better job of encoding our ethics into the rules that govern them
From an urban design standpoint, we already do, in lots of powerful ways that are difficult to see or think about, unless you know to look. All planning, and failure to plan, in urban spaces is based on ethical principles, it's just that some of them are ones we don't want to talk about, or admit to. We already divide roads into classes, with a hierarchy of priority—from the German autobahn or US Interstate, where the space is exclusively for high-speed vehicles, down through suburban and residential roads, where there is roadside parking, the road is shared with pushbikes, and there are things like pedestrian crossings, to the edge cases, like loading docks, parking lots, and driveways, where pedestrians have a formal but uneasy right-of-way, to non-streets, where cars are physically forbidden. Different places have different arrangements of these hierarchies. It's why people drive differently and behave differently to other people, in the centre of a big city, to the middle of the Nullarbor Plain. Breaches of the designed-in-code are social breaches, even if they're quite legal—try driving 20km/h below the speed limit at peak hour on a suburban commuter road, and count the middle fingers you get.

All the ethical 'rules' of designing roads and their speed limits are about balancing risk vs. utility, and as Andrew Norton wrote in Fighting Traffic they've bent, since the 1920s, towards the utility end of the see-saw. Most developed countries have urban spaces and road geographies that show the ethical encoding of the twentieth century, which looked to a future of liberating speed and motor-mindedness.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:55 PM on March 22 [11 favorites]


It was explained to me thusly, as I took my sailing lessons on Seattle’s Lake Union in the center of town. Powered craft give way to wind powered craft which give way to human powered craft. Which makes perfect sense until the moment a seaplane lands and is suddenly a “powered craft” which is capable of yielding to no one.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:58 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure the concept of the "stand-on" vessel with the responsibility to maintain course and speed and generally not do anything surprising would translate well to cars.
posted by ctmf at 9:10 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Although "don't surprise anyone" is pretty much the #1 rule of car traffic and what almost every specific rule is there for. It's also the most frequently-broken principle.
posted by ctmf at 9:12 PM on March 22 [12 favorites]


It would be fun to have to use the International Code of Signals though. I can imagine getting a lot of use out of X-Ray: "Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals."
posted by ctmf at 9:27 PM on March 22 [11 favorites]


Wow, yeah, that would be amazing!
posted by aniola at 9:42 PM on March 22


In other words, Charlie.
posted by aniola at 9:43 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I can imagine getting a lot of use out of Romeo-Yankee.
posted by aniola at 9:46 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Take to the roads!
posted by Going To Maine at 10:11 PM on March 22


Wow, the international code of signals is fantastic, and I'm amazed I've never seen it before!

Metafilter: "I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board: keep well clear of me."
posted by kaibutsu at 10:14 PM on March 22 [12 favorites]


Ctrl+F fringe
Phrase not found
posted by The Tensor at 10:50 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


One signal was translated, in our 1913 encyclopedia, "I am not in control of my vessel", which was a useful cry through my childhood.

We also liked "Kiss me, Hardy" which confused outsiders.
posted by clew at 10:51 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Few canoeists would play chicken with an oncoming barge in hopes of their estate winning a wrongful-death settlement from the operator.

You would be surprised! I knew one idiot woman who casually said "I'm in a kayak so I have the right away" and proceeded across the shipping channel in front of a barge, heedless to the blaring horn. Nothing happened to her fortunately but she fundamentally had it ass backwards as to who was supposed to stay out of whose way. The rules might seem simple but they are startlingly easy to get wrong. There isn't really a thing called "right of way" as such just a bunch of duties and expected behaviors. On top of that there is a lot that can just go wrong so prudence is probably a good thing to keep in mind. "How to Avoid Huge Ships" despite being the butt of a lot of stupid review jokes is really a fantastic little book that is unfortunately out of print but should be available for free with every boat.
posted by Pembquist at 11:04 PM on March 22 [12 favorites]


(For example, the article would seem to imply that countries with more ethical traffic cultures have more straightforward right-of-way laws, which I'm not at all sure is the case... and if it's not the case, I'm not sure what to do with the rest of the argument.)

I've obtained my drivers license in Malaysia (about 30 annual traffic related fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles) and in Australia (about 7 annual traffic related fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles) and I've found the road culture very different.

