An expensive moment

She’d had her new car less than two weeks when she had the accident. She drove off with a ticket for failure to yield right of way when the law said she had right of way. I didn’t see the collision, but I got there in time to hear drivers tell their stories and they were all consistent.

It’s one of those law vs. custom cases involving an uncontrolled intersection and police who have an idea of right and wrong but don’t know the law.

At that intersection everybody knows which is the major and which is the minor road. If you asked residents most of them would say there’s a stop sign. There is none.

She got to the intersection first and he was approaching from the left. Legally, she had right of way. She didn’t think she did, and nobody else on that street does either. (I know but I also know that I’ll get hit if I try to claim right of way.)

He was driving fast (according to her and a witness). She acted confused about which way to turn (according to him but not the witness).

She misjudged his speed and pulled out to turn right. Instead of slamming on the brakes he tried to squeeze through the gap between her car and oncoming traffic. He ended up colliding with both.

The result was a new car with caved in corner worth I’d guess $3,000. A two year old car with the whole right side crumpled, maybe $5,000. Minor damage to the left side and the oncoming car.

Somebody called the police. The officer said she drove through a stop sign so she was at fault. I told him that there was no stop sign. He said it didn’t matter.

If we were talking about the abstract notion of guilt, I’d agree. But when we’re talking about a violation of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 89 Section 8 we have to go by the letter of the law:

When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection of any ways at approximately the same instant, the operator of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.

She was on the right. The law says he had to yield. If she goes to court with the police report and a picture of the nonexistent stop sign, she should beat the ticket.

Luckily everybody had insurance. Thanks to the simple insurance system in Massachusetts nobody needs a lawyer. The three insurance companies will fight among themselves to assign fault. I expect they’ll go by the police report and blame her.

Under state law, an insurance company’s finding of fault puts points on your license the same as a ticket.

Luckily nobody was hurt and everybody drove away.

That brings up another custom vs. law distinction. Her car was illegal to drive because of the broken headlight. You can’t drive in the daytime with a broken headlight. That rule comes from the war on drugs. Police need pretexts. If you don’t look like a drug dealer you can drive your wrecked car home.

It was an expensive moment of indecision for two people who could both have done a better job of driving.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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