Have you ever spotted someone trying to get through a gap in traffic and decided to wave them through? Or perhaps you slowed down to let someone merge into traffic? In an age where road rage incidents are all-too-common, acts of courtesy like these are few and far between. However, courteous acts like these could also result in an accident you may be liable for.

How a Courteous Wave Can Result in an Accident

A courteous act may seem harmless from a courteous driver's point of view, but it could prove dangerous or even deadly for fellow motorists and pedestrians. These acts often include:

  • Waving a driver from a nearby roadway to join traffic or cross multiple lanes of traffic
  • Stopping to allow a pedestrian to cross the road where there isn't a crosswalk
  • Waving another driver to turn left at an intersection without a dedicated turning lane or left-turn signal
  • Waving another driver through a four-way crossing without regard to right-of-way

These actions often disregard the intentions of other motorists who are unlikely to know the intentions of the courteous driver. This becomes glaringly apparent in the case of a courteous motorist leaving a gap for a fellow motorist to cross several lanes of traffic. The driver attempting to cross traffic knows little about the traffic in the other lane and the courteous driver can do nothing to stop the flow of traffic in the next lane. The crossing driver relies solely on the courteous driver's intentions, misjudging the flow of traffic in the next lane as a result. This common act of courtesy could easily result in a serious accident.

Factors That Can Make Courteous Actions Dangerous Ones

There are plenty of factors that could easily turn what was intended as a courteous action into one that leads to a serious accident. Limited information is one such factor, as mentioned in the scenario above. Most times, the driver being waved through has no information about adjacent traffic, nor does the adjacent traffic have any knowledge of the driver trying to merge into or cross traffic. The courteous driver also has little to no information about the intentions of the driver being waved through.

Another factor involves the difficulty of interpreting the intentions of the courteous driver. While the courteous driver may attempt to wave another driver to merge into traffic, the driver being waved at may interpret the wave as a sign that it's safe to cross one or more lanes of traffic. There's also the danger of the courteous action itself. For instance, stopping in the middle of the roadway to let a jaywalking pedestrian cross the road could easily result in being rear ended by another vehicle.

How It Can Impact Your Liability

When it comes to accidents caused by courteous actions, the question of liability generally depends on how each state handles such accidents. Most states tend to assign fault to drivers whose courteous actions cause others to suffer an accident. In these states, it can be argued that the courteous driver has a duty of care to ensure that their actions don't hurt other motorists or pedestrians.

Other states may let courteous drivers off the hook in terms of liability. Instead, it's the motorist or pedestrian interpreting the other driver's act of courtesy who's tasked with exercising due care to avoid causing an accident. However, it's usually up to the courts to decide who's liable and how fault should be assigned in accidents stemming from courteous actions.

It's important to realize that as a courteous motorist, your actions could have unforeseen consequences for other motorists and pedestrians as well as yourself. There's nothing wrong with being a courteous driver, but you should make certain that your actions will not put anyone else in unnecessary danger. If you've been in an accident, reach out to a law firm like Speers Reuland & Cibulskis, P.C.