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Left-Turn Accidents: Is the Turning Driver Always At Fault?

Damaged Car Hit While Making a Left TurnAll drivers need to know basic rules of the road to stay safe. There is one rule you may not know: When a left-turn accident happens, the turning driver is almost always at fault. So, anytime you make a left turn, exercise extra care. If an accident occurs, you may be legally liable for compensating injured victims.

There are exceptions to this rule, just as there are exceptions to every rule. However, the rule applies more often than not. It is based on provisions of Virginia's motor vehicle laws that apply to making left turns.

Virginia Laws on Left Turns

The primary statutory provision regulating left-hand turns requires left-turning vehicles to yield the right-of-way to other vehicles. Found in the Virginia Motor Vehicle law at § 46.2-825, the law states that the driver of any vehicle making a left turn is required to "yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction if it is so close as to constitute a hazard."

The provision applies to left turns at intersections as well as to left turns into other roads, alleys, and driveways. Importantly, the section also states that a vehicle making a left turn at an intersection controlled by a separate left-turn signal does have the right-of-way over other vehicles when turning on the left-turn signal. However, that right-of-way may be affected by another section of the law, § 46.2-833, which requires any driver to "yield to other vehicles and pedestrians lawfully within the intersection."

The law states that left-turning drivers do not have the right-of-way except when turning on a left signal. Therefore, when an accident occurs, the law presumes that the left-turning driver was negligent and caused the crash. However, the left-turning driver can provide evidence to overcome the presumption. That’s where the exceptions become important.

Exceptions to the Left-Turn Accident Rule

A left-turning driver may not be at fault for an accident under a couple different circumstances. The first and most obvious occurs when the driver turned on a green arrow signal. Under the law, the turning driver has the right-of-way in that situation. (However, even in that case, the driver must yield to vehicles and pedestrians already in the intersection.)

When a driver is proceeding on a left-turn arrow and an accident occurs, that probably means the on-coming (straight-driving) vehicle failed to stop at a red light or stop sign. The driver who violated the signal will be at fault. While this situation can also be somewhat difficult to prove, witness testimony, traffic camera video, or a private surveillance video may help establish the facts.

Another exception may occur if the on-coming vehicle substantially exceeded the speed limit. Unfortunately, proving that fact through evidence can be difficult. Similarly, other traffic law violations by the on-coming driver — such as drunken driving, texting, or other driving distractions — can be used to counter the assumption that the turning driver was responsible for the accident.

Finally, if the evidence shows that the turning driver safely initiated the turn, but then an unexpected event occurred during the turn that caused the driver to stop, slow, or swerve, the driver turning left may be relieved of responsibility. A good example of this exception is an animal (like a deer or dog) suddenly appearing in the driver’s path.

In any of these exceptions, there must be some kind of evidence to support application of the exception. That evidence most likely will be witness testimony or video evidence. If the only evidence is the testimony of the left-turning driver, it may be difficult to substantiate application of the exception.

Dangers Inherent in Making a Left Turn

The law puts the burden of safely executing a left turn squarely on the driver. That’s not the only reason to exercise special caution when making a left turn. The fact is that any left turn is an inherently dangerous maneuver.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than one-third of all accidents (36%) occur at intersections. Of all intersection accidents, 96% involve driver-related causes.

Most left-turn intersection accidents happen during the turn, which results in a “T-bone” or side-impact crash. That specific type of crash frequently causes significant injuries or deaths. Data from the NHTSA demonstrates that left-turning vehicles cause fatalities in an intersection crash more often than any other driver error.

Good driving habits go a long way to keeping you safe when making a left turn. Understanding the most common causes of left-turn accidents can also help. Studies about left-turn crashes indicate the following frequent reasons for an accident:

  • Poor visibility or an obstructed view (including blind spots)
  • Misjudging of speed of on-coming traffic
  • Miscalculating the distance across the intersection
  • Distracted driving (using cell phone or texting)
  • Illegal maneuvers (failure to signal or yield the right-of-way, illegal turns)

Using extra caution in making left turns is the best way to stay safe and avoid liability if an accident does occur. Once you understand the inherent dangers, you can develop even better driving habits to lessen the risk of being in a left-turn accident.

Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyer

If you suffered serious injuries in an accident that someone else caused — or if a loved one was injured or died in a crash that was another person’s fault — you should talk with an experienced Virginia car accident attorney. The Jeff Brooke Team is here to help you and your family. Contact us by phone at (757) 347-8524 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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