All of us have our pet peeves when it comes to driving. Some motorists are infuriated by tailgating, others cannot stand a slow car in the passing lane, and some object to the high speed at which their fellow drivers pass them. I share these annoyances and many others, but for whatever reason, the traffic behaviors that irritate me the most seem to be related to left turns. One of the practices that I dislike is absolutely against the law, another is of questionable legality, and a third is perfectly legal but nonetheless maddening to me.
I commence my diatribe with the most grievous offense, a traffic violation so blatant that the first time I encountered it I was left slack-jawed in astonishment. Picture an average intersection with traffic stopped along its north/south axis. The drivers wait patiently for the light to change. As you mentally survey the scene, keep your eyes on the southbound car in the left turn lane, which is poised to enter the intersection, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, and turn to the east. This is the car that will soon do something aggressive, reckless and dangerous. Let’s refer to its driver as Joe Dingus, for the sake of clarity.
Now let us leave our drivers waiting patiently for a few more moments while we consider this excerpt from the Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws:
The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left is required to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Prior to engaging a left-hand turn, the driver must wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. One may advance into the intersection as a prelude to turning, provided that no other traffic control devices prohibit this action.
Elementary, right? It’s one of the major tenets of safe driving, right up there with stopping at the red light in the first place. However, not only will Joe Dingus soon ignore this law, he will willfully do so in an act of supreme chutzpah.
The light changes, and instantly Mr. Dingus makes a swift left turn before the first northbound car advances into the intersection. Not only has he failed to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic, he has purposefully exploited the momentary pause that typically occurs after the light changes and before stopped cars start moving again. That this highly aggressive tactic actually works may be counter-intuitive, but I have seen it executed successfully several times. Of course, pulling off the dangerous move hinges on the likelihood that the first car in the oncoming lane is not also occupied by a similarly irresponsible nut who intends to peel out at the very instant the red light disappears. Which, I think we would all agree, is precisely what drivers like Joe Dingus deserve.
What truly annoys me about the Deliberately Premature Left Turn is that it seems to have caught on among a cretinous segment of the driving population. Were it to happen only once, I would dismiss it as an aberration, but its recurrences suggest to me the nefarious onset of societal breakdown. One guy does something incredibly rude, stupid, and dangerous, and yet he profits from it. Someone of similarly limited intelligence observes this and reasons, “Why not me?” Other impressionable and dim minds follow. And there we have the recipe for the decline and fall of our civilization.
It reminds me of the old joke in which a passenger in a speeding car is astonished when the driver zips through a series of red lights without so much as slowing down. “What’s wrong with you?!” he demands, but the driver dismisses him with a wave of the hand and calmly explains, “I always drive this way.” A moment later, however, the driver slams on the brakes and screeches to a stop at a green light. “What are you doing?!” cries the exasperated passenger just before another car speeds through the red light along the crossing street. “Well that,” says the driver, “was my brother.”
I shall move on now to a far more common practice involving the left turn, one that is controversial enough to spark heated debate on various Internet forums. This is the question of Improper Use of the Center Turn Lane. The center turn lane straddles the median of a road and is usually designated by solid yellow lines at its extreme width and a pair of dashed yellow lines just inside those. It is used by cars traveling in both directions as a means to merge out of flowing traffic before making a left turn into some establishment on the other side of the road, thus keeping everyone from getting stuck behind any driver waiting to turn left. This much is obvious. However, there seems to be an increasing subset of drivers who believe that the center turn lane may also be used for merging into traffic. They will turn left out of a business, for example, directly into the center turn lane when traffic is heavy enough to otherwise prohibit their turn. Then, when they see a gap, they’ll merge into the moving lane.
My perusal of the Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws has revealed that the Buckeye State is mum on the issue, which might explain why I see this done so often. A modest Internet search suggests that merging into the center turn lane when turning left onto a street is a hotly contested question nationwide. Some maintain that it is illegal, while others insist that it is not. Proponents of the habit claim that it is necessary in order to keep traffic flowing. Opponents, including me, find the practice dangerous and say that if it is not actually illegal, it should be. I am always annoyed when I’m driving down a road next to the center lane and someone does this anywhere near me. There is enough to worry about when driving already; it only makes it worse to have to be concerned about what a turn lane occupant intends to do, and it isn’t always predictable. Sometimes they’ll come to a complete stop and wait for an opening (some states apparently allow this), and sometimes they’ll travel in that lane for awhile, and sometimes they’ll abruptly pull in front of another driver. Since the practice encourages drivers exiting businesses to turn left into the center lane while traffic is passing by, it is conceivable that an oncoming car might decide to merge into the turn lane at approximately the same spot and time, and it would be difficult for the two parties to discern each other’s intentions quickly. I believe it’s an unacceptable risk, and that is why I am irritated whenever I encounter it.
Lastly, as we cruise along the spectrum of legality, I wish to rant for a moment about what I shall call Stupid Left Turns. As an example, allow me to present the unfortunate situation at the end of my very own street, which intersects with a busy, five-lane road, on the other side of which is the entrance to a small retail strip. There is no stoplight, and during peak hours, turning left from either our street or the retail lot is a dicey proposition. I usually avoid it by going through our neighborhood to a street with a light. However, I have seen many people attempting to leave the retail strip by turning left during the busiest times of day, despite the fact that a 30-second detour through the other side of the lot would bring them to a stoplight. That, my friend, is a Stupid Left Turn. It’s perfectly legal, but it’s still stupid.
Stupid Left Turns are especially annoying when you are behind someone who is attempting one where there is no left turn lane, and you only wish to turn right. You look to your left and see a stoplight that Louie Left-Turn could easily have used for such a purpose, but no, that would have required a little side-trip through the parking lot, and now a whole line of cars is stuck behind obstinate Louie. Stupid Left Turns also include people who decide to take the most difficult path out of a corner gas station. Frequently they’ll inch up their cars to the edge of the street as if to plead, “Oh, who is going to be a decent human being and give me the space to pull out of here?” Meanwhile I will silently berate them for not taking the easily attainable opposite exit followed by a left turn at the intersection, a move that would not inconvenience anyone else.
Really, that is all I ask of my fellow drivers: be polite, wait your turn, and do not unnecessarily inconvenience anyone. And should you be in the habit of driving recklessly, don’t be surprised if one day you meet your brother coming the other way.