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We have all been on one side of this dilemma or the other. You are the first car at a traffic light, patiently waiting to turn left with a sea of opposing traffic approaching. The light turns green. Do you move into the intersection or not?

Common practice falls into one of two scenarios:

Scenario 1: The light turns green. You move into the intersection, wait for the line of opposing vehicles to clear (or the light to turn amber and vehicles stop) and then clear the intersection.

Scenario 2: The light turns green. You wait behind the “stop” line for a break in traffic and then, when the light turns amber, you enter into the intersection and make your turn.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act does not address where you should wait to turn at an intersection. However, the left-turn driver does have a responsibility not to commence their turn unless it can be done in safety pursuant to s. 142(1) and s. 144(8) of the Highway Traffic Act.

Scenario 1 is accepted practice for most: move into the intersection and then proceed with the left hand turn when it is safe to do so.

Be warned, however, that Scenario 2 can lead to a ticket. While you have a legal right to “clear the intersection”, or finish a turn when it is safe to do so, you cannot enter the intersection on an amber light. Stopping at the stop line, instead of moving into the intersection when the light is green, requires you to remain behind the line once the light turns amber.

Rule 14 of the Fault Determination Rules clarify to a degree: 1

  • If an automobile fails to obey a traffic signal, the driver of that automobile is 100% at fault for the collision;
  • If it cannot be established whether the driver of either automobile failed to obey a traffic signal, the driver of each automobile is deemed to be 50% at fault for the collision.

Legally it is the responsibility of the left turning vehicle to ensure that they can make the complete turn safely before they move through the oncoming vehicle traffic. They must yield to all oncoming vehicles, ensuring that each of the approaching lanes is clear before proceeding.

Most driving instructors teach students to enter the intersection in a relatively straight manner, being careful to not block the view of oncoming traffic. This then allows the vehicle to clear the intersection once approaching lanes are clear and the turn can be made safely.

However, apportionment of fault is determined on the unique circumstances of each occurrence. For example, a left-turning driver has been held not to be responsible in a situation where it was impossible to detect the excessive speed of the oncoming vehicle. In Nowakowski2, the left turning transport truck driver was held not to be responsible for the collision. It was established that the oncoming driver was travelling at an excessive rate of speed AND the left turning driver’s vision was blocked by a curve in the road and trees. With the speed of the oncoming vehicle at almost double the speed limit there was nothing the left-turning driver could have done to prevent the collision. He was found not to be negligent.

Justice Cameron of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stated:

There is no rule of law that requires a driver turning left who has complied fully with s. 141 (5) of the HTA to yield the right of way to an oncoming car which could not be seen at the start of the left turn. Such a proposition would be unrealistic and unfair. In such a situation both drivers have a duty to use reasonable care in the circumstances and to drive sufficiently slowly to come to a safe stop within their range of view.

There are many mitigating factors which could vary the apportionment of liability between two colliding drivers. If you have been injured in an automobile accident, it is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer to receive advice specific to your own situation.

Anna Szczurko is an associate in the Personal Injury Group, dealing primarily with instances of negligence and the related aspects of insurance law. Anna is committed to helping individuals and their families when they are often at their most vulnerable, whether injured from a motor vehicle accident, a slip and fall or dealing with a fire loss claim. Contact Anna at (519) 660–7784 or send an email to [email protected] to discuss your situation.

1 Fault Determination Rules, RRO 1990, Reg. 668, s. 15.

2 Nowakowski v. Mroczkowski Estate 2003 CanLII 14114 (ONSC) at para. 82.

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