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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. 

 Model Civil Jury Instructions for R.I., R. 1402”(Vehicle Turning Left”)(2002).

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?

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John Mahon March 25, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Those turns are O.K. if there is no oncoming traffic. However, in many cases you will find that there was no traffic coming behind you. Let them wait another 15 seconds when they can turn across after you pass. Hell of a lot safer. I had one of these bad occurrences 20 years ago and the young lady ran into the side of my car at the front wheel. No injuries but she sure as hell was upset. Had just picked up the new car the night before!!!
Dale B. April 05, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Too many idiot drivers in this town. The right lane Rte 3 eastbound at Arnold Rd is for turning right down Arnold Rd, not blowing by people on the right. Don't like being pushed into the car lot, don't do it then. I also like turning left onto Arnold Rd. from New London Tpke. and some clown thinks the right lane turning left entitles them to cut everybody off. I love sending them into the stone wall when the "moron" lane ends! They'll wave their arms honk their horn and tailgate you to Tiogue Ave. Just because some moron designed the intersection that way doesn't entitle you to squish your way in because you don't feel like waiting in a longer line in the left lane to turn. We also need more surprise seat belt and texting checkpoints.
B. C. July 01, 2013 at 03:56 AM
That whole section from the end of the exit 7 ramp off 95S to Arnold road has been a mess since they installed the traffic signal at the entrance to The Center of New England. The two lanes turning left onto Arnold was necessary to keep traffic from building up back through the intersection during busy times, but the right most turning lane is to short after the turn to allow easy merging. Purposely preventing people from doing so doesn't help. When they changed the Stop sign to a yield sign for turning right at the end of the exit 7 ramp, that too was to keep traffic from piling up back onto the highway at what has become a very busy exit. Even with a very long ramp, it still happens. But then they added a light there as well, and some people are confused and not sure what to do when they see both. Every week I encounter drivers going through there who think they still need to yield, and actually come to complete stop, when the light is green. To Mikes point about left turning, he is spot on. It's always dangerous to stop traffic to let a left tuner go. Left turners never have the right of way except when there's left green arrow light, and for good reason. Left turning generally upsets the smooth flow of traffic. No one should feel like they need to be nice and try to give the right of way where it doesn't belong. I have seen the exact situation he described with "Stan" many times, and it's scary as hell to watch a driver go around the stopped car thinking he just stopped to make a left turn only to have to slam on the brakes to avoid someone pulling out onto the road without looking properly.

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