Driving in Australia (Melbourne CBD specifically) felt a lot more dangerous than driving in Malaysia. Just to make a regular unprotected turn: it's not just oncoming cars (1) you look out for. You're also looking for trams (2) from either direction (3)... cyclists in the protected cycle lanes (4)... pedestrians at the crosswalk (5) from either direction (6). It is literally information overload looking for different types of road users traveling at vastly different speeds from different directions to judge whether making the turn is safe. You would have a "cut off" point of maybe 5 meters for a pedestrian, 25 meters for bike, 50 meters for a car, etc, so your eyes are fixating at different points as a safe cutoff for making the turn. It feels like driving in Australia demands a lot of sound judgement from the driver, and you directly interact with the humans in the other cars - you will visually wave at them to yield or confirm you are taking right of way, you pay attention to what their eyes are looking at.

Driving in Malaysia paradoxically felt a lot safer, even though it may not have been. Maybe because they assume drivers are untrustworthy: there are rarely situations where you have to share the right of way with so many other parties. Everything that can be regulated by traffic lights, is usually regulated that way. 99% of the time you literally just wait for the light to tell you it's safe to turn, and you just turn. You barely need to interact with humans in the other cars. You just trust in the rules.
posted by xdvesper at 11:08 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


It's not an area I'm particularly familiar with, but I never really thought about the rules for navigation being part of "maritime law." Maybe they are a subset of the larger subject, as he suggests at the beginning, but I always thought of "maritime law" as really being about things like salvage and ownership and bills of lading and whatnot.

Also, the "simple" rules discussed seem only to have to do with right of way; traffic rules are more complex because they're about more than right of way; they're also about interactions with specific built environments. Driving down a city street is a lot more akin to navigating a marina than it is an open channel, much less a lake or the ocean. And even then, your craft has a lot more options as to surfaces it can traverse, and, relative to their speed, the vessels are a lot less densely packed.
posted by pykrete jungle at 11:11 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the future of urban transportation is pedal powered submarines.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:18 PM on March 22


I think road rules should be replaced with traditional good manners.
Lady drivers should follow the lanes closest to the sidewalk/footpath. Gentlemen should drive in the lane closer to the centre of the carriageway. When gentlemen drivers encounter ladies they should raise their headlights, while ladies should momentarily dip theirs. And at intersections, gentlemen should always yield to ladies. Simple, consistent, and good manners.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:25 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


As a navy brat, I grew up thinking that "steam" should always give way to wind-powered craft. So I was confused by the 2013 finding that Lt Roland Wilson RN was wrong when his yacht was run down by a 100,000t tanker off the English coast. (ii) a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver; explains why: when a tanker puts the brakes on it might take 3km to come to a halt. And the vessel with right of way is obliged to maintain its course and speed, because predictability.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:31 AM on March 23 [7 favorites]


I'm suddenly reminded of a YouTube video I saw a few years back involving one ship racing another into one of the locks between the Great Lakes in an attempt to cut off the first vessel. It could have ended quite badly.
posted by wierdo at 12:48 AM on March 23


> expecting this to turn toward crackpot Sovereign Citizen "Admiralty Law" nonsense

i catch a tram. alas: i forget to take my backpack with me when i get off, and lose it. you board the tram and find the backpack. you, the salvor of the property, must bring your claim for salvage before a court of law. the court may award you salvage depending upon the value of the salvaged backpack and the risk of injury you and your crew were exposed to during the salvage operation.
posted by are-coral-made at 1:37 AM on March 23 [10 favorites]


I'm suddenly reminded of a YouTube video. Would that be this first person deck-view? The other ship in that case has right of way:
When two power-driven vessels are in crossing situation on a collision course, give way to the vessel to starboard (right). The give way vessel must take early and obvious action to avoid a collision by either stopping or altering course to starboard.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:41 AM on March 23


The most interesting difference is that ColRegs have a much stronger affirmative duty to avoid collisions than the equivalent rules for driving. "I had right of way" is not an excuse.

They do exaggerate both the simplicity and the level of standardisation. There's two international systems of buoyage (IALA-A and -B) as well as the CEGNI system for European internal waters. Even within the borders of a single country (The Netherlands) the rules differ depending on whether you're on internal waters (BPR), on the Rhine (RFR), on the sea (standard international rules), or in various controlled waters with their own specific rules.

