Intersections are among the most dangerous places on the New Zealand road network. A report published in 2013 stated that in the previous 5 years in urban areas 46% of deaths and serious injuries happened at intersections. On rural roads, with speed limits of 80km/h or above, 17% of deaths and serious injuries were at intersections. At urban intersections, cyclists are at particular risk of higher severity crashes.
At traffic signals the hazard cyclists face is from turning vehicles, especially heavy vehicles with visibility constraints from the driver’s seat being a major issue. Many accidents occur when vehicles turn left at an intersection, without seeing a cyclist, turning into the path of the bike. This very real danger can lead to less desirable behaviour by bike riders such as riding through intersections when other traffic is stopped or riding around the corner on the footpath. While we don’t encourage this, it is plain to see why cyclists feel the need to do it.
Safer, smarter intersections need to be implemented like the one pictured in Christchurch. This allows for cyclists to turn left safely, separate from the turning traffic and it also minimises the potential for collision with pedestrians. We also love traffic lights for cyclists and think these should be mandatory at simultaneous green junctions. The corner refuge island is another design that protects cyclists turning at intersections. It is a concrete bumper that hugs the corner of an intersection, physically separating cars and cyclists as they turn left. We are starting to see more of this infrastructure being implemented in New Zealand and we’re so grateful for it.
The other responsible party in intersection accidents are drivers. Since it can be assumed no driver wishes to be responsible for hurting another human being, who is simply trying to navigate their route through an unavoidable intersection, here are five tips to navigating them safely:
1. Notice your surroundings. The most important part of driving is noticing your surroundings. Staying vigilant from crashes requires watching all other road users around you.
2. Don’t speed through. No matter how hard you might try to anticipate another driver’s moves, there will always be surprises. Approximately 8.4% of intersection crashes are from making a false assumption about another driver’s actions.
3. Keep your distance. Don’t follow the vehicle in front of you too closely through an intersection. Since crashes are so common here, it makes even more sense to follow the common driving advice of leaving yourself a way to get out. Even a few feet of space can make a big difference in avoiding a crash.
4. Use your signal. The best way to let other drivers know your intentions is to use your signals.
5. Carefully enter intersections. The most dangerous times to enter an intersection are when the light has turned yellow, or it has just turned green. When the light turns yellow, too many people try to beat the light. Always scan the intersection and traffic from the opposite directions carefully before pulling into the intersection.