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Surviving A Left Turn

Every day, all over North America, millions of left turns are executed safely.  Statistically, they are still one of the most dangerous maneuvers and the cause of many accidents.  Left turn accidents can be like head-on collisions involving serious injury to drivers and especially front seat passengers.  Left turn accidents can also involve the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Look around to make a left turn

When making a left turn at an intersection, a driver has to be alert, patient, and courteous.  The driver must signal the turn.  The challenge is to watch ahead for oncoming motor vehicle traffic and cyclists going straight through the intersection. Then oncoming vehicles and cyclists turning right into the same road you intend to enter. And last but not least oncoming pedestrians in the crosswalk you intend to cross.  The driver must also watch left for pedestrians who are crossing the road in front or behind the vehicle.  Even though there may be a line-up of obviously impatient drivers following the left turner, remember that there is not left turn right-of-way (unless there is a left turn arrow).

Making a left turn with pedestrians crossing

From the simplest single lane two-way stop, to the most sophisticated multi-lane signal-controlled intersection with separate signals for left-turners and pedestrians, safe left turns require the same watchfulness.  Pedestrians do not always act in their own best interest.  Many drivers run stale yellow lights.  Defensive driving involves being alert to what’s actually happening around you and not being lulled by the rhythm of the traffic cycle.  A driver cannot make a safe left turn when talking on a cell phone, adjusting the radio or CD player, talking to passengers or trying to control a dog.

Visual Challenge

Further complicating left turns these days is the popularity of trucks, SUVs and vans in a non-commercial role.  These large vehicles tend to obscure the situation in the oncoming lanes, and may hide a curb lane speeder coming through the intersection across the path of the left turner.

“Two-way” stop sign intersections, with lots of parked cars on the streets leading to the intersection, also present a visual challenge.  Often, drivers with the stop sign, on entering the intersection cannot see any useful distance to the left or right.  And the drivers without the stop sign are just going to “cruise on through”.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Left turners at intersections without advanced left turning signals and without left turn bays, who signal at the last moment, are not being as courteous as they could be.  The law requires a driver to signal, “if traffic may be affected by turning the vehicle.”  The law requires to signal continuously for sufficient distance before making the turn.

Note that mid-block turns will stop or slow the flow of traffic in a spot where the drivers behind the left turner are least expecting a slow down.  This adds enormously to the risk of rear-ended accidents to occur, often with a chain collision resulting.

Please drive safely.

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