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I blog often about the dangers of distracted driving, but some motorists take their habits to the opposite extreme – too courteous or overcautious. They:

  • Drive well-below the posted speed limit especially in inclement weather.
  • Wait for a green light at right-turn-on-red intersections.
  • Let others go first at a four-way stop, even though they arrived first.
  • Stop to let cars merge into traffic.
  • Stop to let pedestrians cross when there is no marked crosswalk.
  • Yield or give an “all clear” wave to drivers, allowing the other driver to turn in front of them.

While kind gestures, they are not necessarily in everyone’s best interests and can be equally as dangerous as driver distractions. Misplaced courtesy will often cause a driver to be held liable in a crash. Here are two lawsuits that highlight the serious consequences of engaging in a common practice among well-intentioned, courteous drivers.

A Portland, Oregon bicyclist, who was seriously injured in a November 2014 auto accident, filed a lawsuit against the pick-up driver who hit her and another driver she claims waved the truck driver to turn in front of his vehicle. According to the claim, a well-intentioned driver waved the pick-up truck driver through an intersection in advance of the appropriate right-first sequence. The truck driver struck the cyclist who was riding in the bike lane. The lawsuit states the crash fractured the woman’s pelvis, shoulder, ribs, sacrum and tailbone. She also went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. The lawsuit seeks $650,000 in damages, including lost wages and pain and suffering. The well-intended driver is being held accountable for failing to provide a proper lookout and waving to the truck driver to make the turn when he knew or should have known that the turn could not be made safely at that time.

In January 2006, a driver in a Subaru pulled into the middle lane of busy street and was waiting to make a left turn when there was a break in traffic. A driver in one of two oncoming lanes came to a halt, then waved the Subaru through. As the Subaru driver turned left, a car in the second oncoming lane slammed into it. A 20-year-old passenger in the Subaru was seriously injured; she still suffers painful headaches and has memory loss worse than a patient in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After a two-week trial, the jury found the Subaru driver 55 percent responsible, the driver who hit the Subaru 10 percent responsible, and the driver who waved him on at 35 percent responsible. While some jurors wanted to place more blame on the driver who stopped to wave the Subaru through, others were surprised that the “well-intended” driver was also held accountable.

Overly courteous drivers are seldom, if ever, in control of surrounding traffic. The best advice for everyone is to be more aware of their surroundings and drive defensively. Don’t yield at the wrong place, wave others on, or slow down when traffic is flowing. This advice does not exclude the normal courtesy of letting one into the lane of travel from a side street when vehicle flow is at a standstill, or alternating at an unexpected merge area.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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