How Right (Turns) Can Be Wrong

Man on pedestrian crossing in danger of being hit by a car

Whether it’s a right turn or a left turn, until autonomous vehicles are perfected and ubiquitous, we have to rely upon human drivers to drive safely.

Human drivers regularly make very human and very preventable errors that often result in serious injury or death.

In a recent blog, I discussed how drivers frequently make improper left turns, proceeding before ensuring the right of way is clear.

Unfortunately, right turns are often seen as “easier” or “safer” by most drivers. But performed improperly or without proper precautions, they can be every bit as dangerous.

I See it Daily

Just the other day in the Chicago suburbs, a vehicle turning right struck and killed a woman in a wheelchair in the crosswalk. Based upon the news story, it appeared the driver had done most things properly, having stopped at the stoplight before making his turn.

Sadly, the one thing the driver failed to do was double-check for pedestrians.

To make matters worse, the driver hit the woman in the wheelchair and left the scene, only turning himself in after witnesses and neighbors sent in tips to the police. It bears repeating—never leave the scene of a traffic crash that involves any property damage or any personal injury. The law requires that you must make a police report of both types of crashes.

What You Should Do

The obvious first thing you should do when making a right turn at an intersection is to obey the traffic signal or stop sign. Despite some vehicles in my neighborhood treating stop signs as merely advisory, they are, in fact, mandatory. Don’t just blow off a stop sign because you don’t see anyone around. All it takes is one millisecond of inattention to crush someone’s pet, kill someone’s child, or mangle someone’s vehicle.

If the light is red, make sure to look for a restriction for right turns on red. Some intersections allow them all the time, others never allow them, and others restrict them during specific days and hours.

Whatever the rule for the intersection, you still must stop completely before making a turn.

If you arrive at a stop sign at the same time as another vehicle, the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way to proceed first.

Check for pedestrians, bicycles, strollers, dogs, or children darting into the intersection. Expect the unexpected. Pause a moment before accelerating. That half-second saves lives.

Most important, check ahead of you to where you intend to turn. Know who or what is in the crosswalk before you begin your turn. Do not begin your turn if you see someone or something in the crosswalk.

What Went Wrong

I wasn’t there when the young man turned right and struck the woman, killing her. I cannot imagine the pain her family is enduring or the angst and remorse the driver will carry with him. But I do have a good idea of what I believe occurred based upon my own experiences as both an injury lawyer and an avid bicyclist in the city.

The driver proceeded before checking ahead of him, failing to check whether anyone or anything was in his path where he intended to turn. This is the single biggest mistake most drivers make. They see the intersection clear of vehicles and never think to check for the pedestrian in the crosswalk on the cross street, or the bicycle on their right side that is going straight. (See my earlier blogs about bicycle safety—this maneuver, which occurs often with trucks and bicycles, is known as the “right hook.”)

All of this is preventable. You, the driver, must remember that you are piloting one or two tons of deadly steel, fiberglass, glass, rubber, and plastic. If you fail to check before you make a move, you may be too late to undo the harm. Stop and look ahead before you proceed with a right turn.

Safe Steps for a Right Turn

Stop first.

Yield to any oncoming vehicles.

Look ahead and into the crosswalk.

Check for bicycles on your right.

Commence your right turn.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment, report the incident to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.