01 Apr Accidents Involving Left Turning Vehicles

We often have clients who are involved in accidents where one motor vehicle was turning left and the other vehicle was travelling straight through at an intersection. There is a commonly held belief that the driver turning left is automatically at fault for these accidents but that is not always the case.  Simply because you are the vehicle turning left does not mean you are necessarily at fault. Conversely, if you are the driver travelling straight through the intersection, you could still be held fully or partially at fault. These types of accidents are often severe and can result in significant injuries. It is therefore important to consult with a lawyer when you have been involved in this type of accident.

The Court dealt with such an accident in Pirie v. Skantz, 2015 BCSC 368. In that case, the plaintiff was turning left at an intersection while the traffic light was yellow. As she turned left, an oncoming vehicle attempted to travel through the intersection and collided with her vehicle. Each driver argued that the other was negligent and solely liable for the accident.  At trial, the Judge concluded that the left turning driver was 60% at fault for the accident and the through driver was 40% at fault. 

The Judge summarized the law for a driver intending to turn left at an intersection, which is set out at s. 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act.  According to s. 174, the left turning driver has to prove that when he commenced his turn, the approaching vehicle was not an immediate hazard.  An approaching vehicle is an “immediate hazard” if it is so close to the intersection when a driver attempts to turn left that a collision threatens unless the through driver takes sudden evasive action. If there was an immediate danger and the left turning driver turned anyway, then he has to prove that the through driver was in some way negligent and at fault for contributing to the accident.  

The Judge noted that the duty on a left turning driver under s. 174 is not absolute. Left turning drivers are entitled to assume that through drivers will obey the rules of the road. In particular, a left turning driver is not required to wait until he sees that all approaching drivers have stopped.

In the Pirie case, the Judge didn’t find the through driver negligent for failing to bring his vehicle to a stop after the light turned yellow. He was travelling at such a speed and was so close to the intersection at the time that he could not safely bring his vehicle to stop. The Judge found that his decision to proceed into the intersection was reasonable given the circumstances. Instead, the Judge found that his manner of driving as he approached the intersection was negligent, and on that basis found him 40% at fault. The advance flashing light warning drivers to prepare to stop at the intersection had been activated as he approached.  He ought to have seen the flashing light and prepared to stop at the intersection rather than continuing towards the intersection at maximum speed.