Left turns are uniquely complex maneuvers, even if they may seem routine to most drivers. There are many variables to consider, including the speed and distance of oncoming traffic as well as pedestrian activity. When an intersection is under construction, driver must pay attention to even more variables such as temporary signs, heavy machinery, and reduced speed limits.
These factors contribute to left turn collisions which occur in construction zones. There are also additional variables to consider, such as driver distraction or inattention. The Federal Highway Administration has given various statistics regarding how many collisions in construction zones occur during the course of a left turn. Some estimates have put the number of collisions involving a left turn at over a third of total collisions.
Where might collisions be most likely to occur?
Some scenarios stick out as common causes of left turn collisions in a construction zones. Let’s discuss the most common scenarios:
- Failure to yield to oncoming traffic: Some drivers, even in a reduced speed zone, will attempt to make their left turn hastily without properly considering oncoming traffic. This is a dangerous action that could cause a head on or T-bone collision; two of the most dangerous types of collisions.
- Drivers misjudging the speed of oncoming traffic: Though some drivers will proceed hastily through a left turn without considering oncoming traffic, others will wait for a gap in traffic but misjudge the speed or distance of an approaching vehicle. Even though construction zones have reduced speeds, not all drivers will be following the speed limit. Therefore, when making a left turn, you should assume that oncoming traffic is moving faster than you perceive and you should wait for a large gap in oncoming traffic.
- Drivers failing to see pedestrians or cyclists: Construction zones can be busy places with lots of signage, workers, and barriers. However, even with all the extra noise, drivers must remember to scan the crosswalks for pedestrians before completing a left turn. Hitting a pedestrian during a left turn is one of the most common causes of traffic deaths.
- Hitting construction equipment: Drivers must pay close attention to the road if the intersection is under construction. Even if you are familiar with a particular intersection, there may be machinery in unusual places. Look out for hazards to avoid making a costly mistake.
- Drivers hitting temporary barriers or signs: Often times, barriers and signs will be used to direct traffic in an unusual direction when an intersection is under construction. Drivers need to pay close attention to the signage and barriers, especially when executing a left turn.
- Failing to stop for construction workers: Some of the most devastating collisions occur when a driver hits a construction worker. Always look closely and carefully for workers on the job, even if you don’t see any immediately.
What can drivers do to avoid a collision?
When making a left turn in a construction zone, there are a number of things drivers can do preemptively to avoid an accident:
- Obey the speed limit: Construction zones may have reduced speed limits. These new limits are put in place for a reason, and you should be driving slower in order to fully process all of the potential hazards in a construction zone.
- Pay attention to your surroundings: Construction zones are no place for distraction or inattention. Drivers should be scanning their surrounding and familiarizing themselves with any new signage or barriers.
- Check your mirrors and blind spots: Although doing the proper checks is always important, it is especially important in construction zones where drivers may be confused. It is important to make sure that your surroundings are clear when executing a left turn in an unusual environment.
- Signal your intentions: Drivers should always signal their intentions, but it is all the more important in busy construction zones. The driver behind or in front of you may be unsure of your next move, leading to confusion in an already confusing environment.
- Yield to oncoming traffic: It is important to exercise patience in scenarios where collisions are more likely to occur. Left-turning drivers at unprotected intersections are always required to yield to oncoming traffic, but it is worth emphasizing how important it is not to make a hasty turn and risk a collision with oncoming traffic.
- Be prepared to stop: Driving defensively is key to executing any maneuver safely. Drivers may be more erratic in construction zones that are potentially confusing, so you should always be prepared to break if necessary.
You may want to keep some additional things in mind before executing a left turn in a construction zone:
- It may be best to avoid making the turn altogether, and to proceed to a safer intersection that is not under construction.
- If you have to make a left turn, try and pick an intersection that has a traffic signal. This will alleviate some of the confusion that other drivers may have about the right of way. If possible, try and find an intersection with a protection green arrow.
- If you are coming from a side street and intend to make you left turn, come to a complete stop prior to turning. This will allow you enough time to scan for traffic in every direction.
- Always be patient and avoid rushing. Although construction zones can be frustrating, caution is key to a safe left turn.
By following these helpful tips, you can prepare yourself to make a safe left turn even in an unusual environment. Together, we can make our roads safer for everyone.