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Posted on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

When good deeds turn bad on the road - avoid the left-hand turn conundrum

By Rich Kinsey

There I was, pleasantly motoring to some morning errands. I approached the red traffic signal at the intersection. The man in the silver Lincoln was waiting in the driveway of the car wash. He had no turn signal on. Traffic backed up from the signal and I decided, as many drivers would, to stop short and let this man in the Lincoln out into traffic.

It seemed like the courteous thing to do. You have to stop anyway, so why not give the guy a break so he can pull in front of you? Everything was fine until I saw that Mr. No Turn Signal Lincoln was going to make a left turn in front of me. I knew from policing many similar accidents that this could end badly.

It did, because as Mr. No Turn Signal Lincoln passed my hood and entered the left turn lane, he did not see the blue pickup truck pulling a horse trailer that had just entered the left turn lane. The pickup truck had entered the left turn lane a little early for the intersection and plowed into the Lincoln with the dreaded quarter panel, hood and front bumper damage that spells big money at the body shop.

I had the best intentions, trying to be a nice guy and inadvertently causing a crash. If I had seen a left turn signal, I would not have stopped short. I have policed enough traffic crashes on Stadium Boulevard, Washtenaw Avenue and Plymouth Road to know that these incidents are fairly common.

The problem with letting people out to make left turns in front of you is that they usually cannot see traffic in the oncoming lane that is travelling in the same direction as you. The vehicle you are driving screens the view of the oncoming traffic. To see around your vehicle, the left turner has to nose out into the second lane from the curb.

For roads with more than just two lanes, that next lane out from the curb is either another through lane or a left turn lane — either of which might have a vehicle zipping down an empty lane.

Normally in cases like these, the car nosing out into the next traffic lane is the “at fault” driver. The exception to this is if the vehicle in the oncoming lane is speeding — which is not easy prove at minor accident scenes — or if that vehicle entered the left turn lane far back from the intersection and used the left turn lane for a passing lane.

The saddest part of these crashes is that they occur when drivers are being nice to each other. I support more courtesy on the road. I love to see motorists give each other a smile and a wave of thanks when someone does something nice. I’m also disappointed when someone lets another into traffic and gets neither a wave nor a smile — which does not happen often among us Great Lakes State Midwesterners.

It is also impressive how much traffic shuttles through Ann Arbor each day with very few angry horn blasts. Even crazy chaotic Michigan Football Saturday traffic is usually blessed with few hothead horn pounding tantrums.

So here is the conundrum — the “good Samaritan” left turn crashes are caused by people trying to be nice to each other. How do we prevent these crashes?

My first bit of advice is forget the left turn out of a driveway that is close to an intersection.

Businesses at busy intersections — especially gas stations for some reason — really have the potential for calamity for those trying to make a left turn away from the intersection where the business is located. In those cases, just give it up and hang a right.

Do not be the driver who inches out “establishes a beachhead” blocks a lane, then another, then the left turn lane and forces everyone oncoming to wait through an entire green traffic light signal so this one driver can make their precious left. That is being rude and selfish and shows the rest of us that you are not the brightest bulb in the pack.

If you are approaching stopped traffic at an intersection and see anything but a right turn signal on the car in the driveway, just keep moving up to the light. You can always feign adjusting your radio, rearview mirror or checking your smartphone until the light changes in order to avoid the look of disappointment or sneer on the driver trapped in the driveway. Hopefully that person will either get a natural break in traffic after you pass or will resign himself to making a right turn.

The most difficult situation is finding yourself on the receiving end of a “Good Samaritan” left. The person in the curb lane stops short for you, to let you out. What that person is not seeing is the traffic whizzing by in the next lane or the intermittent fast mover ripping down the left turn lane. This is tough.

My best advice is to smile and put up your hands, shake your head and mouth “Thanks.” If the other driver persists with a more insistent gesture with their hand of “after you.” It is time to slip into your best Marcel Marceau impersonation and pantomime being happy, pulling out and then getting blasted by oncoming traffic, struck from the left. Then for extra credit, mime being placed in a cervical collar and giving a slight wave from the gurney while being taken away in an ambulance.

