Use caution.

He just wanted to turn left into a housing tract.

But it was rush hour, and he had to get across three lanes of traffic first.

I was in the middle lane and the light up ahead was red. My lane was backing up quickly, so I kept the intersection open and left a clear path to the side street he wanted to head down.

On the other side of the street, Mr. Left Turn stayed put.

Then the driver to my left stopped, as his lane was also out of room.

There was nobody stopped in the lane to my right; it wasn’t even close to being backed up, and Mr. Left Turn thought he’d make a break for it.

He made the wrong choice.

He crossed in front of the driver to my left, then me. The lane to my right was so open that it easily accommodated its 45 mph drivers. Mr. Left Turn would quickly meet one of them.

A new VW Beetle in the wide-open lane t-boned Mr. Left Turn’s older Honda on the passenger side, but not before trying in vain to slam on its brakes. They caught briefly, a weak, high-pitched squeal crying out in the night.

Impact.

There were two drivers in each car. All sat dazed for a moment, but eventually began moving around. I called 911.

It was a hard hit — one that turned my stomach into a giant knot. I’m guessing the Honda didn’t even see the VW coming. The VW surely didn’t expect the Honda to be in its path.

So many others do the same thing day in and day out, and they get lucky. They may know they’re taking a risk but figure their gas pedal will save them, swiftly speeding them across a lane they’re unsure of — the motorist’s version of Russian roulette.

I thought about how much worse it could’ve been had there been a car immediately behind the VW that plowed into the Honda, making it at least a three-car accident then. Or how much worse it could’ve been had it been raining.

I even wondered if I’d caused the wreck. So many nights before I’ve come up to that same intersection and other drivers haven’t left it clear, so I didn’t, either. What good is my open lane when there are two more that are blocked? Tonight I stopped first. Then the driver to my left. Then all hell broke loose.

I know I’m not to blame, per se, but I opened the door — just a crack; I left it ajar. You’re not supposed to go unless you’re sure all lanes are clear, though, and they weren’t.

People give us the green light and the thumbs up all the time, but it doesn’t mean the path we’re on is the best one. And while we can never predict the final outcome, we can do our best in the process to make sure our I’s are dotted, T’s are crossed and our lanes are clear. Anything less can get us into trouble, not to mention the lives of those around us.

Left turn or right, difficult or easy, tonight I am thankful for the reminder to use caution when proceeding. These days, faster and faster becomes our pace — but slow and steady wins the race. Here’s to using caution. Always.

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