Intersections are among the most dangerous and common places were car collisions happen, and the reasons are as varied as the types of intersections we encounter. From stop signs to yields, roundabouts and light controlled intersections, planners have spent the better part of the last 120 years attempting to reduce the likelihood of crashes, while trying to provide safe crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists and keeping traffic flowing.
Some drivers may be surprised to learn that around 40 percent of all car collisions in the United States happen at intersections. Data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that of the 2.2 million intersection-related accidents that occurred in 2008, 96 percent were attributed to driver error. Most commonly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that driver’s simply did not see the other vehicle, leading to a crash
Accidents happen most frequently during left-hand turns, as one vehicle is crossing the path of another. In instances were one driver fails to yield or does not see the other vehicle, crashes occur at an angle, which can add the danger of pushing the impacted vehicle into other cars and even pedestrians. These accidents often involve drivers who stop, but don’t look and are more common among younger, male drivers, who also are attributed as those most likely to drive too fast for conditions and operate their vehicles in a reckless manner. The NHTSA found that 44.1 percent of intersection-related accidents were caused by drivers failing to see other vehicles traveling through intersections.
Other common causes of accidents at intersections include failing to stop, distracted driving, and poor decision-making regarding the potential actions of other drivers. Drugs and alcohol continue to be a major factor in intersectional accident fatalities.
Left turn accidents are the most common type of accident for motorcyclists to be involved in, typically as a result of drivers failing to see a motorcycle and driving into or across the path of the rider. Nationally, 42 percent of motorcyclists killed in motor vehicle accidents are struck by a vehicle turning left while the motorcyclist is going straight through an intersection.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) reports that in 2013, the second most common accident to occur in Pennsylvania happened at an angle, with the vast majority of these crashes being intersection-related. Twenty-six percent of all crashes that year happened at an angle, and these accidents accounted for more than twenty percent of deaths. The only category with higher crashes and more fatalities was collisions involving fixed objects, like road barriers, trees and buildings. In all, 245 drivers were killed in angled accidents and an additional 148 pedestrians were killed by cars in 2013.
PennDOT data shows that the two age groups most likely to be involved in angled accidents like those at intersections are younger drivers, 16-21, and older drivers, 65 and above. These two groups represent 29 percent and 26 percent of all angled accidents in the state in 2013, combining for a total of 16,618 accidents. Pennsylvania reported a total of 32,334 accidents happening at an angle in 2013.
Most deaths happen at intersections that are light-controlled. Commonly, drivers failing to yield and driving dangerously, in an attempt to “make the light” enter an intersection after opposing traffic has started to move or in front of oncoming cars. Data reported by the NHTSA shows that 52.5 percent of accidents happened at light controlled intersections. The study found that driving recklessly, making an illegal maneuver and inattention were the most common reasons drivers provided to explain what happened.
The Federal Highway Administration reported that in 2007, light-controlled intersections had a disproportionate number of fatal crashes as compared to other intersection types. Light controlled intersections saw 83 percent of all fatalities that happened in an intersection. Sign-controlled intersections saw a comparable number of crashes, but about half as many fatalities. Fewer accidents happened at intersections with no control, but a similar number of fatalities to sign-controlled intersections.
Intersections that are controlled by signal lights are intended to reduce collisions by indicating the right-of-way and permitting the rapid flow of traffic. In a study compiled by Rice University, Kinder Institute for Urban Safety found that traffic light-controlled intersections are more than nine times as likely to experience fatal caraccidents than other types of intersections. Researchers found that intersections where more than four roads came together and intersections where public transportation hubs are located are the most common intersections to experience fatalities. They attribute this to the overall complexity of the intersections, the presence of large numbers of pedestrians and potential for distraction that leads drivers to make critical decision-making errors.
Red light cameras were introduced decades ago as a means of increasing driver awareness and reducing accidents, particularly left turn collisions in intersections. Universally loathed by all drivers, the camera light intersections also have a tendency to have higher than average rates of collisions as drivers try to “beat the camera” or stop abruptly before the light has changed, causing drivers following too close to rear end the stopping vehicle.
The National Motorists Association published a media report that shows accidents at prominent Philadelphia intersections with cameras have seen increases in the number of accidents versus before the cameras were installed. Pennsylvania state law prohibits the release of data relating to the number of camera light tickets issued.
Between May 1999 and June 2003, 11 intersections equipped with cameras in Sacramento, CA issued 46,997 tickets. Sacramento is about one third the size of Philadelphia. Tickets are only issued about 35 percent of the time the camera is triggered according to a data analysis survey conducted by NHTSA. In some cities, such as parts of Los Angeles County in California, red light cameras are being removed, as the cost to operate the equipment often exceeds the revenue generated, and the cameras have not been effective at either stopping red light running or reducing accidents.
Another common type of intersection to be involved in an accident is those with one- or two-way stops in which traffic from one or more directions is not required to stop. These are particularly dangerous in that the vehicle not required to stop is typically traveling at a high rate of speed. The IIHS identified that 40 percent of fatal car accidents that occur at intersections happen at one- or two-way controlled crossings. In rural areas, where these types of intersections are common, speed limits for traffic not required to stop can be 55 miles per hour or higher. At that speed, a vehicle travels about 100 yards every five seconds.
