Stopping, Yielding, and Right of Way

You can’t have crashes if cars don’t collide with each other on the streets. If drivers stop when they should, yield to others when they should, and respect the concept of “right of way,” crashes are kept to a minimum. Sadly, some drivers don’t stop when they should, don’t yield when they should, and don’t respect the concept of “right of way.” You learned about all of this when you learned how to drive, so how can drivers not do what they should? At this time, we will revisit the basics of stopping and yielding. Now, though, it will come with a dose of what might happen when other drivers don’t act as they should or when a situation arises that is unexpected and poses a risk to you. First up, stopping.

You will stop your vehicle thousands of times, maybe more, over the span of your driving career. So what’s the big deal? You’ll stop so much you’ll soon be able to do it with your eyes closed, right? Actually, never do that! Before you read about what can go wrong during such a common occurrence, let’s review the characteristics of a good stop.

Any time you stop a moving vehicle, do so smoothly and gradually. Check your mirrors, especially the rearview. Release the accelerator and lightly hit and hold the brake. Keep the pressure steady but light. Do this until you slow to your desired speed or finish your gradual, smooth stop. Slowing and stopping this way lets drivers around you know what you plan to do. The driver behind you will see your brake lights, and drivers off to your side or those coming at you should notice your vehicle slowing down. Making sudden jerky moves may confuse drivers to your sides and cause them to react unnecessarily. Also, if you come to too hard and sudden a stop, that driver behind you may collide with you, brake lights or not. You might be hurt or lose the use of your vehicle while it’s being repaired – possibly both. Always make your stops predictable. Make it obvious to those around you that you are slowing down and preparing to stop. Pedestrians waiting at a crosswalk will appreciate it. Drivers about to cross your path will appreciate the fact that you’ve made it obvious you are stopping at the stop sign or even at the intersection to let them pass. What kind of signal do you think it sends if you drive right to the end of a cross street or up to a stop sign and then jam on your brakes? Now you’ve got other drivers who believe you’re going to run the stop sign or shoot out into their path. They must react to what they think you are going to do. Now their reaction causes other drivers to react. At some point along this chain, there will be a driver who is too slow to react or evade. Now, we have a crash. By the way, what you are reading now concerns driving in optimal conditions. When you start to factor in darkness, heavy rain, snow, and ice, things get unpredictable very quickly.

Remember, your vehicle is a machine that experiences wear and tear. What kind of wear do you think is put upon your braking system if you are constantly coming to hard stops and jamming on your brakes? Far more wear and tear than if you stop gradually the way you should. Every time you press your brake pedal there is friction between metal parts in your brakes.  Keeping that friction to a minimum with smooth stops leads to longer brake life. This is obviously important to the safe operation of your vehicle. But it impacts your pocketbook as well. One thing you won’t find in driver’s manuals is the cost of replacing your vehicle’s brakes or other critical parts. That’s one experience you’ll need to prepare for, especially if you’re not used to big numbers… like the kind you’ll see on your repair bill. Smooth, well-controlled driving is not just about safety. You can prolong the life of many important components in your vehicle by avoiding sudden, jerky movements. The more severe a turn or a stop or an acceleration or deceleration, the more stress on your engine or other parts of your vehicle. While you won’t necessarily notice a sudden change or mechanical problem, parts and systems in your vehicle will degrade more rapidly over time. At some point, you’ll notice or feel the problem and probably end up with your car in the shop. Do your best to keep unplanned trips to the mechanic to a minimum. But that does not mean ignoring mechanical and operational problems. It means taking good care of your vehicle so you can get the level of performance you would expect and pay for.

When we get into the subject of yielding, the picture gets a bit more complicated. Why? Because yielding involves more than one driver. Many times you will get to an intersection and see a sign or a light that tells you who should proceed and who should yield … slow down or stop to allow another driver to go first. That’s what yielding is all about, right? Allowing another driver or drivers to proceed before you do.

Signs or no signs, the situation will not always be clear cut. Normally, things should be very easy to figure out: stop if the light is red or if you have a stop sign. Let the other guy go first if you have a yield sign. But what if an impatient driver signals their intent to blow through a stop sign or run a red light? How will you recognize that signal?  With experience, you will see that someone is driving far too fast given the distance their vehicle is from a stop sign or a red light. There is no way they can stop safely. Assume they’re not going to stop and prepare to brake. If they somehow bring their vehicle to a hard stop, you were at least prepared if they just kept driving. And again, prepare with a gradual stop. If you have somebody behind you, you will avoid being rear-ended when you anticipate a driver running a light and you slow down gradually instead of slamming on the brakes. The worst that happens is you slowed momentarily to be sure the driver ahead of you would stop. You avoided the possible trouble ahead and the driver behind you was able to stop safely. Everyone’s safe. 

The most challenging part of yielding comes when more than one vehicle arrives at an intersection at the same time. And remember, when you think “intersection,” it’s not just your standard cross shape where one road runs across another.  Anywhere that two or more roads connect is an intersection. You could have roads that meet yours directly from one side or the other. You could also have streets that gradually merge with yours, from the left or right, coming in from your rear. You need to be able to recognize when you are at an intersection and when there are other vehicles that may cross your path.

Again, in a perfect world, the driver who comes upon a yield sign will slow gradually and allow you to proceed. In the real driving world, that will not always be the case. You may encounter an impatient driver who feels they don’t have time to slow down for you. In their mind, they were at the intersection first, so they can proceed. You may have a responsible driver who gets set to slow and stop; as they check their rearview mirror, they notice the driver behind them has no intention of stopping. Now that responsible driver is forced to proceed when they really don’t want to … or shouldn’t. By the way, that is something you must always check whenever you prepare to slow or stop. What is going on behind you? Does the driver to your rear have the time and room to stop without hitting you? A bit later, you will read about stopping and following distances. Maintaining a safe cushion between you and the driver to your front is a crucial factor in crash avoidance. Speaking of which…

Regardless of traffic laws and rules of the road and right of way,
CRASH AVOIDANCE is priority one for everybody.
 If you find yourself in a dangerous situation,
always do what you can to avoid a crash
unless your actions will endanger you or someone else even more.

Have you ever seen an older-style slingshot? You know, the sticks shaped like the letter Y with a rubber band across the top? Well, if you use your imagination a bit, you can see how the shape of a yield sign resembles a slingshot. A yield sign, though, is not a slingshot; it’s quite the opposite. Use this image to remind you that drivers often shoot out from a road where they should yield to you. Never assume every driver will respect the yield sign. Watch their speed. Watch their face or other body language. Many times you’ll need to take your cue from a driver’s behavior and not from the sign. That’s just a sad but true piece of reality.

Yield signs can’t be placed everywhere. There are far too many intersections to put a sign at each one. Not to mention the fact that when there are so many signs in one area, they start to lose their meaning and significance; that’s the last thing we need on our roads. You probably know that when two drivers arrive at an intersection at the same time, the driver on the right has the right of way under the law. The driver on the left should yield. No sign is necessary. This is a pretty standard rule. Respect it and practice it. If you do, the absence of a sign at an intersection should make no difference. If it is too hard to tell who arrived at the intersection first, back off and yield to the other driver. It is utterly senseless to get into a “me first” race. You can spare the extra few seconds you’ll spend waiting, can’t you?

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