Beware: Being Courteous Could Cause Accidents


If you've been driving for a while, then chances are you've probably waived someone through a gap in traffic or slowed down to let a merging vehicle in front of you. These acts of courtesy can be a virtue, but sometimes they can also result in an accident. The following looks at a few instances where common courtesy could result in a crash as well as your chances of being found at fault for such an accident.

Common Situations Where Courtesy Can Backfire

There are plenty of scenarios where being overly courteous on the road could result in a serious accident. One such scenario involves a vehicle in the right lane of a busy four-lane road slowing down or even stopping to let another vehicle from a nearby driveway or parking lot into traffic. In many cases, the driver of the stopped vehicle waves the driver through, indicating that it's safe to enter the lane.

Instead of making a right-hand turn in front of the stopped vehicle, however, the other driver tries to cross both lanes of traffic. Unfortunately, traffic in the left-hand lane has little to no warning about the vehicle preparing to cross. This often results in the faster-moving vehicle in the left lane colliding with the crossing vehicle.

This and other acts of courtesy often become dangerous due to three key factors:

  • The limited amount of information the waving driver has about surrounding traffic. The waving driver often doesn't know how fast surrounding traffic is traveling or if other drivers are prepared to stop to let the crossing driver through.
  • The inherent dangers of that courteous action. Bringing traffic to a complete stop to waive someone through not only creates a dangerous blind spot for the crossing vehicle, but it also poses a danger for other vehicles close by.
  • The difficulty of interpreting the wave itself. It's difficult for drivers and pedestrians to interpret whether the wave means that they can pull across all lanes of traffic or simply pull in front of the stopped vehicle.

Any of these factors can easily result in a serious accident and potentially expose you to unexpected legal liability.

Understanding Your Liability in a Courtesy-Related Accident

In many cases, the simple act of waving another driver or pedestrian through could result in a significant liability if that person is struck by another vehicle while crossing. However, this isn't true for every single state. Most states impose a duty of care on drivers who signal to other drivers or pedestrians that it's safe to proceed in front of their vehicle. The exact level of negligence is usually a matter for the courts to figure out, resulting in a determination that could vary on a case-by-case basis.

Some states, including Florida, Ohio and Georgia, may not find the waving driver liable for any accidents that result from his or her courteous action, except under special circumstances. Instead, the onus lies on the driver or pedestrian relying on the signal. In these states, the waving driver does not owe a duty of care to the crossing driver or pedestrian, even though that person is relying on their signal to cross safely.

How to Protect Yourself

It may not seem fair to be held responsible for a common act of courtesy, but it's also your responsibility to consider the safety of others as well as your own. Signaling another driver to enter the roadway not only creates an unexpected hazard, but it can also have unexpected consequences for other drivers. This doesn't mean you shouldn't be courteous to drivers at all -- only that you should consider whether your active courtesy could place that driver and others at significant and often-unnecessary risk.

Contact an auto accident attorney for more information.


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