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Please Don't Be Stan

Attorney Mike Bottaro discusses the unintended consequences of allowing left hand turns...

Or, “when good intentions turn bad.”

Stopping to allow another driver to turn left in front of us is a common occurrence in Rhode Island. In my opinion, for the reason outlined below, it is also an extremely bad idea that can contribute to car accidents

Stan is driving down a two-lane road in the left lane. Up ahead, Stan sees Martha in the opposite lane seeking to make a left hand turn in front of him.  Stan is in a charitable mood and decides to stop and motion for Martha to turn in front of him. Stan is a nice guy. 

But wait! Here is a twist that RI personal injury lawyers see all too often: there is a third driver to Stan’s right proceeding straight in the right lane.  Due to Stan’s kindness, Martha makes her left turn assuming all is clear and not realizing that there is another driver to Stan’s right who is simply driving straight. The result: a major collision resulting in property damage and personal injury.  And Stan and Martha feel awful.

The Rhode Island General Laws, Section 31-21-1 prohibit drivers from stopping on the main traveled part of the highway.  In addition, the driver making the left hand turn must keep a proper lookout at all times before proceeding.  See e.g., Model Civil Jury Instructions for R.I., R. 1301.1 (“Duties of Driver”)(2002).  RI personal injury lawyers use the Rhode Island Model Civil Jury Instructions to provide jurors with the framework for evaluating car accident cases.  Notably, the instructions mirror R.I. Gen. Laws Sec. 31-17-22 regarding left hand turns as follows:

The driver of a vehicle within an intersection who intends to turn to the left must yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within, or so close to, the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.  That driver, after yielding and giving whatever signal is prudent, may make the left turn, and the drivers of all other vehicles approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn. 

These personal injury cases are difficult in the sense that they often involve significant, life altering injuries and, in our example above, “Stan” always feels guilt-ridden. 

Stopping in the middle of traffic and waving someone to turn left in front of us can really contribute to serious car accidents. What do you think?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Robin Wilson February 28, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Agreed. I see situations like this frequently and just shake my head. Also, why do RI'ers think they have right of way to turn left at an intersection when the light turns green if they are the first car? I see this every day and it drives me nuts!
Elise Burroughs February 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM
At last! This practice of arbitrarily stopping to "help" people turn left has driven me crazy since I moved to this state. Please, just follow the rules of the road!

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