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The Bad Side of Good Samaritanism

A traffic hazard you may not have considered — other people trying to be nice to you.

KINSTON – On June 19, a Kinston man was taken to the hospital after the small truck he was driving turned across two lanes of traffic on Vernon Avenue and into the path of a sport utility vehicle, flipping his truck and badly damaging the Toyota Highlander. The driver of the truck, 60-year-old Willie Morris, was treated and released.

He told police he was waiting to make a left-hand turn when a stopped vehicle in the oncoming lane waved him through, causing him to cross paths with the Highlander, whose driver didn’t see him making the turn.

Local law enforcement officers said these situations – where drivers try to be courteous but cause hazardous situations – are frequent, problematic and avoidable, especially along roads like Kinston’s four- to five-laned Vernon Avenue.

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009 at 10:06 am and is filed under Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “The Bad Side of Good Samaritanism”

  1. Jack Says:

    Witnessed weekly especially when cycling with my young sons. Crossing or turning onto wide streets with much traffic, we often have to stop in a center lane reserved for left-turns only. I suppose many drivers think that stopping and gesticulating for us to cross in front of them will persuade us to continue. Of course they are blocking our view and the view of other vehicles. They always seem surprised when I wave them on. The situation is frightening as the stopped car is creating so many additional risks.

  2. Paul Souders Says:

    This is a flipping epidemic in Portland, Oregon. It’s especially unnerving when on bike, as Jack points out.

  3. Rich Wilson Says:

    I have taken to communitating with drives by un-clipping and putting my feet down. Some of them seem to take offense at me not ‘appreciating’ their gesture.

    In one case, just as the car finally started to move, another cyclist came flying past me and through the stop sign, narrowly missing the car.

  4. njkayaker Says:

    Each party attributes very different meanings to the act of “waving someone on”. The waver is saying “I’m yielding my right of way”. The “wavie” is interpreting it as “it is safe to go”.

    If the “wavie” understood the act as merely an indication that the other person was yielding (and nothing more), they would do what they would always do, namely, verify for themselves whether it was safe to proceed.

    Given that the waver is in a different place and likely has a different focus, they can’t really determine whether it’s safe for the other driver.

    Personally, I never wave people on. If I want to yield, I put my hands up in the windshield. That is, I communicate what I am doing. I am making no recommendation as to actions other people take.

  5. njkayaker Says:

    I also think that one should generally not yield one’s right of way to “be nice”. It tends to be confusing (and contradicts the purpose of the “right of way” rules).

  6. aaron Says:

    I agree with njkayaker. It usually causes confusion and congestion.

    There’s courtesy, slowing down to let someone merge, but people need to eat their mistakes. They shouldn’t be cutting across lots of traffic. They should smoothly make their way across and circle back to where they need to go.

  7. Michael M. Says:

    Paul (#2) is correct … Portland drivers really need to stop being quite so “considerate,” because they’ve taken it to the point where it can be tricky, at best, and dangerous, at worst, to figure out how to deal with these situations. My first and so far only close call shortly after I started cycling as my primary transport means was brought on by being flustered and reacting poorly to a driver who yielded when he shouldn’t have. I ended up creating a dangerous situation by proceeding when I shouldn’t have, cutting someone else off I hadn’t even seen, and nearly getting hit. (And it would’ve been entirely my fault.) I know better now, and ignore these considerate gestures when acting on them would result in me violating traffic laws.

  8. gpsman Says:

    In trucking they classify this type of incident as (one example of) “letting somebody else drive your truck”.

    You never relinquish your responsibility to ensure your ROW is clear.

  9. Lee Says:

    My last car got totaled this way… I was driving straight green light.
    Two girls in a large volvo station wagon, aproaching from opposite direction,
    made a left after a person stopped on my left (also making a left) waved them on…. but he was blocking their view of my aproach and distracting them –
    so they collided with me. They were also both on learners permits, which means you can’t drive after midnight (it was 2AM)… they were only 2 blocks from both my apt. and their driver’s home. This particular intersection gives you a short green left-turn arrow at the start of each cycle, which is very short, and due to the number of lanes and agressiveness of DC drivers near upper Georgetown (the worst I’ve seen), you usually can’t make the left until the next cycle, so most drivers have taken to making a left just when the light turns red as the cycle is changing.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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