Left Hand Turns and Pedestrians

A study that examined driver behavior (in regard to permitted left turns) has identified what researchers call an “alarming” level of risk to pedestrians crossing the street – about 9% of the time, drivers don’t even bother to look and see if there are people crossing. A “protected” left turn is a solid green arrow that gives a driver the total right of way in a left-turn lane. A “permitted” left turn allows a driver to turn when safe to do so. This often involves a confusing mix of signals, and drivers may have to pick their way through small windows of oncoming traffic. “There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads, and pedestrians have a false sense of security,” said David Hurwitz, an assistant professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University. “This study found that one key concern is ‘permitted’ left turns.” While waiting to make a left turn, sometimes taking a narrow opportunity to lunge into a stream of oncoming traffic, drivers focus most of their attention on the cars and the traffic signal rather than pedestrians crossing the street. The heavier the traffic, the less consideration given to pedestrians. In a controlled analysis (in a full-scale driving simulator that monitored specific eye movements) the engineers found that about one time in 10 or 20, the driver didn’t even look to see if a pedestrian was there before moving into the intersection. This suggests a major risk level to pedestrians, if they assume that drivers not only will look for them, but will allow them to cross the street. The problem is worsened by “permitted” left turn signals that vary widely from state to state and sometimes even from one city to the next. Such turns might be allowed by a circular green light, a flashing circular yellow light, a flashing circular red light, or even a flashing yellow arrow. The danger is so high that more states and cities should consider prohibiting “permitted” left turns while pedestrians are allowed to be in the crosswalk. In Washington County in Oregon traffic managers recently did just that, after receiving a high number of complaints about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. The jury is still out regarding the results of this change. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us by calling (888) 467-0312 or visit us online at http://www.oliveroslaw.com/ with all your legal needs.