Behind the wheel: when being too polite is dangerous


In this day of road rage and road rudeness, it seems a little crazy to take issues with drivers who are polite — but in an article by Joseph Younger entitled When Courtesy Turns Dangerous, CarandTravel reminds us that there are times when politeness can inadvertently get you into trouble. This is generally at intersections or right of way situations. “Drivers who cede their legal right of way out of courtesy, thinking that they’re doing you a favor, might actually put you at risk.” They offer a handy list of “Dos and Don’ts” – if you are in the “courteous driver camp” it might make you think twice about the error of your ways; and if you are a recipient of such courtesy, it explains why a traffic favor may not be such a favor after all.

Rules of the Road Refresher
Safety Blog at Consumer Reports comments on this article, and says that the right thing to do in a “right of way” standoff is to follow the rules of the road. They post a handy list of “right of way” rules from New York.

Massachusetts right of way rules can be found in the driver’s manual. We’ve excerpted the main rules, but the manual offers a handy refresher for these and other traffic laws.

Intersections not controlled by signals
You must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle that has entered the intersection from your right or is approaching from your right.
Look for any traffic approaching from the left. Even though you may have the legal right-of-way, make sure that the other driver is yielding to you before you proceed.

Four-way stops
At an intersection controlled by stop signs in all directions, you must yield the right-of-way to…

  • Another vehicle that has already come to a full stop at the intersection
  • A vehicle on your immediate right that has stopped at the intersection at the same time as you

At a four-way stop, vehicles must proceed in the order they stopped. The first to stop is the next to go. If in doubt, give the right-of-way to the driver on your right.
Confusion can develop at four-way stop intersections. You should try to make eye contact with the drivers of other vehicles at the intersection to better judge their intentions and avoid accidents.

Turning Left
When making any left turn, you must first yield the right-of-way to any:

  • Oncoming vehicle
  • Vehicle already in the intersection
  • Pedestrians or bicyclists crossing your intended path of travel

Private Roads, Driveways, and Unpaved Roads
If you are entering a paved thoroughfare from a private road, a driveway, or an unpaved road, you must stop first and give the right-of-way to pedestrians, bicyclists, or vehicles traveling along the road you are entering.

Through-ways
If you approach a designated through-way, you must yield the right-of-way to traffic on the through-way before you turn.

Intersection of Single or Two-Lane Road and Multiple-Lane Road
If you are traveling on a single or two lane road and come to an intersection with a larger road, you must yield the right of way to vehicles driving on a divided highway or a roadway with three or more lanes.

Rotaries
Traffic moves in a counterclockwise direction around a rotary. You must always yield the right of way to vehicles already in the rotary (unless directed differently by local signs or police officers) and to pedestrians. You should use your turn signals in the same way as any other intersection: travel through the rotary and, when you are ready to exit, use your right turn signal.

Other situations that require you to yield the right-of-way

  • Pedestrians who are walking in or crossing a roadway
  • Any animal that someone is leading, riding, or driving
  • Funeral processions (in MA, it is against the law to disrupt or cut through a funeral procession)

One thought on “Behind the wheel: when being too polite is dangerous

  1. The right-of-way comes naturally to most experienced drivers, and most accidents are the result of someone not yielding when they should have. THat’s how “at-fault” is figured.
    As the parent of a driver with a learner’s permit, I always focus on and remind about the right-of-way, since it’s the foundation of traffic law. The sooner it’s understood naturally, the better.
    I disagree that the courteous driver poses a threat, provided the recipient of the courtesy watches for other drivers. When this becomes a problem, it’s almost always a situation of slowing for someone to enter ot turn, and it’s the other vehicle who doesn’t see the courtesy happening between two other drivers who encounters a surprise. Defensive driving and courtesy can make us all safer, not to mention, lower our blood pressure.

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