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Avoiding intersection collisions

Intersections can be a dangerous place for drivers as well as pedestrians and bicyclists. They may range from complicated expressway interchanges to simple, rural right-angle crossroads. In many intersections, there are may be no traffic lights or control devices of any kind.

Vehicle accidents commonly occur at intersections. Because traffic is often moving in several different directions at an intersection, there is a high risk of a collision. Inattentive drivers, reckless drivers, high speeds, and low visibility can all lead to a serious accident at an intersection. One vehicle may be sideswiped by the other, or the vehicles may collide head-on. Whatever the case may be, an accident at an intersection can be devastating and can lead to serious bodily injury and costly vehicle damage.

Knowing the major risks of an intersection accident and how to avoid them can help to minimize your chance of a vehicle crash.

The risks

Accidents at an intersection present a risk to both vehicle occupants and pedestrians. In intersection accidents, people in the vehicle are susceptible because the bulk of collisions involve side impacts to one of the vehicles. These have higher rates of death and serious injury because most vehicles have minimal protective structure to safeguard occupants in the struck vehicle.

Whenever you approach an intersection, there are steps that you can take to help avoid a collision. Some key driving behavior tips for intersections include:

  • Drive defensively. Always assume when approaching an intersection that cross traffic or pedestrians may not obey traffic control devices or yield right-of-way.
    • Watch for cars rushing through intersections at the end of a red light. If you are the first vehicle in line at a red light, you may end up staring intently at the light and accelerating the instant the light turns green. It would be better, when the light turns green, to briefly pause and then look look both ways before entering into the intersection.
  • Pay attention to traffic control devices before you reach an intersection so you know what you need to obey and what the traffic flow is supposed to be. Where are the turn lanes? Do both directions get a turn signal at the same time?
  • Slow down when approaching an intersection; scan the situation well in advance.
  • Always assume that there is a crosswalk on the corners of the intersection.
    • Watch for any pedestrians in the crosswalk before entering an intersection. When making a right turn, be sure to look left and right for vehicular traffic as well as pedestrian or bicycle traffic that may enter the crosswalk.
  • Check for other vehicles twice before pulling into any intersection, even if you have the right of way. Sometimes drivers fail to see a stop sign and may pull out in front of you or run into you.
  • When making a turn, look for pedestrians and bicyclists who may be in the crosswalk. When making a right turn, check your right side for pedestrian or bicycle traffic before completing your turn.
  • When making a left turn, do not immediately turn your wheels left so that if you are struck, you will not be pushed onto oncoming traffic.
  • Use your turn signals appropriately. Without the proper signals, another driver may not be aware that you are turning and may pull out in front of or hit you.
  • When crossing an uncontrolled intersection, allow enough time to clear the entire intersection with the rear of your vehicle without interfering with cross traffic. Don't count on cross traffic slowing down to let you pass. You may not be visible to oncoming traffic, and oncoming drivers may be inattentive, distracted or impaired.
    • Be especially aware of uncontrolled intersections at dawn, dusk and during night time hours.
  • If you encounter a blind intersection, approach it very slowly and alertly until your view is no longer blocked and you can see that the way is clear.
  • If there is a stop or yield sign, slow down and be ready to stop and give way to vehicles and bicyclists who arrived first.
  • Always complete a full stop at a stop sign, and look for oncoming traffic from both sides as well as pedestrians and bicyclists before entering the intersection.
  • Be alert for any movement. Check the source of the movement before proceeding.
  • Signal your intent to turn well in advance of the intersection and begin to position your vehicle accordingly.
  • Don’t try to beat yellow lights. Slow down and stop.
  • If your light has been green for a long time, expect it to change and be prepared to stop.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator, cover the brake, and slow down as you approach the intersection and go through it. This will enable you to stop more quickly if necessary.
  • Continue to scan as you enter the intersection and drive through it. Look for others who are not obeying traffic control devices or are not yielding the right of way. Continue to look for pedestrians and other potential hazards.
  • When making a right turn on red, come to a full stop. Look left, right, and left again. Proceed with the turn only when it is clear and safe to do so.
  • If you are going straight through an intersection after a red light changes green, look left, right, and left again. Begin to drive forward only when it is clear and safe to do so.
  • If you are driving in a residential area, stay alert and watch for children at all times.

Following these simple driving safety tips can help to reduce your risk of being involved in an accident at an intersection.

By: Mike Harding