The issue of crashes happening when one motorist waves to another to make a turn has come up in lawsuits and court cases in recent years, raising questions about liability.
Here is how the scenario frequently comes up:
You’re driving down the road and stop for traffic. A car traveling in the opposite direction stops in front of you waiting for an opportunity to make a left turn. You check your rearview mirror to see if anyone is coming up next to you in the curb lane. You don’t see anyone so you motion to the driver to proceed with the left turn by waving your hand. Unfortunately, there was a vehicle in the curb lane approaching that you didn’t see. The other driver proceeds with the left turn and collides with the car in the curb lane.
All of us at one time or another have waved a fellow driver to turn. In some areas of the country, like Hawaii, it is common practice for drivers in the opposite direction of traffic to stop in the road and let another driver turn left in front of them. This may seem like a polite gesture in stopped traffic, but there can be consequences to seemingly polite acts that deviate from normal and predictable driving and basic right-of-way laws.
If you’re in a rural area and the “go ahead” waving interaction is solely between you and the other driver, there is no issue.
But the problem occurs when other drivers are sharing the road, and they can’t predict your unpredictable behavior, which allows another motorist to violate your right of way.
Waving and liability
What most of us don’t know and don’t even consider when we wave another driver “to go ahead” is whether you can be found responsible (or “liable”) if an accident happens. Your vehicle may not even be involved in the direct collision, but the motorist that turned into the path of another vehicle may tell law enforcement that you assured him it was safe to turn. Unfortunately, that question of whether you may be liable isn’t easy to answer and may just depend on where in the state you are, as well as the specific chain of events.
Who is considered liable in Ohio?
Appellate Courts in Ohio have addressed the issue, and unfortunately, are not in agreement. One school of thought is that the driver who motions the other driver to proceed is not liable. This view rests on the premise that a signal to cross can be interpreted as no more than a yielding of the right of way. Thus, the person signaling the other motorist is not responsible for any accidents that might occur when the crossing motorist enters into a different lane.
The other view is that under some circumstances, a signaling driver may act negligently when signaling another driver to cross his path. Liability rests on the view that sometimes a signal may be interpreted as an indication that the way is clear and it is safe to proceed. Therefore, if the signal is reasonably viewed as an “all clear” indication to the turning driver, the person signaling can be found liable.
Be careful about waving someone to proceed
So next time you find yourself about to wave someone to proceed, be careful. It’s not your duty to assure other drivers that their path is clear and doing so could cause you to assume that duty. If you’re not 100% sure there is no traffic coming, don’t put yourself at risk by signaling to the other driver that it’s all clear. Put your safety first, above your good intentions.