Left Turn Crashes: How to Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities

One of the most dangerous maneuvers a driver can make is a left turn. Not only does he or she need to be aware of opposing vehicular traffic but also pedestrians and bicyclists who are crossing in front of the car’s path as well. The Left Turn Pedestrian & Bicyclist Crash Study, released this month and undertaken by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYDOT), found that approximately 19% of all pedestrian fatalities from 2010-2014 resulted from left turn crashes, which is significantly higher than right turn fatalities, accounting for only six percent of pedestrian deaths.

There are several potential factors that contribute to the danger of left turns for pedestrians. First, they can be taken by a driver at a much wider radius than right turns which results in a higher speed (9.3 mph vs 5.6 mph). Within the crosswalk, pedestrians have a much greater area of exposure as the driver has many more different angles at which he or she can make the turn compared to a right.  Visibility is more problematic for left turns as the vehicle’s windshield pillars can obstruct the driver’s view of pedestrians. And finally, left turns can be more challenging than right turns because of the decisions a driver has to make which could lead to a collision.

Recognizing the issues, NYDOT has developed an Action Plan to implement remediation measures to enhance safety for pedestrians where high occurrences of left turn crashes are present. The solutions include:

Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) – Pedestrians are given a ‘head-start’ with a walk indication in advance of the vehicular green. Over 400 treatments were installed in 2015 with another 500 planned in 2016.

Left Turn Calming Pilot – Involves the addition of pavement markings, delineators, signals and curbing to better guide drivers through a left turn. Over 100 locations have been improved with this strategy.

Left Turn Restrictions – Elimination of problematic left turns where feasible.

Protected Bike Lanes (PBL)  – Over 15 miles of new bike lanes are proposed in 2016 which will enhance overall street safety.

Before and After Studies of crashes where treatments have been implemented for three years or longer indicate significant reductions in left turn fatal crashes for LPIs (56%), PBL (53%) and for injury crashes using left turn restrictions (41%), PBL (15%), and left turn signals/calming (33%).

Some success has been realized and with the Action Plan to provide mitigation at many more locations, further decreases in left turn pedestrian crashes can be expected in the future.

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