The Car Making a Left Turn Is Not Always Liable for an Accident

Driving in California can be challenging, especially when you must navigate through and around busy intersections. Most people would agree that, as a rule, left-hand turns are more complicated than other types of turns. Making a left turn at a light without a left turn arrow can be especially difficult, and in fact, such turns lead to a large number of automobile accidents.

A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) shows that turning left is one of the primary causes of automobile collisions. 61 percent of crashes that occur while turning or crossing an intersection involve left turns, as opposed to just 3.1 percent that involve right turns.

When it comes to accidents that involve left-hand turns, many people believe that the driver who makes the left turn is always at fault for the accident. However, as discussed below, this is not always the case.

The Left-Hand Turn Is a Highly Dangerous Maneuver

Left-hand turns involve a significant amount of danger. They require judgment calls regarding the speed of oncoming cars, the length of time remaining on green and yellow traffic signals, and whether other drivers will follow traffic safety guidelines.

Left turns are more dangerous than right turns because:

  • Most drivers tend to accelerate going into a left turn. The wider turning radius of a left turn, combined with higher speed, can result in greater pedestrian exposure and injury.
  • Left-hand turns generally demand more mental and physical effort than right turns.
  • Left-hand turns disrupt the flow of traffic.
  • Not all drivers remember or choose to use their turn signals.
  • Drivers turning left (except for single-lane roads) need to cross at least one lane of traffic.
  • Drivers turning left need to watch out for cars that can potentially come from three different directions.
  • Other drivers who are traveling straight through an intersection may try to make it across before the driver turns left.
  • The views of the traffic lanes may be obstructed when making a left turn.

Along with waiting for traffic coming from both the left and the right, when turning left, a driver must assess the speed and distance away of oncoming vehicles. This requires quick thinking and sound decision-making.

Who Has the Right of Way

Under California law, a driver attempting to turn left must yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles and ensure that he or she has adequate space to make the full turn without interrupting the flow of traffic. This rule is why, in most car accident cases, the driver making the left turn is usually held liable for the accident. However, this is not always the case; there are several important exceptions, as discussed below.

Situations That Can Shift Liability

We should not automatically assume that fault lies with the driver making the left-hand turn. There may be evidence that places fault with other drivers, such as:

The car going straight through the intersection was speeding. Without credible witnesses, this situation can be difficult to prove on your own. However, a top-rated personal injury attorney can collect and present the evidence needed to prove that the other party was speeding.

The car going straight through the intersection ran a red light or stop sign. If the other driver breaks a traffic law, such as running a red light or a stop sign, and this violation causes the accident, a court may not hold the driver left-hand turning driver responsible. It is interesting to note that, while 93 percent of drivers who participated in a survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said that it’s unacceptable to travel through a red light if it’s possible to stop safely, 36 percent reported doing so in the past 30 days.

The other driver operated his or her vehicle illegally or while distracted. Driving while distracted is dangerous, illegal, and can often result in catastrophic accidents and injuries. Diverting one’s focus while navigating intersections, even for just a few seconds, from the visual, manual, and cognitive attention that driving demands can cause harm to other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. The most common form of distraction is cell phone use. Although California law permits the use of hands-free devices for drivers over the age of 18, it remains illegal to drive while holding and operating a handheld cell phone or other electronic wireless communications device. Drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted to use any electronic communication device, even if it is hands-free.

According to Dr. Tom Schweizer, a neuroscientist and lead researcher in a study on distracted driving, the human brain struggles to make the stressful decisions involved in a busy left-turn situation while also processing a distracting conversation. Thus, hands-free devices are not free from dangerous distraction.

Some additional examples of distracted driving include:

  • Talking to other people in the vehicle
  • Grooming
  • Eating
  • Reading
  • Using GPS systems for navigation or reading maps
  • Using a portable computer or another electronic device
  • Playing computer games
  • Watching a video program
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

Of note, California is one of just 14 states that has some kind of restriction on earplugs, earphones, or earbuds. California law forbids the use of earbuds or earplugs in both ears while driving or cycling.

Unforeseen circumstances may result in another driver being found liable for an accident. It is possible that something may force a left-turning driver to stop or slow down before completing the turn. This can happen if an animal wanders on to the roadway, an obstacle is in the driver’s path, or another motorist runs a red light. If this action causes an accident, it is possible that a court will find the party responsible for the slow liable for the accident.

The Proper Way to Make a Left Turn

To safely make a left turn, you should drive close to the center divider line or into the left turn lane. Begin signaling about 100 feet before the turn. Look over your left shoulder, and reduce your speed. Stop behind the limit line. Look left, then right, then left again, and only make the turn once you are sure that it is safe to do so. When you turn left, do not turn too soon and attempt to cut the corner of the lane belonging to the vehicles coming toward you.

Interestingly, illegal left turns are listed as the fourth most common cause of failing California’s behind-the-wheel driver’s test.

Contact Us for Help if a Car Accident Injured You in Santa Ana

If you or a family member has been the victim of a left-hand turn accident, you should retain an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that you are financially compensated for your injuries. Aitken * Aitken * Cohn specializes in representing individuals who have sustained injuries in car accidents. Reach out to us for the information and legal advice that you need. Call Aitken * Aitken * Cohn today at (714) 434-1424, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced litigators.