In the United States, left turns are one of the most common causes of vehicle collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that 22.2% of all crashes in 2018 involved left-turning vehicles. According to Popular Mechanics, over 60% of all crashes at intersections involve left turns. At intersections, left turns often carry additional risk because drivers have oncoming traffic (sometimes multiple lanes of oncoming traffic) and be aware of pedestrians, cyclists, as well as other road users.
What other factors make left turns dangerous? Depending on the intersection, one or more of these factors may be at play:
- Limited visibility: Obstructions or vehicles in front of you may block your view of oncoming traffic. This issue might be exacerbated in the case of construction or larger vehicles in the intersection.
- Misjudgment: Especially in unfamiliar locations, drivers may underestimate the speed of oncoming vehicles or misjudge the size of the gap between vehicles in the oncoming lanes.
- Impatience: Traffic congestion and vehicles behind you might cause you to feel pressured to turn left quickly.
- Distraction: Like all other aspects of driving, more distractions equal more danger. Phone use and other distractions could make turning left in an intersection much more dangerous.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid left-turn accidents. In fact, you may be able to avoid left turns altogether. Despite this seemingly counterintuitive claim, some studies have shown that making all right turns can save time and increase your fuel efficiency while avoiding the risks that left turns pose. In fact, UPS implemented a policy of minimizing left turns for its drivers in 2004. According to the company, making more right turns reduced its annual distance traveled by 20.4 million miles. Fuel consumption was also reduced by 1.7 million gallons, and its carbon dioxide emissions by 17.4 thousand metric tons. The Harvard Business Review reports that over 90% of turns made by UPS drivers are rights turns. According to NPR, the total emissions amount saved each year is equivalent to the output of over 20,000 passenger cars.
So how should you go about making right turns efficiently? Instead of making a left turn at your desired intersection, you can make three right turns around the same block to orient yourself in your ideal direction. By avoiding the wait time required to find a gap in traffic at a busy intersection, you can save time on your commute. Idling and accelerating can also decrease your gas mileage, and you may see a favorable change in your fuel efficiency. The safety aspect is most important, and you can decrease your risk of an accident by making all right turns.
Of course, making all right turns is not always possible or practical. There may not be an alternative route that allows you to trade your left turn for right turns or it may be more convenient to make a left turn at an intersection. To make these turns safer, make you use the following tips:
- Follow the traffic signals: Be sure to look out for signs to indicate whether you should wait for a green arrow prior to turning.
- Use your turn signal: Use your signal at least 100 feet prior to making your turn to indicate to the drivers behind you that you will be slowing down.
- Choose the correct lane: If you mistakenly approach the intersection in a lane that does not allow you to turn left, do not try and change lanes in the middle of the intersection. Follow the traffic directions and reroute your commute.
- Check for hazards: Make sure there are no pedestrians or cyclists trying to use the crosswalk as you make your turn. Look left, right, then left again prior to turning, and don’t assume that other drivers will stop or slow down for you.
- Turn carefully: Make sure your speed and angle are safe and keep from turning too fast or sharply. In an intersection where there may be multiple left turn lanes, be sure not to swing into another lane when making your turn.
You may be wondering, are there alternatives to making left turns at a traditional intersection? In your area, there may be other types of traffic infrastructure that are safer than trying to make a left turn at a traffic light. One common example is a roundabout, which is gaining popularity in the United States. A roundabout essentially allows for the driver to trade their left turn for a right turn without having to go around an entire block. This circular intersection allows for the continuous flow of traffic. Drivers make a right turn to enter the roundabout and make another soft right turn at their desired exit. Typically, roundabouts have four entry/exit points.
One other alternative that is gaining popularity is the diverging diamond interchange or DDI. DDIs temporarily shift vehicles to the opposite side of the road to improve the flow of traffic. The important safety feature that DDIs provide is that they eliminate the need to turn left across oncoming traffic. Drivers navigate a series of right turns and crossovers instead as opposed to making a left turn. DDIs have been shown to be a viable alternative to traditional traffic light intersections.
It is important to note that not all alternatives to left turns are suitable for every intersection or road network. Multiple factors need to be considered to assess the feasibility of implementing one of these designs, including traffic volume, land availability, and local regulations. However, if one of these alternatives is available in your area it may be wise to reroute your commute to avoid turning left at a traditional intersection.
Making all right turns instead of turning left at a traffic light is possibly a safer, more fuel-efficient, time-saving alternative. As personal injury lawyers who specialize in truck and auto crash cases, we know how important it is to prioritize safe driving. Practicing smart driving habits can be the difference between a safe drive and a collision.