That Well-Intentioned “All-Clear” Wave

X-ray of cyclist hit by truck given the "all clear" wave.

X-ray of a cyclist who was hit by truck given the “all clear” wave.

It happens time and time again. You know the situation. Two drivers stop at an intersection, and one waves the other on. The second driver see the “all clear” wave and takes right of way, and then bang! — collides with a person, cyclist or another vehicle.

Who’s at fault?

The answer may surprise you.

Fault really depends in which state the collision occurs . . . and may even be determined on a case-by-case basis. In the collision with the cyclist (photo above), the driver who gave the “all clear” wave was found by an Oregon jury to be 35 percent responsible for the crash. After the collision, the bicyclist went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing, and would have died had a doctor not been nearby. The bicyclist got twelve screws and a plate, four broken ribs, a broken scapula, punctured lung and a concussion, and sued both the driver in the truck-bike collision and his company, and the driver who gave the “wave” (and his company), for $670,000 in damages. 

Trucks Can Hide Traffic

Because commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) are large, they can obscure an on-coming vehicle at intersections.  If a CMV-driver waves a car on, the car may do something the truck driver didn’t expect, like pulling into traffic, cyclists or pedestrians who have the legal right-of-way. This shouldn’t happen, but it frequently does.

Another potential “conflict” occurs when a tractor-trailer swings into the oncoming lane to make a right turn. If not timed correctly, traffic can back up quickly. If the tractor-trailer driver waves a car around his truck, there is no telling how the car driver might respond.

Giving an “all clear” wave can result in serious injury to others on the road.

Giving an “all clear” wave can subject well-intentioned drivers to liability.

What the Law Says

Gary Wickert, Esq., and attorney with with Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, and expert on insurance subrogation, wrote an article called Punishing Common Courtesy in Claims Journal.

A good argument can be made that “do-gooders” who bring traffic to a complete stop to wave somebody into the roadway create a dangerous blind spot for the merging vehicle and a very hazardous situation for all vehicles in the vicinity. This is especially true when the vehicle that comes to a stop is a large SUV or truck. Nobody wants to put their life in the hands of some well-intentioned motorist, and it is hard to precisely interpret a “wave.” Does the wave mean that it is clear to pull across both lanes of traffic or simply to pull in front of the stopped vehicle and proceed in the same direction? The “wave” usually consists of a signal which can be interpreted as “it’s clear to cross the street.” This debate makes for interesting bar chat, but when tragedy results from good intentions, lawyers enter the conversation. And, if the person attempting to cross the street is a pedestrian or if you extend the liability to a driver’s signaling that it is clear for a vehicle behind him to pass, when it isn’t, the liability for having a big heart can be significant.

 

Drivers Need to Know . . .

A driver signaling “all clear” can create a traffic hazard — resulting in personal injury or death.

A driver has no obligation to engage in signalling other drivers or “directing traffic.” That’s why we have the “rules of the road.”

A driver “directing traffic” assumes the same level of liability as a police officer does when directing traffic.

Thank you for stopping by.