Saturday night, a motorcyclist was killed on Jacksonville's westside when an on-coming sport utility vehicle turned left in front of the motorcyclist's path. The car vs. motorcycle accident happened at the intersection of Plymouth Street and Cassat Avenue.
Left turn accidents are the second most common type of car accidents that our law firm sees, with rear-end accidents, of course, being the most common. However, left turn accidents are usually much worse because the person going straight is hit head-on typically resulting in very serious injuries.
Approximately forty percent of the nearly six million car crashes that happen in the United States annually happen at intersections. In 2008 alone, over 7000 left turn accidents were fatal and over 730,000 resulted in personal injuries.
Motorcyclists get the worst of left turn accidents for two reasons. First, left turn accidents happen because the driver of the turning car fails to see the oncoming vehicle or fails to estimate whether there is sufficient time to make the turn in front of the oncoming vehicle. Motorcycles, being smaller, are harder to see. Also, it can be harder for drivers to appreciate how fast a motorcycle is traveling.
Second, motorcyclists almost always suffer devastating, if not fatal, injuries in a left turn accident. In such an accident, the motorcycle collides with the passenger side of the turning car. The long profile of the side of a car or SUV leaves little opportunity for the motorcyclist to swerve either left or right to avoid a crash. The impact between the motorcycle and the side of a car usually sends the motorcyclist head first into the car or over the car into the roadway and other traffic.
The driver making the left turn is almost always at fault for these accidents. This is because the turning driver is required to yield to oncoming traffic. Often, a the turning driver will claim that the oncoming vehicle was traveling much faster than the speed limit and that he or she would have otherwise had time to clear the intersection. This defense rarely succeeds, however, as the turning driver has to admit in such a circumstance that he or she saw the oncoming vehicle. Upon seeing the oncoming vehicle and observing it properly before making the turn should give the turning driver the opportunity to observe its speed.
Some intersections have a traffic control device that provides a "green arrow" signal allowing for a safe left turn by stopping oncoming traffic. Sometimes, the left turning driver will claim that he or she had a green arrow and will claim that the oncoming driver ran a red light. If it is a busy intersection, there will often be witnesses who can settle the dispute. Otherwise, it becomes a "he said, she said" type of dispute.
Engineers have struggled for years in an attempt to avoid left turns that cross oncoming traffic. Some of those efforts are chronicled in an article titled "Don't Turn Left!" However, the alternate designs are expensive and have other drawbacks that ensure that most intersections will continue to have left turn concerns.