The Hidden Danger at Intersections

Eliminate distractions and remain alert at intersections.

Andy Pilgrim
July 06, 2018

In recent years, the U.S. has seen a huge increase in something it’d rather not be a leader in: traffic deaths.

After years of declines, the U.S. saw its steepest two-year increase in traffic deaths in over 50 years in 2016, and the numbers are only just now starting to level off.

Anytime we have traffic fatality increases in the U.S., several explanations float around. Lower fuel prices and a better economy are the most popular, but let’s get serious: while these conditions often result in slight increases in traffic fatalities and injuries, they alone cannot explain the tragic and massive increases we have seen in recent years.

In my opinion, some of the blame lies with the number of phones in the hands of U.S. drivers, as well as the relative weakness of the U.S. driving test compared to the tests in many other countries. Unfortunately, we may not get phones out of the hands of distracted drivers any quicker than we will make our driving test more rigorous, and that means we need to pay even more attention than ever, because so many of the vehicles we come across are driven by distracted drivers.

One area we can work on is safety at intersections. There are many types of intersections, from simple traffic lights with and without turn lanes to two, three and four way stops, both onto and off of main highways.

Intersections have always been a difficult area for drivers. Anytime we need to cross oncoming traffic or turn off of one road onto another, there is a heightened risk of collision involved. Successfully negotiating intersections requires eye scanning, mirror use, analysis of the speed of other vehicles and even higher concentration to be ready for the unexpected. We have to get intersections right every time, because we may never get another chance if we get it all wrong.

The biggest change we see with intersections these days – and the main reason they have become more dangerous – is due to distracted drivers. It is incredible how many people I see making turns across traffic while messing with, looking at or talking on their phones.

The deaths and injuries that occur each day due to distracted drivers at intersections is horrific and totally preventable. We all need to make safer driving choices.

Each time you choose to drive distracted, you are rolling the dice and gambling that all will be fine. If you are distracted while negotiating an intersection, then you have moved the gamble up to much higher stakes. As we say in professional racing when we see someone driving too close to the limit, “It’s all fine, until it’s not.” If you choose to drive distracted and it all goes horribly wrong, you will have to live with the consequences of your choice – assuming you made it through, of course.

Too harsh? Try telling that to the thousands of people who have lost loved ones due to distracted drivers in the last year. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are all at high risk in intersections and are dying at rates we should never find acceptable.

Intersections are difficult driving areas, so please pay extra attention at intersections. Make sure you always look for cyclists and pedestrians, many of whom may also be distracted and particularly vulnerable. If you are at a stop sign then stop, don’t roll through, especially if there are children in your vehicle. They are learning driving behaviors and habits by watching you, whether you think they are or not.

The preventable and tragic loss of life due to distracted driving has to stop. We should all commit to putting down our phones every time we drive, even turning them completely off. That includes avoiding Bluetooth and hands-free usage behind the wheel; any phone call while driving means you are not mentally present and are gambling with other people’s lives.

Summer driving often means more fatalities and injuries on U.S. roads. Make sure your driving decisions are the safest they can be, for everyone’s sake.

Andy Pilgrim

Andy Pilgrim started the Traffic Safety Education Foundation in 2008. He is a professional race driver and a contributing writer/vehicle tester to Automobile Magazine.

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