Gridlock Guy: Turning left often doesn’t turn out right

March 28, 2022 Atlanta: A fatal crash involving a motorcycle caused delays on Moreland Avenue in DeKalb County on Monday morning, March 28, 2022. At one point all southbound lanes were shut down while authorities investigated the crash at South River Industrial Boulevard, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. The wreck was reported just after 7:30 a.m. and was cleared by just after 9 a.m. Investigators believe a driver turned left in front of the motorcycle, causing the bike to crash and killing its rider, according to DeKalb police. The motorcyclist was not identified. Charges are pending for the driver of the car, who also has not been identified, police said. Moreland Avenue was shut down while the manÕs body was removed by the DeKalb County Medical ExaminerÕs Office. His crumpled motorcycle could be seen lying in the southbound lanes. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

March 28, 2022 Atlanta: A fatal crash involving a motorcycle caused delays on Moreland Avenue in DeKalb County on Monday morning, March 28, 2022. At one point all southbound lanes were shut down while authorities investigated the crash at South River Industrial Boulevard, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. The wreck was reported just after 7:30 a.m. and was cleared by just after 9 a.m. Investigators believe a driver turned left in front of the motorcycle, causing the bike to crash and killing its rider, according to DeKalb police. The motorcyclist was not identified. Charges are pending for the driver of the car, who also has not been identified, police said. Moreland Avenue was shut down while the manÕs body was removed by the DeKalb County Medical ExaminerÕs Office. His crumpled motorcycle could be seen lying in the southbound lanes. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

You’re running a bit late and you need to turn left. You’ve waited patiently as the oncoming traffic from a recently green traffic light flies past from an intersection away. Ah, there’s a gap. You have your signal on, punch the gas, and crank the wheel.

This split-second decision to dive like an action star through a closing window normally works out fine. But left-turns across oncoming traffic are a significant characteristic of many wrecks.

And oftentimes the car turning left is found to be at fault, as my recent trip to an Atlanta Municipal Court docket taught me. During those two morning sessions in court, I noticed numerous people that walked away from minor crashes with tickets for failing to yield, while turning left.

Georgia’s traffic code is fairly straightforward on this: “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.” (40-6-71).

There is leeway and judgment here: Officers and drivers are left to judge just how close an oncoming vehicle needs to be for which left-turners should have to yield.

Sometimes cars just wreck and neither driver is really more at fault than the other. One was taking a higher risk left turn and the other was driving 10 mph over the speed limit. Call it a wash. But since the law says those turning left should yield, the tiebreaker in the “fault game” likely goes against the driver that is turning.

Proving someone turned left is far easier than proving a driver who wasn’t clocked speeding is doing so.

The same type of judgment call would hold true in a rear-end crash. Not every trailing car is going to get the ticket in one of those collisions. But, all things being equal, Georgia law says that drivers should not follow too closely. Only cars in the mirror can do that, so they often lose the tiebreaker.

Left turns account for higher percentages of wrecks than do other maneuvers. They cause more injuries, too, since the turning vehicle is moving slowly and the oncoming vehicle can easily t-bone the passenger side of the turner.

The danger in turning left is one reason why GDOT is installing DDI (Diverging Diamond Interchanges) at some busy interstate exits. Lessening the crash-count and eliminating lines of impatient drivers waiting to turn helps traffic and saves lives. Roundabouts also help in this same way, especially if they replace two-way stops.

Considering how fast some people drive and how distracted many motorists are, the best bet is to err on the side of caution when turning left. Being five minutes late to the appointment is better than getting or causing damage and injuries. Being tardy is also better than having to pay a traffic fine. Waiting for the right window to turn left pays its worth.

Pulling off a higher-risk traffic maneuver does pay off in a sense of accomplishment and an adrenaline rush. But the cost of mistiming the delta of an oncoming vehicle or underestimating that driver’s attentiveness far outweighs the dopamine rush. Quarterbacks are heralded for “threading the needle” and nailing a wide receiver for a completion right as the linebacker arrives. They are also pilloried when the linebacker intercepts it with the game on the line. For turning left, caution is valor. No one wants to throw a pick-six in traffic.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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