Yesterday I witnessed a traffic accident. I saw it coming, but could do nothing to warn the drivers involved. Strangely, it was caused by a misplaced act of politeness. It's a situation I've seen many times, and it's always clear that those involved haven't really thought through how their politeness is creating a serious danger. So now that I've seen my fears realized, I think it's time that I put this out into the world, because I've never seen it discussed anywhere before.
Here's the set-up. It's rush hour on a four-lane city street. (This was Asheville's Charlotte Street just north of the I-240 overpass, though it could have been just about anywhere.) There's a long line of southbound cars at a red light. There's a northbound car wanting to make a left turn across the southbound lanes onto a small side street. Let's call her Driver A. She's a middle-aged woman in a Toyota Prius in this specific instance, though that's all irrelevant.
Driver B is in a small truck, in the left-hand southbound lane. He or she (I couldn't see the driver) sees that Driver A is going to have to wait forever to get an opening to turn left. So when it's his turn to start moving forward under the green light, he instead waits, and waves to Driver A to go.
Unfortunately, Driver A does not have a clear view of the southbound RIGHT-hand lane. There's not a car immediately adjacent to Driver B, or even a little way back, so Driver A goes. But what she doesn't see is the car that's coming.
I was four or five cars behind Driver B, so I saw Driver A starting to make her turn at the same time as I saw another car--Driver C--zipping along in the relatively clear right-hand lane next to me. I could see both of them, but neither of them could see the other. So they collided--right front corner of A to left front corner of C. (Because this is Asheville, Driver C was also a woman in a Toyota Prius. Yes, really.)
Neither driver was apparently injured, but A's car had a wheel bent badly enough that it couldn't even be driven far enough to clear the road. I saw her turning the steering wheel, trying to move her car, and the right front wheel was not turning with it. Broken axle or tie rod, maybe?
Driver A will clearly get ticketed for making a left turn when it wasn't clear to do so. And well she should. She was indisputably at fault. But if there were such a thing as an "assist" in the sphere of moving violations, we'd have to award it to Driver B. It was her yielding her right of way to Driver A that caused the problem. It lured her into an unsafe situation.
If you stop to think about it, you can imagine other ways that this scenario can go wrong besides the most obvious one that was played out yesterday:
- Driver A recognizes the danger and hesitates making the turn. Finally she works up her nerve, but at just the same moment, Driver B has given up, having decided that A isn't ever going to go, and she can't keep on holding up the line forever, because cars behind her are starting to honk their horns. So A and B collide.
- Driver A goes halfway, turning in front of B but waiting to go the rest of the way until she gets a better view of the right-hand lane. But just when she concludes that it's clear, the car immediately behind A gets tired of waiting, and whips into the right lane to go around. Crash.
ADDENDUM: I found the accident report online, in case you want to look at it. I was curious to see if Driver A had, in fact, been cited, but the "citations" section is blank. Awaiting further investigation, perhaps?