Can you ever be too nice? When you’re on the road, being overly courteous might seem like the right thing to do. After all, you don’t want to be anything like those road-raging, speeding, horn-honking jerks, right?
Unfortunately, many drivers don’t realize that their “courtesy” is actually making the roads less safe.
When Polite Drivers Become a Menace
There’s a distinct difference between a safe defensive driver and this type of person. The overly courteous, excessively polite driver follows all the rules but also follows their own code of chivalry. They always let people merge into the lane in front of them. They stop to let cars cross the street. They will wave other folks through an intersection with a smile.
That doesn’t sound so bad, right? This person is just doing what we’ve all been taught about polite behavior. Is waiting for another car to go first at an intersection really that different from holding the door open for someone?
The simple answer is yes.
This overly nice driver is actually creating chaos and confusion. There are established rules of the road governing who gets to go first, and ignoring them can create an unsafe situation.
Merging into Traffic
If there’s a line of people trying to merge into your lane, what do you do? The correct answer is to use the “zipper” method. You let one car go in front of you and then keep driving. The person behind you lets one more car go.
That’s how the system is supposed to work. It balances the amount of wait for the vehicles in the merging lane with a very minor slowdown for the main flow of traffic. Letting more than one car go in front of you doesn’t help anyone.
Intersections Without a Traffic Light
At a four-way stop, it should be pretty easy to tell who goes first. Everyone takes turns based on the order in which they stopped. If two people stop at the exact same time, then the vehicle to your right gets to go before you. However, most of the time it’s simple to stop, wait your turn, and then go.
Or at least it would be easy except for the overly polite driver who waves for you to go first. They’re trying to be nice, but they’re making the situation more confusing. Since you know the rules, you hesitate or wave them through the intersection. Then someone gets frustrated and tries to zoom past both of you, or you become confused and go at the same time as the polite driver.
Bam! Now you’re dealing with a wreck instead of a brief wait at a stop sign.
Left Turn? Be My Guest!
Another example of dangerously polite driving is when someone stops on the roadway to allow another vehicle to make a left turn.
The only time this is acceptable is when you’re on a simple, double-lane or single-lane road with clear visibility for any traffic coming from the opposite direction and you’re about to stop at an intersection that would cause your vehicle to block the car trying to turn.
Any other time, you could be creating problems instead of solving them. If there’s no intersection ahead, just keep driving and trust that the car will get to turn in due time. If you are going to stop soon and think you’ll block the turning vehicle, reconsider whether it’s wise to wave them through.
If you give them the go-ahead without noticing vehicles in the other lanes, you could cause an accident–and you’d be liable for it, too.