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Are left turns safe? Not so much in New York

In New York, walking and biking aren't just healthy activities. They're primary modes of transportation.

But, in our congested city, taking to the streets on foot or by bike can be fraught with peril. This is especially true when you encounter vehicles making a left turn.

NYC DOT study sheds light

Earlier this year, the New York City Department of Transportation released a study on the prevalence of left-turn accidents. It found that pedestrians and cyclists were more than three times as likely to be seriously injured or killed by a vehicle turning left than by a vehicle turning right.

But why? What it is about left turns that makes them so dangerous? Here are a few reasons:

  • Speed: Drivers making left turns tend to go faster than drivers making right turns.
  • Visibility: Pedestrians can disappear into the driver's blind spot, especially around parked cars.
  • Effort: Making a left turn in traffic requires quick thinking and action. Drivers might simply forget to check for pedestrians.
  • Opportunity: In a right turn, drivers only cross a small portion of a crosswalk. In a left turn, the area a car crosses is much larger, increasing the opportunity for a collision.

Of course, reasons are different from excuses. Pedestrians have the right-of-way, and there is no justification for failing to keep a lookout, or for driving too fast. Drivers must yield.

Still, NYC DOT is investigating options to help promote safer intersections throughout the city. They include:

  • Protected bike lanes to keep cyclists out of traffic
  • Dedicated left-turn lanes lessen the pressure on drivers blocking traffic
  • Medians and extended curbs to make pedestrians more visible to drivers
  • Longer "walk" signals at controlled intersections to give pedestrians more time to cross

Will these tools work? We certainly hope so. But city planning can only go so far to mitigate negligent driving. Ultimately, drivers will have to shoulder the burden for keeping walkers and bikers safe.

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Michael J. Gaffney, Attorney at Law
1164 Victory Blvd.
Staten Island, NY 10301

Phone: 347-286-1937
Fax: 718-447-9908
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