I had to learn the lighting signals for things as obscure as "I am towing a submarine" and it took me a lot longer to learn than road signs.
posted by atrazine at 2:19 AM on March 23 [5 favorites]


> My vessel is a dangerous source of radiation; you may approach from my starboard side.

folorn mating call of the Glowy McGlowface
posted by are-coral-made at 2:24 AM on March 23 [6 favorites]


I like AD: "I am abandoning my vessel which has suffered a nuclear accident and is a possible source of radiation danger."
posted by tavella at 2:56 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


For a second I thought this would be a satirical piece on how gargantuan our vehicles have become. Seriously, when did we collectively decide that regular people "need" Nimitz-class pickups/SUVs to go collect groceries?
posted by drstrangelove at 3:30 AM on March 23 [7 favorites]


i catch a tram. alas: i forget to take my backpack with me when i get off, and lose it. you board the tram and find the backpack. you, the salvor of the property, must bring your claim for salvage before a court of law. the court may award you salvage depending upon the value of the salvaged backpack and the risk of injury you and your crew were exposed to during the salvage operation.

Unfortunately, before you can exit the tram, someone throws a switch to have the tram hit one person instead of five; you are thrown to the floor, losing the backpack and dislocating your shoulder. This is never discussed in the philosophy class.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:46 AM on March 23 [9 favorites]


I think this proposal has the same reckless naivete as those libertarians who argue that eliminating traffic lights in favor of personal accountability makes roads safer.

In theory maritime law provides the kind of simple "don't be a dick" ethical framework that the author thinks will solve all our problems. When I took the US Power & Sail Squadron basic boating course, the instructor was keen to point out that if your bow wave is large enough to cause a nearby moored vessel (being not under command) to rock enough for someone on board to spill hot tea in their lap, you'd be responsible for the medical bills. While that may be true, the reality is that unless someone is injured or killed no one cares that a forty-five foot cabin cruiser going 20 knots and piloted by someone with zero training just cut through pod of kayaks.

And even if someone is injured or killed in an accident, 'maritime law' is no better at addressing the consequences. In 2015 a local law student was on board a boat called the 'Naut Guilty' anchored off Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor. With passengers swimming in the water and with no knowledge of how to operate a boat, he started the engines causing a 19 year old girl to lose her arm in the propellor. Despite having brought aboard "enough liquor to kill a horse", he only received community service and had his sentence continued. The owner of the boat was also found not guilty, and even attempted to use maritime law to limit his liability to the value of the boat.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:14 AM on March 23 [11 favorites]


Driving in Malaysia paradoxically felt a lot safer, even though it may not have been.

Risk and road safety can both be paradoxical. That is, perceived risk and actual risk are often different and this is often well illustrated by roadways. Very clear environmental cues that there are potential dangers - mode-mixing, unordered traffic, et cetera - finally make people slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. The raised perceived risk actually lowers the actual risk.
posted by entropone at 5:16 AM on March 23 [7 favorites]


I think this proposal has the same reckless naivete as those libertarians who argue that eliminating traffic lights in favor of personal accountability makes roads safer.

I was in the process of also typing about this multipart youtube series on an intersection in Drachten, NL, where signage removals and mode-mixing actually made things a lot safer (I don't have a citation but I recall reading that people say that these intersections make them feel unsafe... but that the safety record of the intersections is actually very, very good and outperforms what was there prior.)

My reservations are because of exactly what you type. I'm a big believer in setting people up to win through environmental cues toward certain behavior. That design affects behavior, and we should design streets for safety. The Drachten example is a curious one, because it sounds and feels a lot like "eliminating traffic lights in favor of personal accountability" even though it's not, even though it's actually "design choices that mandate pro-social behavior."

It's just a counter-intuitive set of design choices.
posted by entropone at 5:23 AM on March 23 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure the concept of the "stand-on" vessel with the responsibility to maintain course and speed and generally not do anything surprising would translate well to cars.

Hopefully someone can correct me, but I could have sworn I've come across some anecdotes about this being true in some countries. Like if you're approaching an un-signalized intersection from a preferred direction, you have the right-of-way as long as you maintain your speed, but the moment you brake you effectively surrender that right to cross traffic.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:01 AM on March 23


Only tangentially relevant, but for me it's worth taking the opportunity to quote from Flann O'Brien, writing as Myles na gCopaleen in the Irish Times, during the middle of the last century:

