Determination of Fault in Left Hand Turn Collisions

In our practice, we often see cases where both drivers involved in a collision thought they had the right of way. Often, such cases involve a situation where one driver is proceeding straight through an intersection and the other is attempting to make a left turn on a yellow (or amber) light. The driver proceeding straight believes they have the right of way. At the same time, the driver making the left turn believes that the driver going straight is required to stop and, so, they have the right of way to make their turn.

If a collision results, who is responsible? The law provides some guidance on the issue, but the answer will depend heavily on the facts of each case.

Who is at fault?

Generally, the driver attempting the left hand turn will be found responsible for the collision. Under the Highway Traffic Act, a driver attempting a left hand turn must do as follows:

  • Wait to make his or her left turn until it is safe to do so;
  • Maintain a proper lookout; and
  • Yield to oncoming traffic.

A driver facing a yellow light is permitted, under the Highway Traffic Act, to proceed through the intersection if they deem it unsafe to stop. Should that driver proceed, there are required to do so with caution.

Despite this requirement that one may proceed only when unsafe to stop, what one driver may consider safe may not be the same as another. Therefore, drivers who are attempting to turn left should never assume that the straight-through driver will stop. This dangerous assumption unfortunately results in many preventable collisions.

There may, however, be exceptions to the general rules outlined above. For example, if it can be established that the straight-through driver was speeding, ran a red light, or could have safely stopped when faced with the yellow light, then that driver may bear some portion of fault for the accident. Establishing that any of the above occurred will typically require evidence from witnesses to the accident, police reports, and reports from other professionals trained in accident reconstruction.

What are the potential repercussions of running a red light or making an unsafe left hand turn?

The repercussions of running a yellow light are high: A fine of $150.00, three demerit points, and automobile insurance rates may be affected. Fees increase in designated “community safety zones”.

The repercussions of making an improper left hand turn are also high: A fine of $110.00, two demerit points, and automobile insurance rates may be affected. Fees increase in designated “community safety zones”.

In either case, the repercussions can be much more severe, leaving you, a loved one, or others with serious injuries or even a fatality.

What to do if you are involved in a collision making a left hand turn at an intersection?

If you find yourself in a collision where one of the drivers was making a left hand turn, try to get names and numbers of witnesses to the collision. Take pictures of the collision scene, including where the debris from the damages vehicles, if any, is located. If you are issued a ticket by police you should give serious consideration to disputing it.

Ultimately, however, prevention is the best approach. Be sure to exercise caution when making a left hand turn or proceeding through a yellow light at an intersection.

Written by

Anna is an associate lawyer on the personal injury team of Siskinds LLP. She has had the privilege of working closely with Douglas Bryce, a partner at the firm.

Anna holds a B.A. from the University of British Columbia and a J.D. from the University of New Brunswick. She was called to the bar in 2016 and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.