Q: On my morning commute I often find myself behind a certain car that comes to a complete stop, not at stoplights, but to let other cars enter from side roads and driveways. She’s really backing things up. The other day another car honked at her each time she stopped. She apparently didn’t like that and “brake checked” the car several times. I think this driver is a menace.
A: Three traffic violations by two drivers in one question — well done. I’ve written before about politeness and driving, so you might already know where I stand. I’m a big fan of being kind while driving. And the kindest thing you can do is to follow the law.
With that in mind, let’s work through the violations.
No. 1 — stopping in the roadway: If you’re not coming up to a stop sign or traffic light, following the directions of a police officer or avoiding a conflict, you’re not allowed to stop in the road. Law only allows stopping if you pull over to the curb or shoulder like you would if you were parking. Stopping in a lane when others expect free-flowing traffic is a hazard.
No. 2 — non-emergency honking: Horns are meant as an audible warning to “ensure safe operation.” Drivers “shall not otherwise use such horn when upon the highway.” What about when the light turns green and the person in front of you doesn’t go? That’s not a safety issue, so honking would be against the law. People do it anyway, so if you’re going to break the law, at least be nice and do it with a quick beep rather than a long honk.
No. 3 — brake checking: That’s when a driver intentionally brakes to force the driver behind them to brake suddenly or swerve into another lane to avoid a rear-end collision. Writing a specific law for every possible dangerous act of driving is a losing battle. As the internet has repeatedly proved, people continue to invent newer and dumber ways to injure themselves and others.
We have a negligent driving law that covers a lot of those behaviors. The law states that a person is guilty if “he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property.” It goes on to define “negligent” as, in part, doing “some act that a reasonably careful person would not do.” Any reasonable person would know that slamming on your brakes just to get back at the driver behind you is a bad idea.
The driver you write about is a menace. She started at potentially hazardous by stopping in traffic but followed it up with brake checking, which is outright treacherous (and intentionally so). Regrettably, you and I can’t control the actions of other drivers. As demonstrated by this question, trying to do so by honking just intensified poor driving behaviors. When faced with a dangerously polite driver who practices selective kindness, your best bet is to give yourself extra room and recite a good driving mantra, like, “I only use nice hand gestures while driving.”
Doug Dahl writes a weekly column for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.