Congratulations to our 2017 winner, Ryan Hooper!
I am currently a senior at James Madison University majoring in Accounting with a minor in Political Science. I grew up in Mechanicsville, VA where I’ve lived my entire life with my parents, brother, and two sisters. Upon graduation this May, I will be moving up to D.C. to intern with Ernst & Young in their Commercial Audit Practice before returning to JMU in the fall for graduate school to earn my Masters Degree in Accounting. Aside from academics, some of my interests include skiing, skateboarding, the life of Elon Musk, behavioral economics, and pickleball.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, close to half of the 5.8 million car crashes in the U.S. are intersection-related and most of those are the result of left turn collisions. Based on your research, what are some tactics that have been implemented in order to help eliminate left turn collisions?
The Left Turn Collision Epidemic And How To Stop It
By: Ryan Hooper
Traffic experts and civil engineers alike all unanimously agree that left turns are inherently more dangerous than any other maneuver in any given intersection. Federal data have shown that there are 10 times more crashes involving left turns at intersections than there are involving right turns. Why then do we persist to allow these maneuvers to continue to take place knowing that the risk of a collision is exorbitantly higher by doing so? The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been taking measures to decrease the number of left turn collisions by making left turns safer to perform.
A 2016 study published in the journal of Mathematical Problems in Engineering highlights some of the primary issues and discusses some solutions that are being implemented to help curb these risks. One key signal they focused on in this study was the average maximum wait-time for both pedestrians and yielding cars. Once the average maximum wait time was reached by either party, they became much more likely to engage in riskier behavior in order to cross traffic. This entails the pedestrian illegally crossing before the crosswalk light turns green, and the driver waiting to turn left being more likely to try to squeeze through a small gap in oncoming traffic to make the turn, or hazardously run the light as it’s turning from yellow to red. These findings have led to adjusting the timing of traffic lights so as not to far exceed the determined maximum wait time for vehicles and pedestrians in an area. Another countermeasure has been establishing solely left-hand turn lanes with a green arrow traffic light. This takes away a big factor in the riskiness of left turns, which is the driver getting impatient waiting at a green light without the right-of-way and jumping in front of traffic to make the turn instead of waiting for a safer time to cross traffic.
The government and safety departments aren’t the only ones trying to alleviate this problem. Businesses deeply involved in transportation, such as UPS, are taking these measures as well. In an interview with Business Insider, UPS’ Senior Director of Process Management explains that the reason UPS drivers are so efficient is that they rarely make left turns. Ten years ago, UPS implemented a huge nation-wide reevaluation of their driving routes to minimize the number of left turns in them. Left turns were the number one cause of their trucks’ collisions. Waiting to make left-hand turns at busy intersections also took more time and burned more fuel, resulting in lost profits from delivering less packages and higher fuel expenses for the company. Today, less than 10% of the turns made by any UPS driver are left turns, and since these new routes have been implemented UPS has saved over $100 million in fuel costs due to utilizing more efficient right turns.
To truly minimize the number of left turn collisions would take a collective effort from the government, traffic departments, car manufacturers, and the public, because no one group is solely at fault for the danger created by left turn intersections. Governments and localities can more properly structure intersections, traffic safety departments can educate the public, car manufacturers can design cars with fewer blind spots, and the public can be more wary of their actions and work to make safer driving decisions. Many tactics have been used to help avoid these collisions, but when it comes down to it, human drivers are inherently unsafe because we respond to emotion and make irrational driving decisions, whether we think we do or not. Attempting to fix human driving behavior may be futile, but perhaps we will see a change in the coming years with the impending rise of self-driving cars and, hopefully, the better decision-making and driving safety that will accompany them.