Why Intersections Can Be Dangerous for Cyclists, Pedestrians, & Drivers

High speed arterial streets encourage accidents in NYC

Traffic accidents are a major issue in the United States. In 2016, The National Safety Council reported that the U.S. had its steepest increase in traffic deaths in more than 50 years, and the numbers only recently began to level off in 2018. A major contributing factor to these numbers is intersection accidents.

Many underestimate the dangers associated with poorly designed intersections. While intersections may seem like simple parts of your daily commute, they can be some of the most dangerous to maneuver. Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are generally at a greater risk of accidents while navigating an intersection due to the need for a higher level of concentration. Everyone involved in an intersection must be able to process many things at once, such as:

  • Who has the right of way
  • The speed of oncoming traffic
  • Pedestrians crossing at crosswalks
  • Cyclists riding in bike lanes or on the side of the road
  • Cars executing left turns

Because of these many moving parts, civil designers and engineers must take a lot into consideration when designing safe intersections, especially to factor in human error.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shared that "research indicates that driver error may be involved in 90 percent of all crashes." FHWA examined the ways in which drivers interact with intersections in order to determine what changes needed to be made to increase intersection safety. They found that driving involved three main tasks, which are:

  • Control: Operating the vehicle
  • Guidance: Interacting with other vehicles on the road
  • Navigation: Choosing the route from Point A to Point B

All of these tasks necessitate the ability to process a variety of information. If a driver becomes overwhelmed with information, they are more likely to commit an error that can lead to a serious collision. Intersections can be especially dangerous because of the increased amount of information being presented to the driver, such as traffic lights, stop signs, multiple lanes, and opposing traffic.

Because of this, the report emphasizes the importance of setting and understanding driver expectations; drivers are more likely to successfully navigate an intersection when their expectations are met. However, there is a higher risk when something unexpected occurs, such as an obstructed or malfunctioning traffic light, an unfamiliar lane assignment, or a sign that is too far away to see. In attempting to quickly process new information, drivers may sacrifice their control of other tasks, increasing their risk for error. For this reason, consistency in street design is a top priority for engineers hoping to combat human error.

Solutions for Dangerous Intersections

The FHWA found that drivers perform best under a moderate workload. To achieve this, engineers aim to clarify and simplify road designs, meaning, they try to ensure the information shared through signs, signals, and lanes is presented as clearly and simply as possible. For example, a safe intersection design should:

  • Alert the driver of the approaching intersection
  • Inform the driver of routes and turns ahead
  • Inform the driver of lane assignments
  • Ensure the driver has enough time to fully process approaching signs or signals

By taking into consideration drivers' abilities, a careful road design can drastically increase safety. For example, older drivers tend to struggle with correctly estimating the speed of oncoming traffic when making left turns. To address this, a road designer may add a left turn lane or a protected left-turn phase to the intersection to facilitate the turn. Other general intersection improvements include:

  • Making sure the intersection is free of obstructions such as parked cars, trees, and other roadside interferences
  • Maintaining adequate lighting within and approaching the intersection
  • Enhancing pedestrian crossings with high-visibility markings or pedestrian islands
  • Inserting bike lanes with adequate spacing from vehicle lanes
  • Reducing vehicle speeds through enforced speed limits, speed bumps, etc.

Although these modifications aim to increase overall safety, there is only so much designers and engineers can do. Motorists must be aware of their surroundings in order to create a safe environment for all. Distracted driving plays a large role in intersection accidents as distracted drivers are much more likely to ignore signs, signals, and the presence of others around them.

Case Study: $8,800,000 Settlement in Collision Caused by Stop Sign Hidden by Tree

A New York case involving two vans provides a clear example of the danger created by roadway obstructions. In this tragic case, our client, a 53-year-old woman, was walking to pick up her grandchildren from school when two vans collided at an intersection, causing one to jump the sidewalk and hit her. Sadly, because of the crash, our client suffered a traumatic brain incident that left her with neurologic and cognitive issues despite hospitalization and rehabilitation.

