The driver of a vehicle who makes an illegal left-hand turn is typically found to be at fault because laws mandate that left-turning turning drivers must yield to oncoming traffic, who have the right of way under the law.
All circumstances are different.
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When a police officer arrives on the scene of a left-turn collision, he or she will almost always give a ticket to the driver who was turning left. Due to right-of-way laws, the left-turning driver is to blame for an accident that occurs during the turn in almost every occurrence. It’s very rare to find the other driver at fault for this type of accident, and it’s even more difficult to prove.
Here’s what you need to know about how fault is determined and what you should do if you’re involved in a left-turn collision – whether you were making the left turn or driving straight.
Q: What is the law of the left turn?
A: A driver making a left turn has the right of way only if he or she is proceeding on a left-turn green arrow. Otherwise, a driver who is preparing to make a left turn at a green light must wait until oncoming traffic is nonexistent or far enough away to allow for a safe, complete turn. Left-turn drivers must also wait for pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross through the crosswalk or street.
If the driver is making a left turn anywhere a light is not present, he or she must take the same precautions. Oncoming traffic has the right of way and is not required to stop or slow down to allow the driver to make the turn, whether it’s at a stop light or not. This is why the left-turn driver is almost always automatically deemed at fault.
Q: What is the exceptions to the left turn general rule?
A: There are limited but not uncommon exceptions to the left-turn liability rule of thumb. The left-turn driver may be deemed not at fault or only partially at fault in the following scenarios:
- The vehicle going straight was driving significantly over the speed limit. This can be difficult to establish as the left-turn driver or witnesses can only guesstimate the oncoming driver’s speed, and the oncoming driver may not be aware of or willing to admit how fast he or she was driving.
- The car driving straight did not stop for a red light or a stop sign. This is easier to prove since witnesses can testify that the driver ran a red light or stop sign. Sometimes traffic cameras at stoplights can record this evidence as well.
- The driver making a left turn initiated the turn while it was safe to proceed, but some unexpected circumstance occurred during the turn that made it necessary for the driver to slow, stop or swerve.
Other circumstances may influence the determination of the other driver’s fault. For example, if the driver proceeding straight was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was distracted by texting or other cell phone use, or did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the collision, he or she may be deemed at least partially at fault.
Q: What to do if you've been involved in a left-turn collision?
A: If you’re involved in a left-turn accident and you were the car turning left but believe you were not at fault, you are going to find it difficult to prove the other driver caused the accident. The help of a personal injury auto accident attorney will prove valuable to you during this time. The Lamber Goodnow Injury Law Team offers free consultations in the event of an auto accident. We work to put together the evidence, recreate the scene of the accident, go over witness reports, and help prove the other driver did not obey the law and caused your accident. We only get paid if you get paid.
If you are the driver of the car going straight and the other driver is blaming you for the accident, you’ll need an attorney to prove you did nothing wrong. It’s easier to prove the left-turn driver was at fault for an accident, but legal representation is helpful in a case where the other driver is denying their fault. This can cause insurance issues, and you might be stuck paying your medical bills out-of-pocket. You can contact the Lamber-Goodnow team to schedule a free consultation and to discuss your legal rights.
If you live in a “pure comparative fault” or “pure comparative negligence” state, such as Arizona, you can receive compensation based on the degree you were at fault in a collision. For example, if 20 percent of the accident is your fault, you can receive 80 percent compensation on things like injuries and property damage.
Whether you were the driver turning left or going straight, you’ll need to take several steps to gather evidence at the scene of the collision, file the proper reports, and seek medical care. Review the step-by-step procedure for what to do after an accident here. You can also review our frequently asked questions about personal injury cases here.