Monday, September 30, 2013

Demise of driver's education

I received an email last week from a woman who wished to inform me about a number of bad driving habits she observes on a regular basis. I really did not need to have these pointed out to me, but for one reason or another, there seem to be many people who think the reason bad drivers continue to procreate is because I am clueless about their existence in our community.

Among the bad drivers on her list were those who do not follow proper procedure when turning at a signalized intersection with a permissive left turn, when oncoming traffic is present. The process is this: the driver should move into the intersection with his or her front bumper just shy of the center. Keeping the wheels pointed forward, wait until there is a break in the oncoming traffic that allows adequate time, then execute the turn into the nearest available lane on the cross street. If there is no break in the oncoming traffic until the signal changes to red, continue to wait until you can confirm the oncoming traffic is stopping, then execute the turn. Since you entered the intersection lawfully on a green light, you still have the right of way, and the cross street traffic must wait until you have cleared the intersection to proceed.

The mistake my correspondent noted in her dispatch last week is a growing number of motorists who stop behind the intersection, rather than moving into the intersection, to wait for their opportunity to make a left turn. She didn't need to convince me on this one, as it is one of my pet peeves. But my list of pet peeves seems to be getting a little unwieldy as I grow older, so I try not to get as worked up about them, and rarely fire off missives to the authorities.

A few days before her email, I was mentioning this to my wife, after the car in front of us missed a left turn opportunity, forcing us all to wait through a couple more cycles. I wondered if the lack of left turn etiquette has something to do with the demise of driver's education in high school. In our generation, all high school sophomores took driver's ed, as reliably as gym class or algebra. You watched all the films, spent some hours in the simulator, drove around town under the tutelage of the assistant basketball coach, and took the quizzes and tests.

Driver's education started to disappear from the high school curriculum sometime in the 1980s, and today is offered by very few school districts. While there are alternative driver's training courses available in many cities for a fee, the classroom-lab-road training that was nearly universal in the 1970's is a thing of the past, and motorists no longer have that consistent base of knowledge. I'm really not saying that drivers overall are worse today, only that there are a few techniques that everyone used to learn in the same way, that they either no longer learn, or learn in different ways: left turns, parallel parking, merging, positioning wheels when parking on inclines, and so forth.


Brian Fitzgerald said...

Seems like as good a time as any to ask this, as I don't know if it is bad driving or me not understanding what the rules are.

I see a lot of people use turn lanes as merge lanes, turning from the opposite side of the road into the lane then trying to merge in to traffic. It has made for a lot of awkward situations when somebody traveling the opposite direction has wanted to use the lane for what I think is it's intended purpose.

Seeing this always leaves me thinking, "can you really do that?"

Herb said...

It is interesting that you brought that particular pet peeve to light, especially since one of my children had the "opportunity" to not only attend Driver's Education offered through SCC, but also attended a STOP class a few months later after a well deserved ticket for a minor infraction. She insists that both the Driver's Ed and STOP class instructors were adamant in the instruction of "the law": A driver is not allowed to enter the intersection if they cannot complete the turn and continue on through the intersection. This would be contradictory to your interpretation. I agree that once in the intersection, the vehicle has the right of way, but the "experts" insisted that the right of way must be yielded until such time that the driver has "earned" it.

In the interest of making sure the old adage about opinions and backsides remains in place, I would also offer the opinion that "right of way" is possibly the most misunderstood concept of the conduct taught to drivers. There is no law, for instance, that the driver on the "right" of two cars approaching a "T" intersection has blanket permission to enter the intersection first.

Steve said...

I agree that driver education not being part of high school might well be part of the problem when it comes to the plethora of drivers who don't seem to have a clue of the proper and legal procedures to follow on the road. It is certainly worth more than many of the other electives students have to choose from these days.

Your description of turning left was spot on, and exactly the way I teach to my driver ed students. Perhaps you could use your forum to enlighten the pubic on some of the other pet peeves you have regarding driving. Hearing it from you might mean more than some irritated driver yelling it out to others on the road.

Now, if we could just get people to realize that when you intend to go straight through an intersection, you do not enter the intersection if traffic is backed up ahead of you unless you have ample room to get all the way through it. Many seem to think that as long as they get in before the light changes, they have the right to be there, even though the light changes and they are blocking cross traffic.

