Left turning vehicles – Who’s at fault?
Many of the cases before our courts where a judge is asked to determine fault, involve left turning vehicles. While the determination of who is at fault really turns on the particular facts, especially when it involves a left turning vehicle, there are a few factors which can be determinative.
Section 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act is the principle piece of legislation which is relevant to a determination of liability in a left turning situation. That section of the Act provides as follows:
When a vehicle is in an intersection and its driver intends to turn left, the driver must 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, but having yielded and given a signal as required by sections 171 and 172, the driver may turn the vehicle to the left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.
The primary question for determining fault is whether an oncoming vehicle was an “immediate hazard” or not. If there is a traffic light, the color of the light at the time of the impact is one of the most important factors. An important part of the analysis is the location of the vehicles at the time that the light turned amber and whether a motorist who is intending to travel straight through an intersection can safely bring his or her vehicle to a stop once the light has turned to amber. An amber light for a motorist intending to travel straight through an intersection requires that motorist to bring their vehicle to a stop if they can do so safely. If there is more than one lane of travel going through the intersection, if other motorists were able to come to a safe stop for the amber light there will be a heavy onus on all motorists to do so. An amber light in this circumstance changes a straight through motorist from a dominant to a servient motorist and requires them to yield the right of way to left turning motorists.
An amber light for a left turning vehicle may be the time when that motorist is required to clear the intersection. A left turning motorist has an obligation to clear the intersection once it is safe to do so. They are the servient motorist and must yield the right of way to other vehicles. That shifts however once the light changes to amber and the left turner is now the dominant driver and the motorist travelling straight through the intersection must yield the right of way to the left turner.
There are endless examples of how left turn cases are analysed by our courts. A recent one was Swieczko v. Nehme. In this case the defendant was travelling westbound in the curb lane and the collision occurred as the plaintiff was turning left from the eastbound turn lane on an amber/near red light. The trial judge found the defendant to be 100% responsible for the accident. Her analysis described the plaintiff as the left turning dominant driver and the defendant as the straight through driver was servient. She found that the defendant was thus obliged under s. 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act to yield the right of way to the plaintiff.