Follow the law, not your gut, when making decisions while you drive

September 12, 2017

Spencer Traut

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    Cars are speeding, two-ton blocks of metal. In unfit hands, they are weapons.

    The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates that 352 people statewide have died in car crashes this year so far.

    This is why courteous drivers are thought to be the safest: they have compassion for others. It is thought that courteous drivers will always do the right thing because of their empathetic disposition.

    But we don’t need courtesy to make the right decision.

    The law decides for us, and it is far safer to follow the law to help you make decisions while driving instead of your own moral compass. In fact, a problem only arises when someone ignores the law to do what they think is courteous instead of what legally correct.

    Laws work because they keep everyone on the same page. Everyone follows the rules, and traffic stays predictable.

    This is because of the driving term, “right of way.” Whoever has the right of way, under law, is not only allowed to go, but is obligated to their right on the road. It is not up to the individual to decide who gets to go because the law has done so for every imaginable road scenario.

    For example, at a four-way stop, whoever first comes to a complete stop at the sign has the right of way. The drivers who pull up first, who have the right of way but tell you to go ahead, are indeed breaking the law by trying to be nice.

    These kind acts, where someone with the right of way tries to push it onto you for your convenience can be confusing, despite the courteous intentions of these drivers. They may have saved you time by letting you pass, but they defied your expectations and made you react to something unexpected.

    Surprises are what damage a system that runs on predictability and rigid adherence to the law. They create chaos. It is important to be courteous, but to the right people – specifically to those with the right of way.

    Law-breaking courtesy can be inefficient as well, even though people who commit these kind acts aim to save others time.

    One night downtown, I had to slam on my brakes because the car in front of me stopped and waved across a jaywalker. The pedestrian was waiting for a break in traffic and knew he had no right of way without a crosswalk.

    Whatever amount of time the driver saved the jaywalker by letting him across was surely negated by the time he cost me by making me stop for no reason.

    This is the center of the issue of letting kindness dictate your driving: it makes the argument for emotion over logic.

    Bestowing your precious right of way onto someone who doesn’t deserve it feeds your ego. You see the satisfaction on their face and it makes you feel like a good person because of the direct interaction.

    From a logical standpoint, however, giving up your right of way is a completely unpredictable action that surprised other drivers and, if they were stuck behind you, impeded them.

    There is a dilemma in someone relinquishing his or her right of way based simply on the passivity involved; driving has to be a dynamic, engaged activity.

    Cars are dangerous and it is imperative that people demonstrate their responsibility as drivers. This means not using a vehicle aggressively.

    But it also means recognizing the sheer space the vehicle takes up and showing ownership over it, being aware of your vehicle’s presence.

    Upholding your right of way, as a driver, fulfills your duty to other drivers to remain predictable and safe. Breaking the law while driving, for any reason, turns you into a potential hazard, due to the fact that  the rest of the drivers have no clue what to expect.