Stop trying to be polite

Who doesn't want to be nice to others? A driver facing me at a stop sign the other day wanted to be, and waved for me to make my turn in front of her.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

Nov 29, 2008 3 min. read

Article was updated 14 years ago

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Who doesn't want to be nice to others? A driver facing me at a stop sign the other day wanted to be, and waved for me to make my turn in front of her.

I refused, and eventually she gave up and drove straight through, shaking her head at my seeming inability to comprehend someone doing me a favour.

The reason I didn't proceed is because relinquishing the right-of-way isn't polite; instead, it's dangerous, and can be potentially deadly.

When the rules of the road are strictly obeyed by everyone, traffic is capable of flowing almost flawlessly. When every driver stops for red lights, proceeds on green ones, drives in the correct lane and obeys yield signs, then each vehicle moves in order.

But if a driver doesn't follow the rules and, for example, runs a stop sign, it starts a chain reaction that often results in a collision. Each driver's safety depends on the next driver knowing the rules and following them, so everyone proceeds in the proper order and doesn't end up in another driver's space.

When the right-of-way is yours and you refuse to take it, you confuse other drivers, who then don't know how to react.

We've all seen the "standoff": Driver A should proceed, but he graciously waves Driver B to go first. Driver B hesitates, because it's not his turn (or, just as likely, he can't see that small gesture through a tinted windshield). A waves again, B stands his ground. So A finally gives up, just as B figures that A isn't going to move – and both drive ahead, sometimes with disastrous results.

A common practice is for drivers to stop on the road when pedestrians not at a crosswalk or an intersection are waiting for traffic to clear so they can cross the street. Unless it's likely that they're going to step out in front of your car, by far the safest plan is to drive by them.

If you stop suddenly, you're in danger of being rear-ended by another driver who isn't expecting you to do this – and that collision may even push your car ahead and strike the pedestrian as he crosses in front of you.

Another is stopping to let someone out of a driveway or side street, or to make a turn in front of you, on a multi-lane road. That driver is now in danger of being struck by a driver coming up on your other side, who doesn't realize that there's going to be someone crossing in front of him.

And while four-way stops confound a surprising number of drivers, that's nothing compared to the two-way stop, which really shows how many people didn't pay attention in driving school.

If you're at a stop sign, facing another driver also at a stop sign, then the car going straight has the right-of-way, no matter who got there first, and no matter how many straight-through drivers are waiting behind him.

If you're not sure, then imagine it's a traffic light: even if you got to the red light first, you wouldn't turn left until everyone else had gone through when it turned green.

The best way to be polite on the road is by sometimes seeming to be rude. Make other drivers wait and proceed through the intersection only when it's your turn. Waving someone through your right-of-way can be as bad as running a stop sign or a red light.

If it's unthinkable for you to break those laws, then do exactly the same when it comes to letting someone "go first."

It's nice to be nice, but it's even better to be safe.


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