Left TurnsA friend called me this morning because she had witnessed a horrible Denver car accident. (That’s the kind of call a Denver personal injury attorney gets from his friends!) She was shaken up, describing it as “so violent” and that it “looked like one of the cars exploded.”

Now, this sounds like it could be a rare, extraordinary type of accident but it wasn’t. In fact, I learned that it was caused by one of the most common mistakes that drivers make: left-hand turns in front of oncoming traffic.

My friend described the accident like this: A southbound car on Colorado Boulevard was in the left-hand turn lane and decided to turn left onto 8th Avenue. A northbound car slammed into the turning car and then veered off and hit a nearby bus stop. The car that made the risky left-hand turn in front of oncoming traffic “exploded” from the impact. Car parts, glass and liquids scattered across the intersection. Luckily, it appeared as though everyone walked away from the accident and no one was hurt at the bus stop.

I have just one reaction to this: If you’re in a left-hand turn lane and you’re thinking, “I can probably make it,” don’t turn!

In the majority of cases, the person making the left-hand turn is found to be at fault.

Let’s face it: we all sit at those left-hand-turn intersections, the green light teasing us, making us feel like we “should” go. We think about the people in the cars behind us who also want to make the light. We think about how long it will take for the light to cycle through another time… and we inch out farther and farther. Suddenly, you’re in a pickle. You have put yourself into a dangerous situation. You’re sitting in the middle of an intersection where oncoming cars may not even see you.

So, the light turns yellow and you dash for it. And Colorado drivers are notorious for pushing through a yellow light, so just as you’re making a risky left-hand turn, another driver is gunning it to make it through the intersection… ka-pow! Exploding cars.

We see this type of accident all the time. In my office alone, we see at least 10 to 20 car accidents like this each year. In the majority of cases, the person making the left-hand turn is found to be at fault.

Sadly, the injuries from this kind of accident are usually pretty bad for both drivers. For the driver who was going straight (usually the victim), it’s the equivalent of hitting a wall. We see lots of broken wrists and broken ankles, as well as much more severe injuries.

How to Make a Left-Hand Turn

While left-hand turns may be more risky than right-hand turns, there are a few simple rules that you can follow to avoid an accident:

  • Signal your intentions: Make sure the people in front of and behind you know what you’re planning to do so that they can adjust their driving accordingly.
  • Make sure you’re in the proper lane: If there is a designated turn lane, make sure you’re in it. And I mean ALL the way in it. Don’t block the traffic coming up behind you by edging halfway into the turn lane because you’re frightened of the oncoming traffic on your left. You’ll leave yourself exposed to a rear-end collision.
  • Use the arrow: If you have an arrow, use it! If there is no arrow, take your time.
  • Scan the area: While you definitely want to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic, you also want to avoid hitting pedestrians. Making that left-hand turn often means you will be crossing an intersection where pedestrians have the right-of-way. If you plan to gun it and blaze across traffic through a pedestrian-filled intersection, either you’ll get hit or you will hit a person. Just stay put in those circumstances.
  • Check for oncoming traffic: If you’re crossing lanes of oncoming traffic, you obviously need to know if anyone is coming from the other direction. Often, there are cars in the turn lane opposite you and they may be blocking your view of the oncoming lanes. In those situations, just wait until you have a clear view. It is simply not worth the extra 30 seconds or two minutes that you’ll gain by risking that turn.

What to do if You’ve Been Hit by Someone Turning Left in Front of You

What should you do if someone turns left in front of you and you hit them? Assuming you are not too hurt, you need to gather witnesses and take pictures! Witnesses can corroborate that you had the green light and that the person making the left-hand turn shouldn’t have gone. Pictures of the accident scene will help your personal injury attorney to put together a better case for you and may even trigger some questions that lead to a better settlement.

But again, I can’t urge you enough to not be the driver who causes a car accident like this. If you aren’t sure you can make the turn, DON’T TURN!

If you have any questions about this article, please contact me at (303) 388-5304.

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Brush Up on Your Good Driving Habits — We could all use some friendly reminders about the rules of the road.

Teaching Your Teen to Drive — Some new – and old school – advice to keep your teen safe.