It seemed like a good idea at the time… but

It is prudent to avoid being placed in a situation where you must defend your actions. Although an impatient driver behind you may insistently sound his horn, it is always better to wait. Readers might disagree, but the following case illustrates how you may be found partially at fault for a collision, having made a decision you thought to be reasonable at the time.

A motor vehicle accident occurred when the defendant was making a left turn from a northbound lane, intending to travel westbound.  The plaintiff was travelling southbound. The two vehicles collided in a traffic light controlled intersection.

The court considered the interplay between two sections of the Motor Vehicle Act:

When a vehicle is in an intersection and its driver intends to turn left, the driver must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but having yielded and given a signal as required by sections 171 and 172, the driver may turn the vehicle to the left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.

An “immediate hazard” was defined by the court:

  • if an approaching car is so close to the intersection when a driver attempts to make a left turn that a collision threatens unless there is some violent or sudden avoiding action on the part of the driver of the approaching car, then the approaching car is an immediate hazard.
  • The point in time to assess whether the through driver is an “immediate hazard” is the moment before the driver who proposes to turn left actually starts to make the turn. The effect of s. 174 is to cast the burden of proving the absence of an immediate hazard at the moment the left turn begins onto the left-turning driver.
  • Thus, if a left-turning driver asserts that he or she started to turn when it was safe to do so, then the burden of proving that fact rests with him or her.
  • The duty on a left-turning driver under s. 174 is not absolute. Left-turning drivers are entitled to assume that other drivers will obey the rules of the road, absent any reasonable indication to the contrary. In particular, a left turning driver is not required to wait until he or she sees that all approaching drivers have stopped.

The statutory obligation on a motorist faced with a yellow traffic light is set out in s. 128(1) of the Act:

When a yellow light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal, following the exhibition of a green light:

  • the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection and facing the yellow light must cause it to stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before entering the intersection, unless the stop cannot be made in safety.
  • The onus of proving that the stop cannot be made in safety is on the driver facing the yellow light.

The court found that:

  • when the defendant was waiting in the intersection to make his left turn, the traffic light for southbound and northbound traffic was yellow and had likely been yellow for several seconds.
  • the plaintiff then entered the intersection on a “stale” yellow, at which point, her vehicle and the defendant’s vehicle collided.
  • the plaintiff’s duty was to stop before entering the intersection, unless the stop could not be made in safety.
  • the plaintiff had the onus of proving that she was unable to stop safely – the plaintiff did not satisfy the evidentiary burden on her to show that she was unable to stop safely on the yellow light.
  • the plaintiff was not the dominant driver – rather, she was obliged to stop and yield the right of way to the left-turning driver, the defendant.
  • the fact that the defendant was the dominant driver was not the end of the matter, because the obligation under s. 174 — to make the left turn only if he could do so in safety — applied to him.
  • the defendant bore the burden of proving the absence of an immediate hazard at the moment he began his left turn.
  • he was entitled to assume that others would obey the rules of the road, and to rely on that assumption in deciding whether or not an oncoming vehicle constituted an immediate hazard; however his evidence did not satisfy his burden of proof. Moreover, the evidence concerning where the vehicles collided (the front of the defendant’s car hit the driver’s door of the plaintiff’s car) was more consistent with the plaintiff’s car being an immediate hazard.
  • The defendant failed to comply with the duty on him under s. 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act.

The court concluded that the collision was caused by the failure of both the plaintiff and the defendant to meet the standard of care required of reasonable drivers in the circumstances.  Because of the plaintiff’s breach of s. 128(1), she bore the greater fault.  Liability was apportioned 75% to the plaintiff and 25% to the defendant.

If you’ve been involved in an accident and would like advice on your rights and responsibilities, please contact us at 604.273.6411.