Re-posted from The Safe Driver, June 16, 2009
What do you think the most dangerous thing is that we do as drivers? Is it driving in the winter, on the highway or at night? You might think these are all dangerous things to do, but the most dangerous driving task is turning left at traffic lights. It’s true! Let’s take a look and determine how we can turn left safely.
The first error a lot of drivers do is, if they have to wait for traffic to pass, waiting in the intersection with their wheels angled left. This is a problem if they get bumped from behind. They’ll go directly into the path of the oncoming drivers. Drivers have been killed or severely injured in these types of crashes. The best position is to wait with your wheels straight. If you get bumped, you’re going straight ahead into neutral territory. If you notice the driver behind that isn’t slowing enough, you can always cancel the signal and abandon the turn.
Turning left at a large intersection is a big problem too. The traffic island poses a threat to our visibility. Most drivers tend to angle their vehicle and their wheels to help themselves see oncoming traffic better. Not a great idea, since the front left corner of the vehicle is getting closer to the oncoming traffic every time you move forward to improve your visibility. A better approach may help protect the front left corner of your vehicle and improve your visibility at the same time.
At Young Drivers of Canada, I’ve taught my students to do the “S” approach. You end up in the intersection, in front of the oncoming drivers turning lane, with your vehicle and wheels straight. Begin this procedure by being on the right side of your left turning lane. At two vehicle lengths back from the crosswalk, angle the vehicle close to the end of the island. Once you pass the island, look ahead toward the opposing turning lane and straighten out your vehicle. The path your vehicle has just taken now resembles an “S” shape.
You’ve now moved in front of your own island and opposite the opposing turning lane. Your visibility has improved because you can now look between the lanes of the drivers turning left and the drivers going straight. The front end of your vehicle is tucked into the intersection, away from the drivers driving through the intersection. Doesn’t that sound safer than angling your vehicle? Wait, we’re not done yet.
While you’re waiting for traffic, I would suggest you continually move your eyes to look for a gap in traffic, the crosswalk on your left for pedestrians, your mirror for drivers approaching too fast and the lights, in case they change to amber. If the lights change before you leave, check your left blind spot and begin to creep forward. Make your turn after the last driver passes.
An alternative to turning left is making 3 right turns. Three rights can make a left, but two wrongs don’t make a right!
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