26 Oct Left-Turning Drivers Need to Look for Themselves

When traffic is backed up and an oncoming driver wants to turn left, it’s not unusual for a well-meaning motorist to wave the driver through the turn.  However, sometimes this simple gesture can result in a serious accident. The law is clear that it is the left-turning driver’s responsibility to make sure that the turn can be made safety.  Reliance on signals or gestures from other drivers is not an excuse.

In the case of Purewal v. Li, 2016 BCSC 1792, the Defendant was travelling in the opposite direction to the Plaintiff and had stopped to turn left. While the Defendant was waiting to turn left, a motorist in the line of cars facing him motioned to him that he should make his turn. He made the left turn without looking to see whether the turn could be made in safety.

The Plaintiff was travelling in the curb lane. Traffic in the two lanes to the Plaintiff’s left was stopped.  He lawfully drove past the lanes of stopped traffic and proceeded through the intersection, where he was struck by the Defendant turning left.

The Defendant testified that he proceeded to make his turn because he was waved across by the drivers of the two vehicles which were stopped. He admitted that he did not look to see if there were vehicles approaching the intersection in the curb lane. He acknowledged the vehicle being driven by the Plaintiff was a small compact car and would have been somewhat obscured from his view by the traffic in the other two lanes. He told the Court, “that’s his problem: not mine”.

A witness to the accident said that she had looked in her rearview mirror and, not seeing any vehicle coming from behind her, waved to the Defendant to make his left hand turn. The accident occurred almost immediately. The Plaintiff’s vehicle was likely almost in the intersection when the Defendant made his turn and therefore wouldn’t have been observable to the witness when she checked her mirrors.

The Court refused to accept the Defendant’s argument that he was not responsible for the accident because he had been waved through by other drivers. The Court held that a driver “bears responsibility for his or her own actions while driving” and that if the Defendant had simply looked for himself, he would have seen the Plaintiff’s vehicle approaching and avoided the accident.