Older drivers over the age of 65 are more likely to incorrectly judge the speed of oncoming traffic, resulting in a disproportionate number of fatalities. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) found that drivers in Texas over the age of 65 were twice as likely to be severely injured or killed in an intersectional accident than younger drivers. Drivers over the age of 85 were four times as likely to be killed. This is attributed to frailty, as older people are more likely to suffer broken bones that can lead to severe bleeding and death. As the American population ages, AAA estimates that the frequency of older Americans dying in a car collision at an intersection will increase.
Roundabouts, which are gaining popularity with city planners nation wide, have been shown to reduce speeds and result in safer intersections. A study compiled in 2019 by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WSDot) examining crash statistics at roundabouts found that these intersections greatly reduce fatalities, but can increase other types of motor vehicle collisions, such as side-swipes. Roundabouts virtually eliminate head-on and perpendicular crashes, as traffic should not be moving in such a way as to permit those types of collisions. WSDot found that fatalities were reduced by 90 percent over traditional all-way stop intersections. Additionally, perpendicular crashes, popularly referred to as T-Bone accidents, were greatly reduced, in part because the circular and continuous flow of traffic eliminates the tendency of drivers to “beat the light.”
In 2018, PennDot studied 11 roundabouts in the state that were previously stop sign or light controlled, and found that fatalities were reduced by 100 percent, from 2 to zero over a three year period. Serious injuries also were reduced by 100 percent, from seven to zero, and even minor injuries were reduced by 95 percent, from 19 to one. Total collisions were reduced from 101 to 54, indicating that these types of intersections are among the safest.
Pennsylvania traffic planners are currently investigating additional intersections that can be redesigned to incorporate roundabout designs to promote safety. PennDOT even produced a video to show Pennsylvanians how to safely use both one and two lane roundabouts.
Pedestrians and bicyclists are also at much greater risk for being struck by a car while crossing an intersection. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Highway Administration-Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System (PedSafe) found that 4,612 pedestrians were killed by cars in 2011. The majority of those killed were men aged 16-20 years, and the most common time of day was the period between 6 pm and 3 am, with higher numbers late nights on weekends.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety have become major goals for many urban city planners as the number of pedestrian fatalities has climbed. The Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) says that pedestrian fatalities have climbed 35 percent nationwide between 2008 and 2017, and they expect the final numbers for 2018 to increase again.
Pennsylvania saw a drastic 41 percent increase in pedestrians killed by cars from 2017 to 2018, with 90 fatalities recorded between January and June, 2018. Those numbers put the state on path to record nearly 180 pedestrian deaths for the year. Pedestrian deaths in Pennsylvania are still below the national average, however it should be noted that California (432), Florida (330), Texas (298),  Georgia (133) and  Arizona (125) accounted for 46 percent of all pedestrian fatalities nationwide in the GHSA report, despite representing only 33 percent of the nations population. Pennsylvania recorded the 8th highest number of pedestrian deaths in the country in the first 6 months of 2018.
City planners have identified a need to create safer access for pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly in America’s urban cities. Philadelphia has constructed more than 30 miles of protected bicycle lanes through large portions of the city. These lanes, which physically separate vehicular traffic from bicycle lanes, have been shown to greatly reduce accidents. Since the creation of protected bike lanes, Philadelphia has seen a 100 percent increase in bicycle traffic.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, responsible for much of the advocacy for protected bicycle lanes, provides a city map showing the existing and proposed protected bike lanes and describes the types of barriers used.
Estimates by PennDOT are that 1 in 45 Pennsylvanians will be involved in an automobile accident. If it happens to you, there are some important things to remember.

  • Be safe. If you are injured, get help. If someone else is injured, get help. 911 should be called for any serious accident.
  • Someone must contact police in Pennsylvania if there are serious injuries, major property damage or death. Otherwise, police are not required to respond to minor collisions. Pennsylvania residents are required to file a report even if police do not respond. The form is available HERE.
  • If no one is seriously injured and the vehicles involved can be moved out of the roadway safely, do so carefully. A significant number of accidents happen at the scene of a previous accident.
  • If you are able, request information from other drivers involved. At this point, it doesn’t matter who is at fault. Remember, Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance Get license, registration and insurance information. Write down or photograph the make and model of the car. The vehicle identification number and license plate number should also be recorded.
  • If possible and safe to do so, take pictures of the accident, including any details you think might be relevant.
  • If witnesses are available, get contact information from them, it could be important later.
  • Write down everything you remember as soon as possible.
  • Contact your automobile insurance company.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident, regardless of fault, a knowledgable personal injury attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome. People who retain a personal injury lawyer typically receive a better settlement to ensure lost wages, lost time with family and the pain of an injury are recovered. Contact the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky to find out how we can help you get your life back to normal following an accident.