Drivers Making 'Permitted' Left Turns Often Hit Pedestrians, Even in Crosswalks

Pedestrians
The 'permitted' left turn signals vary across local intersections and bewilder drivers during oncoming traffic. It's also putting pedestrians at risk. Creative Commons

Most pedestrians already have a false sense of security when crossing streets and intersections. Now a new study shows that pedestrians crossing at 'permitted' left turn signals are at risk of getting hit at an alarming rate.

"There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads,," said David Hurwitz, assistant professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University. "This study found that one key concern is permitted left turns."

Researchers compared the behaviors of drivers at 'protected' green arrow signals and left-turn 'permitted' areas and found pedestrians are four to nine percent of the time more likely to be struck because drivers have a relatively narrow opportunity to turn during oncoming traffic at 'permitted' signals.

"In traffic management you always have multiple goals, which sometimes conflict," Hurwitz said. "You want to move traffic as efficiently as possible, because there's a cost to making vehicles wait. You use more fuel, increase emissions and waste people's time. The permitted left turn can help with efficiency.

The traffic study examined the drivers with controlled driving simulators that watched and recorded the eye movements.  It showed that one out of 10 or 20 times, drivers did not check to see whether a pedestrian was crossing before driving into an intersection.

The culprit is not only the driver, but the 'permitted' left turn signs that vary across local streets and can be bewildering. Researchers propose that states should remove these signals in the presence of a pedestrian crosswalk. 

"Sometimes the goal of safety has to override the goal of efficiency, and we think this is one of those times," Hurwitz said.

Pedestrian safety is a recurring problem in the United States with most deaths happening because of high speeding, drivers who are alcohol-impaired and traffic regulations in urban, non-intersection locations like New York.  

For example, a study recently published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery conducted by a medical team at NYU Langone Medical Center found that more than 1,4000 pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan and Brooklyn were being treated for accident-related injuries. While poor driving may be partially to blame, the researchers also say that habits like listening to iPods and wearing helmets while walking and biking could also make all the difference. A surprising finding was that 15 percent of pedestrians and 11 percent of cyclists involved in the collisions had consumed alcohol, reported The New York Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that adults 65 and older account for nearly 18 percent of deaths, while one in every five children killed in traffic were pedestrians.  

The findings will be presented at the Driving Assessment Conference in Bolton Landing, N.Y. between June 17 to 20, 2013 and the Western District ITE meeting to be held in Arizona.

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