Dangers of Left-Hand Turns
“When it comes to roadway hazards, making a lefthand turn into an intersection is one of the most dangerous driving decisions you can make.” (1) A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analysis reveals 53.1% of cross path crashes involve left-hand turns. (2)
In a different report on intersection-related crashes, the NHTSA notes in 22.2% of car accidents, the critical event making the crash imminent was a left-hand turn. (3)
For cities like New York City (NYC), left-hand turns can be especially hazardous for pedestrians and bicyclists. A study in New York found left-hand turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash involving a pedestrian as right-hand turns. (4)
NYC Left Turn Facts
A NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) study on pedestrian and bicyclist crashes involving left turns finds, “Between 2010 and 2014, 108 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by left turning vehicles.” (5)
The study also notes: (6)
- Passenger vehicles were involved in 80% of crashes killing or seriously injuring pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Seniors had a higher risk of serious injury or death from left turn accidents.
- Left turn injuries occurred at 18% of total NYC intersections.
- One-way streets were involved in 70% of injuries.
- There was a signalized approach at 80% of crash locations.
Such statistics indicate why left-hand turn accidents have gained a lot of attention from federal, state, and local governments. These agencies are seeking to reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with left-hand turns.
A left turn involves a driver crossing multiple lanes of traffic. Not only are other vehicles at risk, but also pedestrians and cyclists as well. Understanding the factors contributing to these types of accidents can prove helpful.
Causes of Left-Hand Turn Accidents
Factors contributing to left-hand turn accidents include:
- False assumptions of other’s action — NHTSA data cites this critical driver error in intersection-related crashes as responsible for 8.4% of total left turn crashes. NHTSA also says in intersection crashes an “illegal maneuver” and a “false assumption of other’s action” are four times more likely to be critical reasons than in non-intersection crashes. (7)
- Illegal maneuvering — This decision error is cited by NHTSA in 6.8% of intersection-related crashes involving left turns. Such an error can occur at intersections controlled by traffic signals while “crossing over.” (8)
- Inattention — NHTSA cites this in 3.4% of intersection-related crashes involving left turns. In crashes at intersections with traffic control devices (signals) the occurrence was partially attributed to “inattention” by drivers. (9)
- Misjudgment of gap or other’s speed — A NYC DOT study finds, “The larger possible turning radii and longer distance before the turn encourages drivers to take left turns at higher speeds than right turns.” With respect to left turns, the report continues, “The motorist must find the gaps in oncoming traffic in multiple streams (one or more lanes and the crosswalk) with those streams all having different moving speeds.” (10)
- Turns with obstructed view — A vehicle’s frame between the windshield and the driver’s side window creates a blind spot for the driver. “This blind spot can track with crossing pedestrians, dramatically obscuring the driver’s view as compared to right turns.” (11)
As is the case with all vehicle accidents, left-hand turn accidents pose the grave potential for severe injuries and fatalities.
Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries
All accidents involving motor vehicles can result in life-threatening injuries or death. Your position in a vehicle at the time of an accident partially determines your injuries. Your injuries are also affected by the proper use — or lack of use — of restraints (seat belts). (12)
Serious potential injuries include:
- Broken bones, fractures — Knee and hip fractures and dislocations occur when the body moves in a “down and under path” during an accident. The same movement can result in pelvic fractures when the impact of the crash causes the femur to strike the dashboard “ramming the bone into and through the acetabulum… as well as posterior dislocation.” (13)
- Death — There were 39,107 deaths from motor vehicle crashes across the U.S. in 2019 says the National Safety Council. Of those, 42.6% involved crashes with other vehicles, 26.5% involved fixed or other objects, 19.6% involved pedestrians, and 2.8% involved pedalcycles. (14)
- Lacerations — Lacerations are deep cuts or tears in skin or flesh (soft tissues) with irregular or jagged edges. This type of wound is susceptible to infection from bacteria, increasing the seriousness of the wound. (15) Deep lacerations may involve muscles, tendons, or nerves. Cleaning, debridement, and stitches may be required. (16)
- Spinal injuries —The severity of spinal injuries can vary, says the Mayo Clinic. Loss of all feeling and ability to control movement is called “complete.” Retention of some feeling and movement function is called “incomplete.” (17)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) —There are three types of TBI: mild (concussion), moderate, and severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports 5-year outcomes for people suffering from moderate to severe TBIs as: 22% die, 30% become worse, 22% stay the same, and 26% improve. (18)
- Whiplash and neck injuries — Johns Hopkins Medicine says whiplash is caused “by your neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa.” Whiplash is typically diagnosed by X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan. (19)
All of these injuries can result in painful recovery, lost wages, and high medical bills, if not death. Your best chance to recover the costs could be a lawsuit. Key to a successful lawsuit in a left-hand turn accident case, where there have been serious injuries, is determining legal responsibility or liability. (20)
Most left-hand turn accidents are the fault of the driver making the turn; oncoming traffic usually has the right of way. If you are hit and injured by someone making a left-hand turn, you should file a lawsuit against them.
In other cases, you may be the one making the left-hand turn. In certain scenarios you, as the driver, may not be at fault.
One example is when your view of oncoming traffic is obstructed. Let’s say you are driving in poor weather conditions such as snow or an ice storm. Because of the snow or sleet, you do not see the oncoming traffic before you make your left turn. If you can show the court this lack of visibility was the reason for the accident, you might not be liable for the accident.
Additionally, demonstrable problems with the road — either in its design or construction — might mean the group that made the roadway could be at fault. Any lawsuit may need to be filed against it.
In other cases, you may be able to show another driver is at fault for the accident even though you made the left-hand turn. For instance, if the driver of an oncoming vehicle is speeding. You need to prove the accident would not have occurred had the other driver been driving at normal speed.
Left-hand turn accident cases can be complex. The services of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney are your best option for a successful outcome for your case.
How W&L Can Help
Weitz & Luxenberg is very successful in accident and personal injury cases. With our help, clients were awarded millions in damages through verdicts and settlements. Some of our accomplishments include:
- Paralyzed for life from the chest down, our client was awarded $20.5 million with an additional $3 million in past and future medical expenses.
- Our elderly client suffered catastrophic injuries when run down on a Manhattan street by an ambulance. Our client was awarded $1.4 million.
- A workplace accident involving a negligently driven hi-lo amputated part of our client’s leg. Our client was awarded $2.96 million.