The other driver will get the message and pull up to their spot to wait for the light. They will shake their head and think you are either a “crazy” person or a mime—either of which most people try to avoid.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Wed, Jun 27, 2012 : 3:54 a.m.

It was 11 days after Rich's caution about left turns into obscured traffic appeared here but yesterday I remembered his advice NOT to do this and probably saved myself a major accident. Thanks Rich.


Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

I've seen this scenario play out many times. It's not worth it. Just turn right. But if you MUST turn left, a second or third look definitely won't hurt. Inching out and gradually blocking lanes -- I see the busses do this all the time. It's hard enough for them, so I don't mind it too much.


Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

The miming ideas and descriptions were very funny! Thanks for a great laugh! I totally agree with your article. Thank you!


Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 3 a.m.

By the way, I recall that I have been critical of one of Kinsey's previous columns (where I vehemently disagreed that we should close down streets around the stadium on game days), but he's absolutely been on a roll lately. The articles are interesting, well-written, and I agree with most of them.

Ann English

Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : midnight

Nothing is said about waving left turners through when you're in the left lane of two going in the same direction. I think I understand better today how I allowed five such drivers pull in front of me and complete their left turns safely one day years ago, before the light far in front of me finally turned green: they waited for traffic to clear in the curb lane before going through the space I left for them.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

like the late Suzanne Pleshette, i just go right - easier to go round the blocks than to try to cross some of these traffic lanes.....

Ann English

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 11:50 p.m.

I wonder how often it happens in reverse: someone waving a left turn driver who wants to turn INTO a driveway, LEAVING the road close to an intersection, and a driver in the far right lane is caught off guard, hitting the passenger side of the car that was allowed over from the other side of the road. What would you say about that sort of courtesy, that when you wave this driver in the opposite lane through, you look in your rear-view mirror and passenger-side mirror to make sure that lane to your right is clear BEFORE waving the left turner through?

Use Logic

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

An even simpler solution - just don't wave. When pulling up to an intersection with a cutout on the right and a driver waiting in it, simply don't pull up all the way and give them enough room to safely turn either way. This forces the other driver to make their own decision as to when it's safe to proceed, but still demonstrates that you're trying to be courteous.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

What gets me is people who turn left - into the left turn lane - then put on their right turn signal and try to merge into traffic!

John Hritz

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

Its unfortunate that these sorts of things are not covered in basic drivers training. Other topics that they miss are risk management, how to drive ahead of your car, yield the right of way, how to turn while maintaining your lane, how to merge, how to overtake slow moving vehicles (like bicycles) properly, and avoiding target fixation. Interestingly, these are all covered in a motorcycle riders course. Perhaps this is because the stakes are higher.

Kilgore Trout

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

Excellent article and comments, I have always hoped that the number of drivers who make this "across traffic left turn" would diminish as their cars become damaged or wrecked but there seems to be high learning curve with them.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

"Look Kids, Big Ben, Parliment...I can't get left"


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

I try to keep in mind that I'm a Michigander and a safe driver to boot. Rich is obviously right about allowing left turns into obscured lanes of traffic. But that should include the "intentions" of those who are attempting to make those left turns. Please, folks, use your turn signals to make clear your desire / intention and avoid impatience, wait until you have a clear view of the road you're trying to get onto. Driving should be taught as a cooperative effort in which everyone is trying to get to their destination without creating or experiencing a disaster.


Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 2:56 a.m.

At least once a week, I notice a situation where somebody should have used their turn signal to be more safe and courteous. Not to mention it improves everybody else's efficiency because they know what you're about to do and can prepare for it.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Ironically, I call this "playing traffic cop", I never do it for the very reason stated above. My own personal rules are, no signal...I will not stop/hold up traffic to let them out (technically, this is a ticket-able offense called impeding traffic) Waiting to left into traffic with signal, sorry you can wait. My own observation has been traffic flows much better and there are no accidents when you simply drive on and let the driver wait their turn....


