By Logan Quirk
*Quirk Law Group only handles cases in the Thousand Oaks, greater Los Angeles, and California areas. For all other states please reach out to a local personal injury firm. Thank you for your support!
Every time there is an “accident” involving at least one car, someone is at fault. When it’s a left turn accident, the driver of the vehicle making the turn is almost always at fault. Like most laws, there are exceptions. However, proving that one of these exceptions applies to your case can be very challenging.
What the Law Says About Making Left Turns
If you’ve landed here, you’ve probably already been in a left turn accident. Although most of us drive on the same roads every day, we don’t always know all the laws that apply. Federal driving laws apply to every state, such as not speeding, running red lights, and leaving the scene of an accident. But every state has its own variations of these laws, along with other laws that apply specifically to their roads and highways.
Car accidents involving left turns are common, and sometimes extremely dangerous. When the oncoming vehicle doesn’t see the driver turning left, they might hit them with a significant impact. If they aren’t paying attention to the road ahead, they don’t see the turning car until it’s too late to stop.
Oncoming traffic that is traveling straight usually has the right-of-way. Those drivers have the expectation that the driver who is turning left across their lane will do so legally and safely. Their safety depends on it. The law says that it is up to the left-turning driver to only turn when it is safe. When they fail to meet their obligation, accidents and serious injuries often occur.
One reason that so many left turn accidents happen is that few drivers follow the guidelines in their state to the letter. For example, in California, drivers are directed to “begin signaling about 100 feet before making a left turn.” They should also “look over their left shoulder, reduce their speed, stop behind the limit line, look left, then right, then left again.” They shouldn’t “cut the corner” of the oncoming lane.”
It’s easy to see why proving that the driver did or didn’t do any of these things when making a left turn is so hard. Some drivers overestimate the time they have to make a turn. Others punch the accelerator and “go for it” rather than having to wait for a better opportunity.
Different Types of Left Turns
If you ask a group of drivers who they believe has the right-of-way in a variety of settings, you’re apt to get a variety of answers. Not only are most drivers unaware of the laws, but we don’t even share the same misconceptions!
Regardless of what you think the law says, if you’re on the wrong side of a left turn accident, you’ll be liable for the damages and injuries that result. Every driver should know the right way to make a left turn in any situation.
The first setting that comes to mind when thinking about left turns is a four-way intersection. While all of these intersections have traffic entering from four directions, there are some very distinct differences. Some have stop signs at all four entrances, others only have them at two. When you enter an intersection with a four-way stop, the first vehicle to arrive has the right-of-way. If two or more vehicles arrive at the same time, the one to the right always has the right-of-way.
For four-way intersections with two stop signs, the remaining two lanes of traffic have the right-of-way. These situations usually occur when the main flow of traffic is on a straight road with entrances from smaller roads on either side.
If you make a left turn into the flow of traffic, you must wait until the road is clear and you can make the turn. If another vehicle arrives at the intersection opposite of you at the same time, it has the right-of-way if it is going straight or turning right.
At a T-intersection, the traffic on the through road has the right-of-way. If you make a turn off the through road, you have the right-of-way over traffic entering the road. However, you must wait until there is no oncoming traffic from the other direction to safely complete the turn.
Rules of Right-of-way
Drivers often have problems living with the assumption that another driver will follow the law. Sometimes they just want to be good Samaritans and let other drivers go ahead of them. They might motion to the other car in an intersection to go ahead of them. This leads to confusion on the part of both drivers. It can also end up delaying traffic when neither driver goes first. Never encourage a driver to go when it isn’t their turn. If you’re worried that they won’t remain stopped until you finish your turn, proceed cautiously. Don’t try to rush through the turn with the hope of getting out of their way.
On the other hand, if another car takes the right-of-way when it doesn’t have it, let it go. The most important thing is keeping everyone safe. You don’t want to cause a left turn accident because you didn’t want to miss your turn.
The Importance of Determining Fault
A lot of responsibility rests on the driver turning left in any situation. When they make a mistake in judgment and a crash occurs, property gets damaged and people get injured. Sometimes those injuries are severe and require extensive medical care. The person who has long-term injuries might have problems earning an income or might never be able to work again. All of these losses are the responsibility of the at-fault party.
Left-Turn Accidents and Motorcycles
Left turn accidents often result in serious injuries. When the accident involves a motorcycle, the resulting injuries are often more severe. Motorcyclists have nothing to shield them from the vehicle.
Motorcyclists are also more vulnerable to being in a crash in certain situations. One of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents is going through an intersection when an oncoming vehicle makes a left turn in front of them. Another is when the motorcyclist tries to pass a vehicle that’s turning left on its left side. Safe driving is always the responsibility of all drivers. That means following the rules and not engaging in risky behavior.
