Intersections are one of the most dangerous places on the road, and unfortunately, they’re also unavoidable. According to a 2016 study by AllState, accidents occurring while passing through intersections or turning account for 24% of all collisions, almost as many as rear-enders, which account for 26%, followed by collisions involving parked vehicles at 13%.

So why are intersections such a hot spot for accidents? The large majority are due to driver error; some common factors include:

  • Misjudging the speed of an approaching vehicle
  • Speeding
  • Following too closely
  • Failing to stop completely at stop signs
  • Driving distracted

Road conditions and weather can also impact the safety of intersections, but if you are engaged and driving defensively, environmental hazards will be easier to avoid. First and foremost, safety at intersections starts with being attentive. If you find yourself easily distracted on the road, be sure to read our blog on Tips For Bringing More Focus To Your Driving.

Here are some other best practices to exercise when driving through intersections and 4-way stops:

Approaching intersections 

As you approach the intersection, scan the area in front of you for signs and potential hazards like pedestrians, parked cars, cyclists and signalling drivers. If you are required to stop, only accelerate again after scanning left, right, left, ensuring it’s safe to proceed.

A defensive driver anticipates changes on the road before they happen. You can gain a good idea of when the light will change by glancing at the walking signal. If the hand has changed from flashing to steady, the light is about to turn yellow. Similarly, green lights that turn from flashing to solid mean they’re about to change.

For more tips, refer to these 4 characteristics that all defensive drivers share.

Stopping at intersections

If you come to a stop behind another car, leave enough space so that you can see its rear tires on the road. This gives you a buffer in case you are rear-ended and leaves enough space for you to pull around if the car in front stalls.

When the car in front of you accelerates, wait a beat before taking your foot off the brake, this will automatically bring you to a safer following distance and expand your view enough to scan the road before driving through the intersection. If there is traffic and the cars in front of you are backed up, wait until there is room to drive past the crosswalk before proceeding into the intersection.

Turning at intersections

Never change lanes in an intersection, whether you are driving straight or turning. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a common error. One reason why turning into the incorrect lane happens so frequently is because drivers start their left turn too early. To avoid this pitfall, keep your wheels straight until you are a car’s length into the intersection before turning.

If you are turning left without an arrow, advance into the intersection when the light turns green but keep your wheels facing forward. This way, if you are rear-ended, you won’t end up in the oncoming lane.

The final tip we’ll leave you with applies to all areas of driving, but is especially important at intersections: don’t speed. Rushing through an intersection to beat a yellow light is dangerous for a multitude of reasons, especially when there are oncoming cars turning left. Even the most defensive driver can’t know for sure what another driver will do, and if you are going fast, you have less time to make a safe judgment. Remember, being late is never worth getting into a collision or risking injury.