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Rich; Is it OK to stop in the middle of a round about for a "wave fest" with the guy behind the yeild sign? How about stopping at a green light to be extra careful? I see a lot of that goin on too. Lovely.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Very good advice. I actually know TWO separate people who have had accidents where they were let out to make a left turn and then got hit by someone in the left turn lane. One of them was seriously injured.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Many left turns out of parking lots and especially gas stations could be avoided by simply PLANNING AHEAD. Before you pull into the lot or station, think about the direction you need to go when you leave. It's a lot easier to go to the station across the street, exit on the cross street and turn left at the light. If you didn't take the time to think ahead, then just "suck it up and turn right" as Mr. Kinsey suggests. One spot that the "left turn bandit" particularly gets my goat is the people turning left out of the CVS lot near the corner of Plymouth and Green. There are TWO signs in the lot indicating NO LEFT TURN, but I would guess that more than half of the people exiting onto Plymouth turn left anyway. People: PLEASE use the Green Road exit and turn left at the Plymouth/Green intersection light!


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

I see people dashing out making an illegal left turn from that CVS too. I wish there was a cop on the other side waiting to give them a ticket. I refuse to believe that people cannot read 'NO LEFT TURN' signs.

Bob W

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

I live close to the stadium and pass through the Stadium-Main intersection often. There's a commercial establishment directly across from the stadium and this situation plays out very often. I never make room for someone pulling out of the commercial property unless they indicate they are making a right. Your assessment is correct, the fault is not with those of us who would, or wouldn't make room, but rather in educating drivers to avoid making such dangerous choices on exiting into traffic. I fear, for the most part, they are just too lazy or in a hurry to make a right and find a better, safer way to head in the direction of their choice. After all, it's all about them.

Chris Sallek

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

I agree wholeheartedly. I often do the right turn/turnaround left turn when traffic warrants it. However, I also try to avoid blocking sidestreets, shopping center drives and even drives for popular restaurants in case of an emergency and always fear someone will make an obstucted view left turn through the space I leave. Turning right to turn left is SO much safer.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

I'm OUTRAGED!!! Actually not. Just in disbelief that 16 comments so far and no one has found something wrong with Rick's column.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

A related danger is the car that stops in the middle of a roundabout because they want to let waiting vehicles in. Interpretation of traffic circle etiquette (there shouldn't be any, people should just get in and out, no pauses) scares me every day.


Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

Thankfully I haven't seen that one yet. In fact, that might be more dangerous than the folks who haven't learned what a Yield sign means. (Note: it means you don't stop if there's no traffic coming, because the people behind you don't expect you to stop for no reason.)

Jessica Webster

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

Great column, Rich!!


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

And then there's the trick some use: angle slightly to the right as if turning right; wait for a polite victim; THEN pull across their path and block traffic while executing left turn.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

Some of these incidents can be prevented with improved signage and/or traffic control measures. The intersection of Federal and Stadium is a bad combination of ill-timed lights, offset cross-streets, and badly-placed driveways. Turning into the post office can be precarious from any direction, and southbound drivers who turn into the gas station do so at some risk, too. Further up, people make an (illegal, across a double-yellow) left from southbound Stadium/Maple to Abbot, sometimes waiting in the northbound turn lane -- at the same spot northbounders make the illegal left into Westgate between the bank and Zingerman's Roadhouse. But they don't want to be inconvenienced by going even an extra tenth of a mile, so....

Paul Wiener

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Excellent. Perfect sense, and needs to be restated again and again and even taught in driver's training. It'd help if this article were illustrated with a few diagrams, for those who - like those drivers - have a hard time visualizing anything that's not right in front of their eyes.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I have read opinions that say you can be held liable for "waving" people into traffic. As the lawyer-think goes, your wave indicates traffic is clear. We all know the wave probaby just means that we are willing to wait. Hence, I don't wave when I am waiting for someone to pull out, etc.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

Thank you for another informative and thought provoking article, Detective Kinsey. I agree that your articles are among the best on Keep up the good work!

