Left-hand turns are among the most dangerous maneuvers we routinely execute on the road. According to the California Highway Patrol's 2017 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, more than 38,000 accidents are associated with left turns every year. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also indicate that nearly 22% of all traffic accidents involve left turns, as opposed to a mere 1.2% involving right turns.
Why Are Left Turns So Dangerous?
Left-hand turns are riskier than right-hand turns and many other common driving maneuvers for three main reasons. First, they require crossing oncoming traffic, which increases the chance of errors or miscalculations, especially in poor conditions. Second, they involve often complex decision-making, such as yielding and watching for pedestrians, adding to the cognitive load and the potential for mistakes. Lastly, making a left turn exposes the vehicle in the intersection for a longer time than a right turn, increasing the opportunity for something to go wrong.
Awareness of the most common ways that left-hand turn accidents occur can significantly decrease your chances of being involved in this type of collision. With that aim, let's go over the three most common scenarios for left-turn accidents.
Three Common Left-Hand Turn Accident Scenarios
Obstruction of View
The first scenario that significantly elevates the risk associated with making a left-hand turn is visual obstruction. This could be in the form of natural elements like hedges or trees near the intersection, which can block your view of oncoming traffic.
Another common form of obstruction is a vehicle traveling toward you that blocks your view of another vehicle behind it in a parallel lane. In such cases, you might wrongly assume it’s safe to make your turn after the vehicle you see passes. You initiate your turn only to be surprised by the vehicle you didn’t see after it’s too late to avoid impact.
Streets with speed limits in excess of 50 mph create the second scenario where left-hand turns can become especially hazardous. At such high speeds, both stopping distance and reaction time are compromised. A car moving at 50 mph will take approximately 300 feet to come to a complete stop in an emergency. Adding driver reaction time, which can range from 50 to 150 feet, further increases the risks involved.
The third risk factor involves pedestrian-related distractions. Suppose you're waiting to make a left-hand turn at an intersection, and your attention shifts to a pedestrian crossing from the opposite side. Focusing on the pedestrian may divert your attention away from cross-traffic. When the pedestrian has safely crossed, you might assume it's safe to proceed with your turn without rechecking for oncoming traffic, leading to a potential collision.
Left-hand turns, while seemingly straightforward, can be fraught with peril due to various factors such as visual obstructions, high-speed streets, and pedestrian-related distractions. Understanding these dangers can significantly mitigate the risks involved, making roads safer for everyone. Always remember: caution, attentiveness, and proper judgment are your best allies when navigating the complexities of left-hand turns.