When an automobile accident occurs with a vehicle attempting to make a left turn, the law sets forth certain rules and presumptions regarding the fault of the parties involved. The law recognizes that a left turn is a dangerous maneuver because the left turning vehicle enters the lane of traffic for other vehicles. In fact, some courts have stated that the left turn is the most dangerous maneuver a motorist may execute, and thus great caution must always be undertaken.
Most states require in some form that the left turning motorist is required to signal his intent to make a left turn at least 100 feet before reaching an intersection. In addition to giving the proper signal, the driver is required to make a proper observation that the turn could be made without endangering a passing vehicle.
The owner’s burden placed upon a left-turning motorist is not discharged by the mere signaling of an intention to turn. The giving of a signal is immaterial if at the time the driver of the turning vehicle did not have the opportunity to make the turn in safety.
The left turning motorist also has the duty to yield to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. Some courts have gone as far to say that when the left-turning motorist observes a vehicle approaching from the rear, it is a dereliction of duty to fail to look a second time before commencing the left hand turn.
Once the evidence establishes that the turning motorist was attempting to make a left turn when the accident occurred, the burden of proof shifts to the motorist to absolve himself of liability. In other words, there is a presumption of negligence when it is proved that the driver executed a left-hand turn and crossed the center line at the time of the impact. If the left-turning motorist is faced with a green arrow left-turn signal, he must prove that he was making such a turn while the arrow was green, or that he had pre-empted the intersection.
However, the left-turning motorist’s duty to yield is inapplicable where the intersection is controlled by an inoperative traffic signal. Any motorist approaching such an intersection is required to utilize a high degree of caution.
Proof of the working condition of the traffic signal can be preserved by taking pictures of the operating traffic signals immediately following the accident. Also, in discussing the incident with the investigating police officer, it is important to point out the working condition of the traffic signals and ask him if he has recorded that fact.