As with a rear end accident, fault in a left turn accident is fairly straightforward. Generally, vehicles making a left turn only have right of way if there is a green left arrow; if not, then they must yield to all oncoming traffic. If they do not do so, and there is an accident, then the left turn driver will be at fault.
This is the short version, at least. But left turn accidents are more complicated than rear end accidents. There are all sorts of different intersections and arrangement of vehicles at these intersections, and so the left turn accident may have many different complexities.
In this article, we will discuss the complexities of left turn accidents, and what to expect if you find yourself in one.
Why Are Left Turns So Dangerous?
On roads where traffic stays to the right, such as those of the United States and most other countries in the world, left turns are one of the most dangerous maneuvers that a driver can make.
This is because when a driver turns left, they are going against the flow of traffic. In addition, most drivers tend to accelerate into a left turn, and often they do not have a clear line of sight, as buildings, vegetation, or other vehicles may block their view of oncoming cars.
Finally, many drivers fail to signal or misjudge the distance across the intersection or the speed of other drivers. For these reasons, left turn accidents can be particularly common among younger, inexperienced drivers, as well as the elderly.
Statistics bear the danger of left turns out: a recent study by the federal government found that in all intersection-related crashes, the vehicle turning left was a critical event preceding the crash in 22.2% of crashes. In contrast, the vehicle heading straight was a critical pre-crash event in only 12.6% of crashes, and turning right in only 1.2% of crashes.
In other words, turning left is nearly twice as dangerous as going straight, and nearly twenty times more dangerous than turning right.
What Types of Left Turn Accidents Are There?
Left turn accidents can take a variety of forms. The driver may be struck by another vehicle heading left or right at the intersection, coming from the opposite direction, or even turning left themselves.
Typically, a left turn accident involves the side of one vehicle (usually the vehicle turning left) being hit by the front of another vehicle. Because the vehicles in such an accident form a T-shape, they are known as T-bone accidents, or sometimes broadside accidents.
That being said, left turn accidents are not synonymous with T-bone accidents. Not all left-turn collisions are T-bones; sometimes the vehicles hit each other in different places. And not all T-bone collisions involve a left turn; sometimes a vehicle is T-boned by another vehicle at an intersection when both are headed straight.
Nonetheless, left turn accidents commonly involve a T-bone, and this type of accident has its own unique complications. Because T-bone accidents involve the full force of one car striking the driver or passenger side of another vehicle, where there is limited protection, vehicle occupants on the side which was struck are at a very high risk for serious or even fatal injury. Also, vehicles which T-bone in a busy intersection can be knocked into the path of other vehicles, compounding the accident.
So, Why Is the Left Turn Driver Usually at Fault?
It’s simple. In the United States or any other country where traffic stays to the right, drivers turning left at any given intersection have the lowest priority on right of way. (This would be reversed in a place like the United Kingdom or Japan where drivers stay to the left; in such countries, right turns would be the lowest priority. But we don’t have law offices there.)
You can think of the intersection as a pecking order. Everyone in the intersection is at a different place in the right-of-way pecking order based on their position in the intersection, but left turn drivers are almost always at the bottom.
Remember, a car accident lawsuit is based on negligence, and this involves proving that the negligent driver violated their duty of care to other drivers on the road. In an intersection, left turn drivers have a duty to yield to drivers going straight, but drivers going straight have no duty to yield to left turn drivers, absent a sign or signal instructing them to do so.
Usually, in a left turn accident, there is little doubt as to what happened. It is fairly obvious, by the location of damage on both vehicles, that an accident involved a left turn.
As a result, fault in a left turn accident is usually very easy to determine. But not always…
Are There Any Exceptions to This Rule?
Yes. Although the left turn driver is usually at fault, there are a few situations in which the other driver in an accident may be at fault. And even if the other driver is not fully at fault, if they were acting carelessly the left turn driver might still have their degree of fault reduced (if not entirely eliminated) by California’s comparative negligence laws.
The first, and most obvious, situation occurs when a left turn driver is protected by a green left arrow, or the other driver in the accident ran a red light or stop sign. In the left turn driver has the green arrow, then they have every reason to expect that their right of way will be respected. All parties at an intersection must respect the rules of the road, not just left turn drivers.
Another situation in which fault may be reduced or eliminated for the left turn driver is if the vehicle which struck the left turn driver was traveling at an excessive rate of speed, and did not give the left turn driver a reasonable amount of time to clear the intersection. However, this can be difficult to prove in court.
Finally, the left turn driver may not be at fault if they began a left turn when it was safe, but some external factor, such as an engine malfunction or another driver blocking the intersection, caused the left turn to fail to clear the intersection in time. In this case, neither driver would be at fault; the fault would lie with the party which was responsible for the third factor (such as the vehicle manufacturer in the event of an engine malfunction, or the driver who was blocking the intersection).
These situations, however, are a small minority of left turn accidents… and since a driver making a left turn is obligated to wait until it is safe to do so, they must demonstrate that the external factor only came into play after they began the left turn, which is typically also difficult to prove.
What Can Be Done to Avoid Left Turn Accidents?
On the surface of it, there is unfortunately no way to avoid left turn accidents other than to drive carefully and responsibly. This responsibility lies with every driver on the road, and applies at all times, not just when making left turns.
However, there is a more radical solution, and that is to avoid left turns entirely.
This might sound extreme, but drivers for the package delivery service UPS are encouraged to do exactly that. UPS trucks’ navigational software shows drivers the shortest route to a destination with as few left turns as possible, even if this ends up being a more circuitous route.
UPS (which, as a for-profit corporation, has a direct financial interest in making deliveries as safely and efficiently as possible) has actually calculated that this is the most efficient way of driving. Not only does it decrease the risk of an accident, but it also saves driver time and fuel by eliminating the sometimes minutes-long waits in left turn lanes (and every driver on the road knows how annoying these can be).
Following UPS’ lead might seem eccentric, but this is something to take into consideration. Avoiding left turns may be a headache, but the headache of a left turn accident is far greater.
If you do find yourself in a left turn accident, then it is important to speak to a personal injury attorney. These accidents are extremely complicated, and even when fault is relatively straightforward, it can be difficult to demonstrate your injuries. All of these reasons, and more, are ample cause to have an attorney backing you up.
If you have been injured in an accident, don’t delay, contact the Law Offices of Jennie Levin, P.C. right away. We will do all that we can to help you. Also, if you found this article interesting and you believe that your friends would be interested in learning more about this, then share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Finally, feel free to leave us a comment, and let us know what questions you would like us to answer next!