Know Before You Go
MAJ. NICOLE LOCKE
139th Regional Training Institute
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 36 percent of vehicle collisions occur at intersections. Many of those happen in left-hand turn lanes with a flashing yellow arrow. I know this because that’s how I totaled my car.
It was Friday and I was ready for the weekend. I was driving to work like any other weekday morning, around the same time and same road conditions. I stopped in the left turn lane to get onto the Interstate 485 inner beltway into Charlotte, North Carolina. Opposite of me there was an ambulance in the right turn lane, its driver trying to get onto the I-485 outer beltway. We both had a yellow flashing arrow.
Besides the fact that his vehicle was so much bigger than mine and he was medically prepared to handle an accident, there were other notable differences between the ambulance driver and myself. He was not in a hurry and most likely paying attention to his surroundings, whereas complacency got the best of me. Another difference between us was probably the fact that he had seen a thousand accidents before that day and knew the importance of defensive driving — an all-too-important lesson I was about to learn.
I couldn’t see what was on the other side of the ambulance, but I assumed it was clear for me to make my turn. As I pulled into the intersection, I quickly realized it wasn’t as clear as I thought. I wouldn’t be making it to work that day.
Unbeknownst to me, a truck hidden by the ambulance was cruising down the road. Suddenly, my Infiniti was no longer blaring “Burnin’ it Down” by Jason Aldean. The only sounds I heard were the loud, crushing noises of steel and plastic being destroyed by the truck slamming into my passenger side. My body was thrown into the driver-side door, and the left side of my head bounced off the window. As I sat there in disbelief, I wondered what would have happened had I not been wearing a seat belt. After I got out of the car to check my vehicle, I started crying when I realized how lucky I had been that neither of my children was with me that day, sitting in the passenger seat.
Police arrived within a few minutes and escorted the truck’s driver and me to that same ambulance that was waiting at the intersection. The driver had pulled onto the roadside immediately after the accident. Fortunately, the other driver and I were both able to walk away from this accident. However, I was cited for failing to yield, my car was totaled and my insurance went up a few hundred dollars.
I learned a lot of tough lessons that day, the most important being to always maintain situational awareness when you are operating a vehicle. The moment you let your guard down and become too comfortable with your surroundings, you become an accident waiting to happen. Complacency can kill. I’m just lucky I got a second chance to show I’ve learned that lesson.
Did you know?
In December 2009, after extensive testing, the Federal Highway Administration authorized the use of flashing yellow arrows nationwide. A study conducted by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program determined that drivers had fewer crashes with flashing yellow left-turn arrows than with traditional yield-on-green signal configurations. See the graphic below.