Should left-hand turns be left-behind in Chicago road planning?

On behalf of Mike Clancy

Data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association shows that approximately 36 percent of all motorcycle accidents that result in a fatality were related to a single traffic maneuver. We’re talking about the left-hand turn. In fact, over half of all accidents involving one vehicle crossing into the path of another were traced back to a left-hand turn while only 5.7 percent involve one made to the right.

Why are left-hand turns so disproportionately dangerous? Maybe it is the fact that a left-hand turn often leaves a car at a standstill in an active lane. Maybe it is the fact that even when a designated lane exists, the line often stretches beyond the allotted space as the drivers wait for an opening in traffic. Or maybe it is because more drivers simply — and negligently — fail to see an oncoming car.

Those reasons mentioned above are more than an educated guess. They are “the bane of traffic engineers” as “Traffic” author Tom Vanderbilt calls them. Shipping and logistics expert UPS has even made the move to forbid its drivers from making left-hand turns where possible. Specific routes are even designed to minimize all of the left-hand turns made by company drivers to around only 10 percent.

“Number one, you have a safety factor of crossing traffic,” said Senior Vice President Bob Stoffel in an interview with Fortune, “and, number two, you have the delay factor, particularly in busy roads.” Stoffel knows that this change has already resulted in a savings of gas measurable in the millions of gallons, but one might wonder how many lives may have been saved or car accident injuries prevented. Who knows?

A driver that makes a left-hand turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle could be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit for compensation in Chicago — even if the maneuver is a common theme in Illinois traffic planning.

Source: The Washington Post, “The case for almost never turning left while driving,” Matt McFarland, April 9, 2014

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Should left-hand turns be left-behind in Chicago road planning?