Driving Courtesy: Leaving a Gap

January 18th, 2019

Traffic gets backed up for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, though, there are some little courtesies people can offer that make the situation a bit more bearable for all involved. One of those that has been on my mind recently is the gesture to leave a gap for people to cross traffic at an unmarked intersection.

Setting the stage from an experience just this morning – backed up in line at a traffic light half a block away, I am slowing as I see the brake lights in front of it. I can see that I am going to land directly in a mid-block intersection with a cross street. There is a car stopped in the oncoming lane with its blinker flashing to turn left on that street, waiting for an opportunity to cross. I can tell by the exasperated look on the drivers face that she has been waiting for some time. I come to a stop leaving a 2 car gap in front of me so she can make the turn. Simple, right?

This simple act is one that perhaps most of us do out of habit because we try to share the road as good drivers; yet, in this situation, it almost took a turn for the worse. She happily waved and started to make the turn, only to have to slam on the brakes as someone passed me on the right (on the shoulder, not in another lane) to zoom ahead that half a block and make a right turn at the next intersection. While I can appreciate this other driver’s desire to cut off some precious seconds and bypass the line of traffic, not only was the skirting act on the shoulder illegal, but it very nearly resulted in an accident. Fortunately, the turning driver was alert and reacted in time, causing only a minor pause again before she completed her turn.

Another one that burns me is when I see a similar situation, but where I have a lot of room ahead of me before needing to stop, so it is not practical for me to be the one to leave the gap. Then, after pulling forward, I note that behind me the cars stack bumper to bumper, leaving no room for the oncoming vehicle (or cross traffic) to make it through. I am confident that people don’t do this purposefully, it really does not impact them negatively to let someone across. I really think this happens most often because people are just not paying enough attention to be aware of what is happening around them. It is this lax, self-centric approach to driving that really scares me!

We all have done it at some point, so no major finger pointing here. Perhaps just a call for a little more awareness next time you are driving. If you are zoned out, taking that phone call, or simply have rowdy kids in the car and find yourself not being aware enough for a simple courtesy act, shake your head and wake up a little to your surroundings. You may find yourself noticing an opportunity to make someone’s day by being the “nice guy,” and perhaps even avoid an accident as well.