Left Turn Crashes and the Law

We get many clients who are involved in crashes where one vehicle is turning left.  Most of the time, our client is going straight and someone turns left in front of them, but other times, potential clients come to us when they were turning left.  So, what is the law when it comes to a left turning vehicle?

Let’s start with the Illinois Traffic Code — Left Turn.

Sec. 11-902. Vehicle turning left. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but said driver, having so yielded may proceed at such time as a safe interval occurs.

As you can see, the Traffic Code does not give a definitive answer.  Generally speaking, the car going straight has the right of way.  But, an accident need not be 100% on person’s fault, it can be a combination of fault.  This is often the case in left hand turn cases.  The car turning left must yield, but perhaps the car going straight was speeding.  Or, perhaps the car turning left was almost through the intersection and was struck in the rear quarter panel.  Just because a car has the right of way going straight does not allow them to plow into another car, they must keep a look out and take reasonable steps to avoid a collision.

Many left hand turn accidents occur while cars in both direction are waiting to turn left, and the vehicle in the opposite turn lane blocks the vision of oncoming traffic in the outside lane.  I see this situation frequently in my own driving.  If you do not have a clear view of all lanes of oncoming traffic, do not make your left turn, wait the extra time to be certain there is no oncoming traffic.

Running the red light and green turn arrows

In many left hand turn cases, there is a dispute about the traffic lights.  You may be in the intersection, waiting for traffic to clear, the light turns yellow, then red, then you make your turn, only to have the other person run the red light.  Unless there are intersection cameras or a witness, you will lose this case.  Remember, the car traveling straight has the right of way and the car turning left must yield.  There will be no way to prove the other car ran the red light without video or eye witness testimony.  Certainly the other driver is not going to admit to running the red light.  Likewise, if you are going straight and you see a car waiting to turn left and the light changes to yellow, be extra cautious the oncoming car does not turn left, expecting you to stop.

Another circumstance which arises frequently is when one car claims to have had the green arrow. Sometimes, we are able to investigate and determine the intersection does not even have a green arrow, or that the timing of the lights make it impossible for the left turning car to have had a green arrow.  Other times, you run into the situation above, that without a traffic camera or witness, it will be your word against their word, and impossible to prove.

Left turns and pedestrians

Just as a car must yield the right of way to other cars when turning left, they must also yield the right of way to bicycles and pedestrians.  Once again, let’s look to the Illinois Traffic Code.

Sec. 11-1002.  The driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

I think everyone knows they must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, but where this comes into play with regard to left hand turns is the driver failing to keep a proper look out.  A driver may be careful in looking out for cars coming the opposite way before turning left, but neglect to see the pedestrian in the crosswalk after completing his left turn.  Unlike our discussion above where fault may be shared, if you hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk while turning left, it will most certainly be the fault of the driver of the car.

Be very careful when turning left

Everyone is in such a hurry these days, it bears repeating to urge caution, especially when turning left.  If you do not have a clear view of oncoming traffic, or you are in the intersection waiting for traffic to clear, take that extra time to be extra certain it is safe to make your left turn.  We’d rather you be safe than to turn into one of our clients.  But, if you are ever involved in an accident, whether it was your fault or not, feel free to contact us with questions.