"Twinfeet L., of course, has made many strange pronouncements in the Court of Voluntary Jurisdiction. In an action brought under the Marine Hereditaments (Compensation) Act, 1901, a man who lived in an old boat located on a hill sought damages from another man who had been (as alleged) negligent in the management of a dinghy on a trolley (which he was bringing to the railway station) so as to cause the dinghy to collide with the old house-boat. The defence was that the latter structure, being rated to the poor rate, could not be a boat, vessel or ship and that the dinghy, being a land-borne wheeled article, was not a dinghy but a velocipede. Twinfeet J. inquired whether it was suggested that a small paddle-steamer was a farm-cart but the defence submitted that inasmuch as a paddle-steamer could not be hauled by a horse, mule, pony, jennet, donkey or ass, it could not be a farm-cart within the meaning of the Farmcarts Act and must in fact be a paddle-steamer. The plaintiffs contended that they were the aggrieved parties in a naval collision and entitled to recover damages and compensation from the defendants, who had been negligent in the management of sea-going craft, which was their property and under their care and management. The defendants pleaded alternatively that the 'house-boat' was 'wreckage' within the meaning of the Wreckage Act.
Twinfeet J., in the course of a long judgement, said that he could find nothing in the Act or indeed in any statute regulating matters of admiralty which made water an essental element in collision between boats; he was satisfied that the owners of the dinghy had been negligent in the navigation of the dinghy 'Marcella' at the junction of Market Street and Dawson Hill. He assessed damages at £4 and excused the jury from service for a year on the ground that they had been at sea for four days."
posted by illongruci at 7:19 AM on March 23 [11 favorites]


I think if I'm gonna understand the concepts laid down in the FPP I'll need a lot more boat crash videos posted here please and thank you.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 7:27 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


"XXXV QVVX" : "Have found Lost Continent of Atlantis. High Priest has just won quoits contest."
posted by JohnFromGR at 7:38 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Of course, maritime law also gave us Tim FitzHigham's hilarious account of asserting his right as the stand-on vessel against an enormous tanker while he was rowing across the English Channel in a Victorian bathtub that was officially registered as a British vessel to annoy the French, so there's that I guess.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:43 AM on March 23 [5 favorites]


A little more Flann O'Brien for the hell of it:

"We all know by now that we will be the laughing stock of the civilised world unless immediately after the war we can build vast arterial roads. Very well. We are all properly ashamed of our winding undulating country roads and we know too well that they are completely without Rest Centres, Rhubarb Dosage Stations, Health Clinics, Dental Hospitals, Vitamin Breweries, Youth Centres - any primitive modern amenity you like to name. But how are we to provide proper vast arterial roads immediately if the country is full of hills?

One way only. The roads must be built on some existing level thoroughfare. Of such thoroughfares we have only two - the canals and the railways. The Academy has under consideration a plan to divert railway traffic to the canals and build the vast arterial roads on the railway lines, which are ideally deficient in grades and curves. Reynolds and McCann kindly met the Academy to the extent of constructing an experimental stretch near Dublin. Laugh if you like. At present the rails are laid in the bed of the canal and there is plenty of room for trains and barges to pass each other. There is one snag. Rough stretches of water often mean that the engine's fire is put out and moreover, constant dredging is necessary to keep the rails free of dead dogs and muck. The Academy is now investigating the possibilities of having floating trains propelled with the screws of old liners. The advantage here is that the engines could tow barges as well as the adapted coaches and thus make up for the shortage of rolling-or rather floating stock"
posted by knapah at 8:19 AM on March 23 [4 favorites]


A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:
(iii) a vessel engaged in fishing;


How to catch and cook a fish from a moving campervan.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:53 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


Flann O'Brien is it ? that will be the cue for AP Herbert's Misleading Cases tale Port to Port which hinges on competing Highway / Maritime law when a row boat encounters a motor-car on Chiswick Mall temporarily flooded by the tidal Thames. It made an episode of a TV series in the late 60s.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:47 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


AP Herbert's Misleading Cases tale Port to Port

Very entertaining, thanks for that!
posted by illongruci at 12:35 PM on March 23


So, do NYS traffic laws have anything to say about overtaking and boarding other vessels vehicles? Arrrrsking for a friend.
posted by tommasz at 12:43 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


On an interstate highway, a driver may legally marry their passengers. A median strip with visible bird droppings may be claimed as a guano island.
posted by mubba at 2:37 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


Have not read the following article, but I saw it and was reminded of this thread.

Why Ships Keep Crashing: One hundred large vessels are lost every year because the maritime industry won’t apply the lessons of aviation.
posted by aniola at 11:10 AM on March 31


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