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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 09:14 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Driver says courtesy can be counterproductive

“Just go!” was the way one driver headlined a comment to fellow drivers for my Monday online chat. This driver — unlike many of the travelers I hear from — thinks there’s such a thing as too much deference:

“Doc, can you please help with this? A couple times recently, I’ve been waiting to turn left off a busy suburban road during rush hour. There’s no light or stop sign, and some cars behind me pulled around to my right to get by, which is fine.

“But a car in the oncoming lane suddenly stopped in the road in front of me and flashed its headlights, apparently waiting for me to go.

“1) I wasn’t expecting this and was idly gazing in the other direction, knowing I had several more cars to wait for.

“2) What’s with the flashing lights? I don’t know what message you’re sending. Is there a police car? A deer? All I know is that you’ve stopped in traffic and are acting erratically, so I’m definitely not turning in front of you now.

“3) If he had just kept going, I’d have been able to turn pretty soon; but now we’re both waiting, along with those behind us.

“Please, people: Don’t try to be over-courteous. Just go. When it’s your turn, go! I see the same thing at crosswalks. Don’t stop because you see pedestrians or bikers on the side of the road, near the crosswalk. They’re waiting for you. If you stop, they’ll be confused, and then you’ll both be waiting. Just go.”

I didn’t get a chance to publish it then but promised I would try to get more of your comments online this week.

I’d hate to discourage any display of courtesy among the D.C. region’s drivers. When people write about their intersection experiences, they’re more likely to say an impatient driver drove around them to make the left turn or that an oncoming driver failed to use a turn signal.

First, I think some of our signals to other drivers — the informational signals — are less obvious than we think. A driver recently told me she’s tried flashing her car lights to remind other drivers they need to turn on their lights when using windshield wipers.

Flashing headlights aren’t a universal symbol of anything. The action could mean “I’m yielding,” or “Get out of my way.”

And we’ve certainly had plenty of discussions about the risks of doing something a following driver doesn’t expect. That was prominent when we debated whether drivers should stop for pedestrians standing by the George Washington Parkway.

You’d hope the oncoming driver was checking his rear view mirror to see how many cars were following closely. And if there weren’t any, why not just get through the intersection as quickly and safely as possible and let the other driver turn left?

We’ve also talked about regional courtesies, such as what drivers refer to as the “Pittsburgh Left,” where a motorist waiting at a red light allows the first driver facing him to turn left when the light goes green.

When I asked, drivers around here had trouble coming up with any D.C. regional courtesies. It’s not like we’re a tight-knit community. So many in this area learned to drive in other regions that it’s hazardous to make assumptions about what unofficial rules another driver might recognize.

The commenter’s “Just go” argument also applied to drivers who spot pedestrians waiting on the side of the road. When I ask police what drivers should do, they tell me that the “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” rule means exactly what it says. If a person is in the act of crossing, you must yield. But if the person has not begun to cross, then the driver should proceed cautiously.

Don’t surprise other drivers or the pedestrians and leave everyone uncertain about your intentions.

By  |  09:14 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Categories:  Traffic Safety, Driving | Tags:  DC transportation

 
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