When Driving Takes a Sinister Turn


It may surprise some that the term "sinister" is actually Latin for the direction "left." However, over the ages, and to the chagrin of roughly 10% of the world's population who are left-handed, the word has come to refer to something that is evil. Unlike the lefties of the world, there is one type of left that statistics show deserves this ominous name: the left turn. More than 22 percent of crashes occur while turning left, while a small 1.2% occur while turning right, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Previously, we addressed the dangers of left turns and ways to be safer, including attempting to get rid of instances where a left turn is needed. But the reality still remains that turning left can't be completely removed from most commutes and this maneuver contributes to thousands of deadly vehicle crashes every year. So let's review some additional safe driving tips in the event your commute must take a "sinister" turn.

Avoid Pre-turning the Steering Wheel

You're waiting for the green arrow, or for oncoming traffic to clear, while your left-turn blinker click-clocks away the seconds. In anticipation, you turn the steering wheel to the left. What would happen if your foot slipped off the brake? Or if you were rear-ended? Your car would move in the direction your front tires are pointed - into oncoming traffic. You should keep your steering wheel at its neutral position, so your tires are pointed forward, until you're ready to make your turn.

The "Wave of Death"

Traffic is backed up, blocking the driveway you want to enter. Then, a kind motorist gives you space to make your left turn. She smiles from her windshield and waves: "go ahead." But despite the best of intentions, these situations can end badly if another driver tries to go around her, or you can't see the oncoming vehicle in the next lane over. The National Highway Institute Research Center reports that taking a left turn into a driveway, without the benefit of a signal, accounts for 47% of the crashes associated with driveways. The safest thing to do is to wait until all traffic has cleared, or to simply make your way to a controlled intersection to make your turn. It may add a few minutes, but it can save a lifetime of heartache.

The View to the Right

It's reported that the majority of accidents at intersections occur within four seconds of a light change. Being the first stopped vehicle at the light can be one of the most dangerous positions during those four seconds, especially if you're the first vehicle in a dedicated left-turn lane. This is because stopped vehicles in the non-turn lanes can block your view of the cross-traffic from your right, and also that vehicle that may be trying to beat the red-light. Waiting a second or two before pulling fully into the intersection after the light turns green could help prevent a disastrous crash.

Pay Attention!

There is a theme that runs through the majority of these safety suggestions, and it boils down to paying attention. Distracted driving is still one of the largest factors in causing vehicle accidents. And this is no less true with drivers at intersections or waiting to turn left. In the 19 states that have laws restricting hand-held cell phone use, even holding your phone in a stopped car is illegal. There may be temptation to pick up your cell phone and scan messages while waiting for the light, but leave it alone and scan the traffic ahead instead.

Philadelphia Insurance Companies has a number of risk management resources you can access through your MyPHLY account. This includes our Left Turn Safety document that provides additional information about defensive driving and can hopefully help make your drives a little less sinister.

Safe Driving Resources


IMPORTANT NOTICE - The information and suggestions presented by Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company in this E-Brochure is for your consideration in your loss prevention efforts. They are not intended to be complete or definitive in identifying all hazards associated with your business, preventing workplace accidents, or complying with any safety related, or other, laws or regulations. You are encouraged to alter them to fit the specific hazards of your business and to have your legal counsel review all of your plans and company policies.

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