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Causes of Collisions #10

As we explained last week, the Texas DoT statistics don't talk about the causes of collisons. Instead they monitor the “contributing factors” involved in collisions. And in our examination of the ten most common, tenth place goes to a common problem for drivers: failure to yield right-of-way.

(Okay, actually this was in 11th place on the most current list of contributing factors, but we bumped it up one spot by eliminating the ubiquitous “other” that sat in spot #9.)


This problem actually has two components. Sometimes the problem is one of ego: a driver knows he should yield, but he's not about to for deep, often psychological reasons of his own. Sometimes it's a problem of ignorance: a driver may be confused about who does and does not have the right-of-way in a situation.

Before we discuss both kinds of problems, here's an important point: a driver can yield right-of-way but cannot actually take it. Semantics, of course, but significant. You can let a driver go ahead of you, but you can't actually force someone to let you go ahead of them. Try it, but there will always be a chance that they won't yield and will instead crash into you.

As for who gets the right-of-way, it's not that hard.

First, anyone facing a Yield sign or a flashing yellow light does not have the right-of-way. They are supposed to stop and let other traffic go ahead of them.

If there's no distinct sign or flashing light, it's still pretty clear: the traffic on the larger road gets to go ahead. Traffic on two-lane service roads yield to interstate off-ramps because interstate highways are bigger. Traffic on one-lane roads yield to two-lane roads. Traffic on dirt roads yield to paved roads. Traffic emerging from a driveway or parking lot yields to the roadway.

In a situation where two roads of the same size meet, there should be a sign or light regulating who gets to go first.

Dealing with the ego problems is more complicated.

Too many of us bring our egos with us when we drive, like some kind of deranged co-pilot making us take dangerous risks for childish reasons. We turn driving into a competion. “No way are you pulling in ahead of me, you jerk” the animal part of our brains screams as we deliberately cut someone off in traffic.

Not only is this dangerous, it is unnecessary. Letting another car in ahead of you in no way makes you less of a person than that other driver. Yielding the right-of-way to another car or letting someone merge doesn't diminish you in the least. Logically, you know this. Emotionally, you may be seething at the unfairness of yielding to someone in who doesn't deserve to be ahead of you, but driving based on your emotions is only useful if your goal is crashing into someone. And if you're worried about losing a few seconds, remind yourself how much time you'll lose if you're involved in a collision.

If another driver has the right-of-way let them go ahead. If they think they have the right-of-way, let them go ahead. After all, you want the bad drivers in front of you, so you can better keep an eye on them.

We are most likely to respond emotionally when we're stressed, so reducing your stress level will help eliminate this kind of driving. A simple way to do this is to give yourself extra time. If you know you need to leave at 8:30 to get somewhere on time, purposely leave at 8:15. That extra fifteen minutes won't rearrange your day significantly, but that extra time to get where you're going will make the drive more pleasant and much safer.

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