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What Are Some Causes of Accidents at Intersections?


Road and highway intersections require special care and close attention from drivers to help make them their safest. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) says about 2.5 million car accidents happen at intersections every year.

Intersections account for about 40 percent of the more than six million accidents that happen every year in the United States. Intersections also account for about half of the more than 30,000 deadly accidents that occur annually on U.S. roadways.

Those large percentages show how dangerous intersections are for the average driver. However, they do not show the types of accidents or common causes.

Common Types of Accidents at Intersections

Two types of car accidents commonly occur at intersections. Those are side collisions and head-on collisions. Both could be deadly.

A side collision commonly is called a T-bone accident. It happens when one motorist drives into the side of another vehicle.

The head-on collision could occur while turning left. When making left hand turns across the traffic lane of oncoming traffic, a head-on collision could occur.

A head-on collision could be particularly deadly because of the combined speeds of both vehicles. Airbags, seat belts, and child safety seats help to protect against head-on collisions. But even those safety measures might not be enough to prevent catastrophic injuries.

Rear-end collisions also occur at intersections. Many vehicles are stopped and waiting for traffic to clear or a traffic light to change while at an intersection. If another driver is not paying attention, a rear-end collision also could occur.

A rear-end collision also might happen if the motorist is traveling too fast for road conditions and cannot stop safely. Sun glare could blind a driver and cause an accident.

Commonly Suffered Injuries

Head-on collisions, side impacts, and rear-end collisions could inflict very serious personal injuries. A head-on collision could give you some warning that enables you to brace yourself for an impending impact. However, you still could suffer broken bones and head injuries from the collision.

Side impacts and rear-end collisions are less predictable. You do not see them coming, so they catch accident survivors unaware. That can lead to spine or neck injuries that could cause death or paralysis.

Whiplash is very common when struck from behind or the side while you are driving. The term refers to the whip-like action that your neck and spine endure when struck violently. The spine whips about and causes soft tissue damage.

When you suffer from whiplash, your neck experiences extreme pain and has limited motion. Fortunately, those symptoms usually go away in a few days. But they could last for several weeks or longer in extreme cases.

Common Causes of Intersection Accidents

Driver error is the most common reason for accidents at intersections. Driver error is a broad explanation that generally applies to most accidents. However, there are different ways in which drivers commit errors that cause accident, including at intersections.

More than 44 percent of accidents at intersections happen because one or both drivers did not pay attention to traffic conditions. Many do not yield the right of way, which almost ensures a collision occurs. Inattentive driving clearly is the greatest danger at an intersection.

Making incorrect assumptions about what another motorist will do accounts for the next-highest percentage of intersection accidents. More than eight percent of accidents happen because one driver assumes another will turn or continue in a particular direction. When that does not happen, an accident becomes likely.

Other common driver errors and their respective percentages of intersection accidents include:

  • Obstructed view while turning: 7.8 percent
  • Making an illegal maneuver, such as a U-turn: 6.8 percent
  • Driving while distracted:  5.7 percent
  • Incorrectly judging distances and speeds of other vehicles: 5.5 percent

The gap between inattentive driving and the next-highest cause of intersection accidents shows the importance of paying attention while driving. For example, if you are tired or inattentive while driving home from work, that could become a potentially deadly driving condition.

Defective Equipment Could Cause Intersection Accidents

A vehicle that has defective lights and other non-working equipment might be especially dangerous at an intersection. Defective equipment can confuse other drivers and result in an accident.

A vehicle that has a headlight out could confuse a motorist who is trying to make a left hand turn and result in an accident. If a vehicle only has high beams that work, those bright lights could blind or confuse another motorist and lead to an accident.

A vehicle that has a taillight or a brake light out also could be danger at an intersection. A brake light or a taillight that is out makes it harder to judge where a vehicle is located or its traveling speed.

Also, a turn signal that is not working could be dangerous. The inability to signal a turn makes it much harder for other motorists to anticipate where you are going and adjust their driving accordingly.

Even something as simple as poor wiper blades could make intersections harder to negotiate safely. If your wiper blades are not clearing the windshield of precipitation, your vision is affected. That might cause you do misjudge the speed or location of other vehicles.

Intersections Have Special Dangers

You likely know of some local intersections near where you live and work that are more dangerous than others. Odds are those intersections have lots of traffic at particular times of the day. They also might have several lanes and potentially confusing traffic controls.

Possible distractions at an intersection include pedestrians on bicycles, skateboard, and foot. You might have joggers, people walking their pets, and other people who are crossing the street at different speeds. Heavy traffic and pedestrians could make it much harder to clear the intersection safely.

A hill, turn, or some roadside object might block some of your view. Such a blind spot could become a constant danger when you are at an intersection.

Left and Right Turns Have Unique Dangers

Making a left hand turn is one of the most dangerous things you legally will do while driving. Left hand turns usually require you to drive across one or more oncoming lanes of traffic while trying to pay attention to a variety of possible distractions. The potential for misjudging the speed on an oncoming vehicle is relatively high. That is especially true at night.

Left hand turns also mean you are crossing the legal right of way that pedestrians have if they are crossing the street in a designated crosswalk. Drivers could lose sight of a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other individual and run into that person.

Left turns are not the only risky turns to make. Right hand turns are risky as well. Blocked lines of sight and overly wide turns can make turns challenging.

Many people cannot see well from the driver seat while turning right. A good portion of the vehicle will create a blind spot in which pedestrians, motorcycles, and other vehicles might remain hidden. That makes it easy to cut off another vehicle while making a right hand turn.

Many motorists also either turn too sharply or make an overly wide turn while turning right. That could result in clipping the corner of an intersection and anything, or anyone, in the way. An overly wide turn could cause you to drive into another vehicle’s travel lane.

Technology Could Improve Intersection Safety

The common causes of intersection accidents mostly involve driver error. The vast array of new technologies included with new production cars could help to prevent accidents at intersections.

Many vehicles have blind-spot monitoring that could help to stop you from cutting off someone while you are turning at an intersection. Also, rear traffic alert systems might identify an oncoming vehicle that poses an imminent threat of a rear-end collision.

A lot of newer vehicles have adaptive cruise control and automated braking. If a vehicle can detect oncoming traffic and prevent you from pulling in front of another vehicle, that could help to reduce the chance of an accident while turning left.

Many local communities also are replacing traditional intersections with roundabouts, also called traffic circles. A roundabout forces all traffic to flow in a counterclockwise pattern around a circle.

Drivers turn right onto the roundabout and then turn right again to exit onto the road that leads to where they are traveling. The right hand turns and constant flow of traffic eliminate left hand turns.

Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Help Clients Involved in Accidents at Intersections

Intersections are a common location for car accidents. If you have been involved in such an accident, reach out to the experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Our legal team will investigate the cause of the accident and fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 215-569-4888 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.