We’ve all been there, sitting in our car in a left turning lane waiting patiently for the never ending traffic to pass or the light to turn yellow so that we can finally make our left turn.
It’s even possible to have waited through multiple sets of light changes before finally getting to the front of the line, and once that gap in traffic arrives you don’t want to wait anymore!
You have likely also been on the other side of the equation, heading straight through an intersection, when suddenly the light turns yellow leaving little time to apply your brakes. What do you do? If you are like most, you continue forward and even hit the gas a little to ensure that you make it through in time.
Unfortunately, it is this type of situation that results in one of the most common traffic accidents that often results in serious injuries. So, who’s at fault if a collision results? The driver turning left or the driver heading straight through? The answer will depend heavily on the facts of each individual case.
Burden of Proof
The driver of the vehicle turning left is going to have the heavier burden of proof. The driver going straight is considered to be in the dominant position and the driver turning left in the servient position. The law requires the vehicle turning left to “yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard”. However, once the vehicle turning left has yielded as required, “the driver may turn the vehicle left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.” In other words, if there is enough room for the driver turning left to safely turn and the driver proceeds, the driver heading straight has an obligation to yield to the driver turning left.
Yellow Lights and the Law
Where the light has turned yellow, the Court must also look at the law related to yellow lights. Contrary to most driver’s understanding, a yellow light does not mean slow down and it certainly does not mean gun-it before the light turns red. A yellow light actually means stop, unless the stop cannot be made in safety (see s.128 of the Motor Vehicle Act). So where the light has turned yellow, the Court must determine if the light turned yellow before the driver heading straight entered the intersection and if after the light changed that driver could have safely stopped his or her vehicle.
Other Laws to Consider
Some other laws that often come into play in left turn cases include each driver’s obligation to keep a proper look out, drive with due care and attention, not to exceed the speed limit, driving appropriately for the weather conditions and not to enter an intersection at a red light.
In some cases the Court will find one party 100% at fault and in other cases both parties will be found to be at fault and the Court will apportion a percentage of liability to each driver.
Examples of Liability
In a recent case, the court found the left turning driver 100% at fault. In this case, the light turned yellow when the straight through driver was two car lengths from the intersection and she decided she could not stop and proceeded into the intersection. The other driver, coming from the opposite direction, entered the intersection at almost exactly the same time and proceeded to turn left, colliding with the straight through vehicle. The Court found in this case that the left turning driver was totally at fault for the accident because he commenced his left turn when the straight through vehicle presented an immediate hazard to him. (see Ponsart v. Kong 2017 BCSC 1126)
In another case with similar facts, a car was seeking to make a left turn at an intersection on a yellow light and a pickup truck was coming straight through the intersection from the opposite direction, the court found both drivers equally at fault. The left turning driver admitted that the approaching truck was travelling at a speed that made it unsafe for him to turn left in front of him on the yellow light. The left turning had followed another vehicle ahead of him through the intersection which partially blocked his view of the oncoming vehicle and he turned at a time when the truck coming straight through the intersection presented an immediate hazard to him. However, the court also found that although the straight through driver could not stop safely when the vehicle turned left in front of him, the light had been yellow for some time as he approached the intersection and he did not try to stop when the light first turned yellow but instead accelerated through the intersection resulting in him entering at an excessive rate of speed. (see Elima v. Dhaliwal 2017 BCSC 1922)
What to Do If You Get into a Left Turn Accident
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