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

I got smashed in just such a situation, turning left when someone waved me through and getting creamed by someone in the next lane over who didn't see that another motorist was waving me through. It hit the passenger side, where my husband was sitting, and I was horrified that I had put him in harm's way. I (almost) never do this maneuver anymore, but you're right that it's harder to resist when you can tell someone is trying to be nice and let you out.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

Funny. Thanks for pointing out this danger, Rich. It is something I often warn my children about as they approach driving age, and wish they would address more in driver ed classes. Having worked in accident research for a number of years, this situation results in a large proportion of accidents. Often times the driver waving a car in ahead of them, also begins waving the car across the lanes of traffic, not even aware themselves of the danger they are leading that car into. So, I teach new drivers to THINK FOR THEMSELVES - do not let other drivers think for them, or feel pressured by other drivers who may want to rush them, etc. But a statement you made here also brings to light a major problem with the new pedestrian crosswalk ordinance: "The problem with letting people out to make left turns in front of you is that they usually cannot see traffic in the oncoming lane that is travelling in the same direction as you. The vehicle you are driving screens the view of the oncoming traffic. To see around your vehicle the left turner has to nose out into the second lane from the curb." I see this repeatedly when a pedestrian is trying to cross Washtenaw, Stadium or Plymouth Rd. They would just assume wait until traffic is clear and they can safely cross. But the ordinance now has cars stopped in one lane waving that pedestrian across, as the other lane is blind to the pedestrian and still whizzing by. Like the left turner in your example, the pedestrian has to nose out into the second lane to be seen. Ouch. You go on to say: "For roads with more than just two lanes, that next lane out from the curb is either another through lane or a left turn lane — either of which might have a vehicle zipping down an empty lane. Normally in cases like these, the car nosing out into the next traffic lane is the "at fault" driver." The difference here is that the pedestrian who is in the same situation as this car nosing out can not be at fault...


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:25 p.m.

Thank you Rich. Your columns are some of the best content on Sadly, though the segment of drivers who insist upon performing such precarious maneuvers are generally so self-absorbed that they probably don't even read this venue (you're generally "preaching to the choir" here. . .and if they do happen upon this advice. . . they are in such a state of their own personal driving capacity/ability denial that they don't see the observation as applying to them. There may indeed be times when the courteous action is not the best action for all parties. As described in the column the the courteous intention merely enabled risky behavior. Much better to plan and structure you vehicular egress more than 3 seconds into the future and more than the next twenty fee in your vehicle's path. Make a safe right turn. "go around the block" and suck it up on missing the first 30 seconds of DWTS - - life will go on. . .

Jojo B

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

I was the victim of an accident similar to this. Somebody stopped and waved a "left-hand turn person" to go through and... boom! He blindly went right into me, totaling both of our cars. Putting on his signal would have done nothing to help. The kicker is that the idiot who waved him on and encouraged him to cut across traffic blindly... well he wasn't directly involved in the accident, so he just took off and went along his merry way.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 11:17 p.m.

I had a similar accident in April. The silly lady just had to make a left hand turn at the height of rush hour traffic coming out of a bank at Packard/E. Stadium. Totaled my car, she was at fault... and all for what, because she was too impatient to make a right turn. In the end, she paid my deductible and I got a newer car from the insurance company pay out. Left hand turns out of businesses at busy 5 lane roads at an intersection is NOT SMART!

Jim Osborn

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

Great advice! Far too often, I see people who will wait for this one driver who wants to make the left turn, causing all others to miss the traffic light, after this driver freezes, blocking both lanes. Adding the accident danger is just another reason not to do it. They should turn right.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

I took it he was getting into the left turn lane to make a left turn, I may probably made the mistake.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

I think you misunderstood the articvle ,go back and read it again.


Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

If the driver isnt able to signal their intentions, probably you don't want them pulling out in front of you.

Chip Reed

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

Good advice, Rich.