Left turns can be deceptively dangerous maneuvers, even if they may seem routine to frequent drivers. According to the NHTSA, about 22.2% of all accidents that occur at intersections involve a left-turning driver. If the driver who intends to turn left is speeding, left turn accidents become even more likely.
While speeding is dangerous for many reasons, it is important to discuss how driving too quickly requires your reaction time to be much quicker. At busy intersections, there are many potential hazards that drivers must react to in order to make a safe left turn.
Speeding also makes it more difficult to control your vehicle. This is especially dangerous during left turns because left-turning drivers must be careful not to encroach on other lanes.
Additionally, speeding makes it difficult for other drivers in the intersection to predict your actions. Even if a left-turning driver signals properly, other drivers may not have enough time to register the signal if the left-turning driver is speeding.
It is also important to note that high speeds increase the severity of left turn accidents. This is especially concerning because left turn collisions at busy intersections often involve vulnerable pedestrians. Moreover, a speeding vehicle intending to turn left may collide with oncoming traffic that is also moving at high speeds, leading to a catastrophic T-bone or head on collision.
Let’s go over some specific scenarios that illustrate the risks that we mentioned above:
- At busy intersections, visibility is often limited. For left-turning vehicles who need to see oncoming traffic, this can be particularly dangerous. A speeding driver making a left turn may approach the intersection too quickly to see if there is a safe gap in oncoming traffic.
- A speeding driver may approach the intersection without leaving themselves enough room to stop if the light changes to red. Without enough stopping distance, the driver may encroach on the intersection and cause a T-bone collision with a driver moving in the adjacent direction.
- A driver that is executing their left turn too quickly may overestimate the capabilities of their vehicle. Turning too quickly, especially in adverse conditions, could cause the left-turning driver to skid into traffic. In severe cases, the left-turning driver may even roll their vehicle, resulting in catastrophic injuries or death.
- A speeding driver may not have time to react to pedestrians in the crosswalk. When making a left turn, even if there is a protected green arrow, drivers still must check the crosswalks and yield to pedestrians. If the turn is unprotected, pedestrians will often have a walk sign when the left turning driver has a green light. Therefore, drivers must always be ready to yield to pedestrians. Failing to do so could cause a fatal collision with a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
- A left-turning driver who is speeding when they approach the intersection may need to brake suddenly to wait for oncoming traffic. This could confuse the driver behind you who may have assumed that you intended to proceed straight through the intersection without slowing down. This could result in a rear-end collision which is made even more dangerous due to the proximity to the intersection.
Speeding can make any maneuver more dangerous, especially left turns. It is always better to approach your left turn with caution and employ defensive driving techniques.
Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to make your left turns safer in addition to slowing down:
- Always remember to use your turn signal prior to making your left turn. This will alert the drivers behind you of your intention to turn, as well as signal to the surrounding traffic. It is best to signal early to allow other drivers to register your intentions.
- Check your blind spots, especially at intersections where there are multiple left turn lanes. When in doubt, be sure to stay in your lane to avoid encroaching on the lanes of other left-turning vehicles.
- Assess the traffic conditions prior to executing your turn. It may not be the best time to make your turn, and you may need to wait for a wider gap in oncoming traffic.
- If you are not sure whether it is safe to complete your left turn, it may be best to proceed straight and find a safer intersection. If it is safe and legal to proceed straight the intersection you are uncomfortable with, try and find an intersection with a protected green arrow and clear visibility.
- Pay attention to the type of oncoming traffic. Larger vehicles may need more time to stop, so do not assume that oncoming traffic will yield for you if the light turns yellow.
- Be aware of the weather conditions. The law requires drivers to drive in a manner that is safe depending on the conditions of the roads. This means that you may be required to drive slower than the speed limit if the roads are wet or icy.
Left turns can be stressful and complex even if you are driving safely. There are many variables to consider, such as oncoming traffic, pedestrians, signal changes, and the type of intersection. Adding speeding and other types of reckless driving (like phone use and other distractions) into the mix can be extremely dangerous and even catastrophic.
By avoiding speeding and following these additional safety tips, you can help make our roads safer for yourself and others.