The intersection where the accident occurred was a four-way stop with stop signs placed at the corner of each road. Through careful investigation, our attorneys were able to prove that the stop sign placed at one corner was obstructed by an overgrown tree, causing one of the drivers to pass through without stopping. Using local witnesses who previously complained about the issue, police and park department paperwork documenting awareness of the issue, as well as evidence of temporary fixes made to the obscured sign, attorneys were able to successfully argue a claim against the City of New York. Represented by Block O'Toole & Murphy, our client received an $8,800,000 settlement.

Local governments have responsibility to maintain city infrastructure to keep citizens safe. The negligence of city workers who chose to ignore the issue led to an unsafe intersection that eventually caused this accident. Because of the large number of people that pass through city streets, it is especially important that New York officials recognize the existing dangers on our roads.

Dangerous Intersections in New York

New York City provides data on motorist, pedestrian, and cyclist accidents that occur within its borders. This information is available through NYC Open Data, which is used by city officials to provide the public with Vision Zero maps that depict where accidents have happened throughout the five boroughs.

According to the available data, it appears that the streets where fatalities were most likely to occur include:

  • Intersection of Flatbush Ave. and Avenue V in Brooklyn
  • Belt Parkway exit to South Conduit Ave. in Queens
  • Intersection of Avenue of the Americas and West 23rd St. in Manhattan
  • Intersection of Whitlock Ave and East 165th St. in the Bronx

These are all arterial roads that encourage drivers to travel fast; pedestrians, drivers and passengers are killed as a result.

Further data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides information on intersection accidents in New York State. Of the 943 total crash fatalities that occurred in 2018, 373 resulted from crashes that occurred within an intersection or within the approach of an intersection. This means about 40% of all New York traffic fatalities involved an intersection.

How Vision Zero Can Help

First introduced in 2014 by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Vision Zero Action Plan has the overall goal of decreasing traffic accidents in the city. The Vision Zero website's page on street design and regulation highlights that better street design can drastically improve safety for all. The website shares that the program's projects aim to "simplify driving, walking, and cycling, increase predictability, improve visibility and reduce conflicts."

Their various approaches include:

  • Signal and marking changes
  • Changes to street geometry
  • Updated regulations addressing turning and parking
  • Additional street lighting at major intersections

Since inception, the Vision Zero Plan has indeed made improvements, such as the intersection of Jackson Avenue and 11th Street at the Pulaski Bridge between Queens and Brooklyn. After introducing approaches including high visibility crosswalks, reduced crossing distances, turn restrictions, and extended medians, planners were able to reduce 63% of all injury crashes.

The program clearly has the potential to improve the safety and quality of life of New Yorkers in all five boroughs. However, recent data proves that their work is not nearly finished. Intersections continue to pose increased risk for accidents on New York streets.

How Block O'Toole & Murphy Can Help

If you suffered losses as a result of an intersection accident, it is important to understand that you have options for the road ahead. With the help of a skilled attorney with experience in litigating intersection collisions, you may be able to receive compensation for unexpected losses. The car accident lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy are dedicated to helping New York and New Jersey victims obtain justice following a traumatic incident.

Our firm works tirelessly to achieve the best result possible in each and every case. Results for clients harmed in intersection accidents include:

  • $8,800,000 Settlement for a pedestrian who was injured after two vans collided in an intersection due to an obstructed sign, causing one van to jump the sidewalk and hit her
  • $6,000,000 Settlement for a city bus passenger that was injured when the bus he was riding on collided with another vehicle at an intersection in Brooklyn
  • $5,160,916 Verdict in the case of a 38-year-old man who was injured while riding in the passenger side of a company-owned truck that was hit by a car that failed to stop at an intersection
  • $4,000,000 Settlement for a driver who suffered injuries when his vehicle was hit by another car making a left turn at a Queens intersection
  • $3,500,000 Settlement for our client who had the right of way while passing through an intersection when she was suddenly hit by another vehicle
  • $3,000,000 Settlement for a NYCTA bus passenger that was injured when the bus she was riding on was broadsided by a police vehicle while passing through an intersection

If you or someone you know was injured in an auto accident and want to understand your legal rights, the lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy provide free legal consultations. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our online contact form to speak with a Block O'Toole & Murphy attorney today.

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