As for Brian's question, I don't quite understand his scenario. If he is referring to shared center turn lanes, and people turning into them and then waiting to move over into the lane going their intended direction, that is perfectly legal and, at times, about the only way to get across a busy street and go the direction you want to go.

Picture 48th and J (near my home). Now imagine traveling east on J and attempting to turn left onto 48th to go north. During most of the day, one would wait a very long time for cross traffic to be clear in both directions. However, as soon as southbound traffic clears, a person can turn into the shared center turn lane and stop until north bound traffic clears, at which time they can make a lane change (merge) and proceed northbound. Probably many people who live along theses streets with shared center turn lanes have used this procedure to get from their driveways without having to wait for trafffic from both directions.

Liz said...

I must agree with Herb, Director. My driver's ed course was very firm that one did not enter the intersection unless one could complete the turn. The practice of doing otherwise seems to be one of the primary reasons that we have three cars turning on every red light in Lincoln (to go with the three cars that ran the red light just because).

Tom Casady said...

Herb, Liz,

Well, I don't know what to say, other than that is wrong. There are tons of guides, instructional manuals, and videos on the Internet that describe then proper procedure of moving into the intersection to await a left turn when oncoming traffic is present.

Steve said...

Herb and Liz:

I don't mean to imply that your experience with driver ed is not true, but to my knowledge, the instructors at SCC teach this situation exactly as Tom described the proper procedure; at least, I know I do. There may be some who have it wrong. There may be some confusion as to the similar situation when one is not turning, but going straight. As I pointed out earlier, you may not enter the intersection until you have ample room to get all the way through. This is because when your light changes to red, you will have nowhere to go and will be blocking the intersection. When turning left, when the light changes, you are no longer blocked by traffic, and you can clear the intersection for the cross traffic.

Those turning left without a green arrow must yield to oncoming traffic, but that doesn't mean they can't enter the intersection. Those who have not yet entered the intersection when the light changes should wait for the next green light. There are many places in town where left turns would be virtually impossible if one were to wait behind the crosswalk for a chance to go, at least during peak traffic hours.

As for the t-intersection, there is nothing specifically mentioned in the statutes, so one must presume that the person on the right has the right of way as defined by 60-6,146 (1): When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection (any intersection, my emphasis) from different roadways at the same time, the driver on the left shall yield to the driver on the right. (edited slightly for brevity).

Tom Casady said...


I had the same thought; someone may be confusing the procedure for moving into the intersection in anticipation of a left turn with this offense, intended to prevent the gridlocking of intersections:

10.14.030 Stop When Traffic Obstructed.
No operator of any vehicle shall enter an intersection or a marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle such driver is operating without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians, notwithstanding any traffic-control signal indication to proceed.

Anonymous said...

Driver's Ed has been replaced by English as a second language. Sad but true, check the facts on both and you will see the rise of one and the fall of the another.

Anonymous said...

I drive a small car, and often large cars in the opposite oncoming left turn lane block my ability to see any oncoming straight traffic. Not a problem if the intersection gives you a unique left turn green signal. It is a big problem for every small car that pulls out, waiting for the red light to turn left, cannot see the oncoming traffic, light turns red, car turns, someone runs the red light driving straight, and neither car could see the other. We see too many accidents at this corner for me to want to take that risk. Luckily... Green turn light will come the next signal. Is it wrong to wait for the green arrow you know will come? Or am I supposed to risk the accident and pull out to the intersection blindly?

Herb said...

So, to play the devil's advocate:

You say that 10.14.030 Stop When Traffic Obstructed.
No operator of any vehicle shall enter an intersection or a marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle such driver is operating without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians, notwithstanding any traffic-control signal indication to proceed.
is confused with the procedure of entering the intersection to turn. I, however, would propose that code says exactly what I say: you should not enter the intersection unless you have a clearly visible completion of that entry, i.e. you can either go through or complete the turn. As you well know, instructional videos on the internet (your citation) do not hold up in court when it comes to determining liability or fault.

