For most of us, the act of driving is part of our daily routine; it feels like second nature. But safe driving requires our focus and attention. Left-hand turns top the list of the most challenging and dangerous driving maneuvers. In 2013, 31% of Arbella Insurance Group’s severe accidents—claims totaling at least $100,000 in bodily injury and property damage—involved a left-turning vehicle.
As those with the largest set of crash data, the insurance industry has a responsibility to better educate consumers on the risks of left turns and other dangerous driving moves. Municipalities should also work to build and restructure roads and intersections to lessen the risk for drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that nationwide, 53.1% of crossing-path crashes involve left turns. Additionally, a study by New York City transportation planners found that left turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash involving a pedestrian.
The reason left-hand turns are so dangerous is because the act itself disrupts the flow of traffic. Drivers must gauge the speed and distance of oncoming cars, cross the opposite lane, and watch for pedestrians or bicyclists—many of whom are becoming increasingly distracted themselves, largely due to cell phones. All driving, but particularly left turns, requires vigilance to other drivers’ movements in addition to just your own. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that close to half of the 5.8 million car crashes in the U.S. are intersection-related and the majority of those are the result of making a left turn.
So what can we in the insurance industry do to help mitigate the risks associated with left turns? We must communicate the risks involved with left-hand turns and encourage our insureds to make the maneuver as safe and risk-free as possible. This can be done by sharing safety information through social media targeted at customers and independent agents. Content for these communications can include recommendations for using intersections controlled by left-turn arrows, jug handles or rotaries; paying close attention to distracted pedestrians; staying alert when combating the sun or oncoming headlight glare; and paying close attention to other vehicles’ speed and actions, rather than anticipating what they will be. Also consider communicating the benefits of eliminating left turns from daily driving routines—the average commuter may be surprised to know that research shows consecutive right turns are faster and more fuel-efficient. This can be especially impactful to commercial customers who are better able to regulate the routes and movements of their drivers.
Could the future of driving be free of left turns? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Thankfully, vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology (V2V)—the dynamic wireless exchange of data between nearby cars—has reportedly advanced to such a degree that the NHTSA could start requiring it in all new vehicles as soon as 2020. Having this technology on the road could prevent as many as 592,000 left-turn and intersection crashes a year, saving 1,083 lives. But until these vehicles are the majority on the highway, left turns will continue to pose serious risks to drivers, and we need to continue to mitigate those risks through increased communication and improved engineering on all roads across the United States.