Left-Turn Accidents and Pedestrians
All left turn accidents don’t happen in intersections. Sometimes they involve pedestrians in crosswalks. The problem starts with the turning driver having a green light at the same time the pedestrians have a green walk light. Even though the driver and the pedestrian obeyed all signals, pedestrians always have the right-of-way in a crosswalk.
When they aren’t in a crosswalk, pedestrians don’t always have the right-of-way. The laws differ among the states. California has more than its fair share of pedestrian accidents. Part of the problem is the pedestrian’s misconception that the pedestrian always has the right-of-way. They walk into the road without worry about getting hit. They don’t realize that they’re breaking the law when they enter the road into traffic suddenly. Also, traffic has the right-of-way anywhere that there isn’t a crosswalk.
Exceptions to the Left Turn Accident Rule
In most situations, the fault and liability of a left turn accident stay with the driver making the turn. If you hit another person or vehicle when making a left turn and they aren’t obeying the law, then you aren’t at fault. Sometimes proving the exception is very challenging. Those exceptions include:
The oncoming car was speeding
This is one of the most difficult scenarios to prove. This is especially true if it’s only going a few miles over the speed limit. That’s because people don’t note minor differences in how fast vehicles are traveling. Witnesses won’t recognize that the car was traveling 48 mph instead of 40 mph.
If the intersection has a camera, it might catch proof of the speeding. If the car was speeding significantly, witnesses might be able to testify on your behalf. Make sure you get the names and contact information for anyone who saw what happened.
The oncoming car ran a red light or stop sign
This offense is easier to prove and it shifts the blame to the other driver. If they hadn’t run the traffic light or stop sign, they wouldn’t have been in the intersection for you to hit. Go back to the examples above of the different situations where left turns occur. For intersections with stop signs, the right-of-way depends on which car arrives at the intersection first. Witnesses won’t have any problem telling that the other car never slowed down or came to a stop.
Something happens suddenly that causes you to stop
Sometimes things happen beyond your control. Each year, thousands of drivers across the country are stopped when a deer enters the road. Of course, moose, elk, and caribou add to the statistics in some states. Any time any obstruction appears in the road that causes you to stop or slow down during a left turn, the other driver might be responsible for the crash. If the road was clear and you allowed enough time to make the turn before oncoming traffic arrived, the other car should have enough time to respond and stop.
Pinpointing the Area and Degree of Damage
A crash happens in seconds. Often, no one pays attention until they hear the sound of the impact. If there are no witnesses or cameras to prove a left turn accident wasn’t your fault, the damage to either or both vehicles might.
If the driver of the oncoming car saw that you were turning in front of them, they probably pulled to the right. Their move results in damage to the left front side of their vehicle. That shows that they tried to avoid a crash when you turned in front of them.
If the damage to the other vehicle is on the right, it is evident that they probably weren’t paying attention. You were nearly finished with the left turn when the other car struck you.
If the other driver ran a red light, you are more likely to hit them in the middle of the car (broadside.) You saw the car coming toward you, but you had the right-of-way via a green light. A crash that occurs when one car is speeding and strikes the car broadside is more likely to result in severe injuries.
What to Do After a Left Turn Accident
Don’t leave the scene, regardless of whether you think the accident was your fault or the other driver’s. It can only make things worse. If the other driver hits you and flees, get as much information about the car as possible. Try to get the license plate number and observe the driver’s appearance.
Call 911. Check to see if anyone is injured and whether there are any witnesses. Get their information now before help arrives. You may not get another chance. Use your phone to take pictures of the scene and the damage to both vehicles. Notice if there are cameras at the intersection that might have captured evidence of the other driver speeding.
Proceed on the assumption that the other driver will file a claim against you. Even a minor fender bender can turn into a full-blown legal suit if they develop symptoms of injuries hours or days after the crash occurred. If it does, the evidence you collected at the scene is necessary for a good defense.
Don’t wait to talk with a personal injury lawyer about your potential liability in the crash. It doesn’t cost anything for an initial consultation to learn your rights. In California, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury claim. If the other driver is liable for your damages and injuries, you need to start working on your case right away.
If the other driver sues you, it may be right before the time limit expires. People often do this in the hopes that you failed to collect evidence and that you don’t remember the details of the accident. Don’t wait to talk with a lawyer who can help you prove you weren’t the at-fault party.
Let Us Help!
Quirk Law Group is an experienced personal injury law firm that helps people get fair compensation for their injuries. If you are located in the greater Los Angeles, California area, contact us today to talk about your case!