Are there any driver's guides or other sources that can cite Nebraska or community ordinances? I drive a large vehicle, and I like my vehicle. I try to operate it in a careful manner, including that I do not want to hammer the throttle to get through the intersection to avoid someone jumping their green light and the drama that seems to be so popular over the other driver feeling he has to tell me how to drive. Today, I witnessed a two car collision at 13th and South that ended up in a rollover of one of the vehicles involved, because of a southbound vehicle entering the intersection late, but the westbound vehicle also getting a jump on their green light.

David B said...

I never feel so naked as when I'm out in the intersection waiting for one of three things to happen: 1. a safe left turn; 2. being hit in the right front fender/door by an opposing red light runner in the situation 3:26 PM describes; 3. being T-boned from the left, square on my door, by another red light runner. A friend in that situation about 15 years ago suffered a broken neck and almost died.

So three things can happen, and two of them are bad. I'll pull into the intersection and wait there to turn left if - and only if - all lanes of cross traffic to my left have already filled with stopped vehicles.

Anonymous said...

"...Keeping the wheels pointed forward..."

So that, if you are rear-ended, you will be knocked straight ahead, and not into the path of oncoming traffic, as you would be if your wheels were turned.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:30,

That's exactly correct. Not the law, just good habit. Also good habit to leave plenty of room between your front bumper and the vehicle ahead, so that when you get rear ended, you don't lose a grille, radiator, hood, two front fenders, and a couple of headlights that cost $375 each!


Your reaching. Note the words "other side." I suppose you could stretch that to include the "left side"--if that leg was completely filled, making it impossible for the left turning vehicle to enter the lane without blocking the crosswalk. That's a different matter, though, then moving into the intersection in anticipation of a left turn.

A vehicle that has lawfully entered an intersection has the right of way within that intersection, even if the light turns green for the cross traffic. The vehicles facing a green light must yield to any such vehicles, which would include someone who entered the intersection to execute a left turn. See 10.12.030 and 10.14.040.

Steve said...


You are correct to point out the fact that the law in this case, and many others for that matter, is not perfectly clear. I would agree with Tom, however, in that when you are making a left turn, there is typically no traffic backed up around the corner which would prevent you from clearing the intersection once the light has changed and oncoming traffic has stopped. This is not always the case when going straight. While I agree with Tom on what we consider proper procedure for left turns at lighted intersections, I doubt any office would ticket you for waiting behind the crosswalk if you so choose. Keep in mind, if you do that, and the light changes before you get a chance to to, you are stuck there until the next green, and people behind you will likely be quite irritated than no one wanting to turn left go through the light.

I did a quick search of the Nebraska Driver's Manual, the text book that we use in driver's ed, and the Internet, and found nothing about the proper position to wait for oncoming traffic when intending to turn left. Everything simply says to yield to oncoming traffic or other traffic legally in the intersection. Nothing says you cannot enter the intersection to wait, unless that is how you interpret the Lincoln ordinance. I think the words "other side" are the key in that ordinance. A reasonable person would consider the "other side" as the opposite side, as opposed to the left side or right side. Even if you do interpret it to mean the left side, there is seldom any traffic backed up there which would impede your clearing the intersection once oncoming traffic has cleared.


No room for extra cars in the middle of busy street. I will wait, and not sitting in the "zone" . If it is clear to negotiate a turn, I go. If not I sit. Add an emergency response vehicle to you sitting in the middle waiting for a brake in traffic, and you have made constipation into a total blockage. (rolaids any one)

Anonymous said...

Some insurance companies don't give discounts for drivers ed. Instead, they give good student discounts. They say that being an a/b student is a far better indicator of your driving habits than drivers ed.
My insurance company gives additional discounts for 16year olds if they attend a mini class with the agent and sign agreements regarding texting and drinking.
Many parents aren't going to force Drivers ed since there isn't a financial incentive.

Anonymous said...

I vote on the side of pulling into the intersection to wait for your gap to make a left turn. I also agree with Steve about people not entering the intersection if it is backed up. After finding myself holding up traffic a few times, I learned my lesson. What is frustrating is that if I decide to wait (as I should) some "fine motorist" behind me is up on my rear bumper and yelling some choice words because I won't go.

In fact, I find that these "fine motorists" also like to sit on my bumper unless I am doing 5+ over the speed limit. I tend to get this a lot on Hwy 2 and Alvo Rd.