One of the most common crashes occurs between a vehicle turning left hitting a vehicle coming straight on in the opposite direction.
As a result, many intersections undergo expensive upgrades to add an advance left turning light.
One particular crash that haunts me for the sheer tragedy of it occurred a few years ago at the intersection nearest my office.
A pickup truck turned left, directly into the path of an oncoming transport truck. The transport truck swerved, saving the life of the pickup truck driver, but the swerve caused it to careen into another vehicle, killing a young father who had been patiently waiting for the transport truck to pass so that he could merge onto the highway.
When the light is green, these crashes are complete nonsense. The left turner simply has to wait until oncoming traffic has cleared before making the turn.
Yes there is pressure—the vehicles are lined up behind you, you think you can squeeze through a gap in the traffic flow.
But no, don’t. Even if the grill of a jacked up Ford pickup truck is framing your rear-view mirror, its driver impatiently honking his horn. Just stay calm, and wait until you feel it’s safe to complete the turn.
Then fnally, the light has turned yellow.
Oncoming drivers will stop and you will finally have your turn. There is an added pressure, though—you must clear the intersection.
No dilly-dallying allowed. In these moments, the light will be red and cross traffic will have the green.
You have just entered one of the most dangerous moments that can exist in an intersection.
Yes, oncoming drivers must stop unless that stop cannot be made in safety.
This obligation is clearly set out in section 128(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act and is a universally known driving rule.
It is also one of the most universally broken driving rules. The lead oncoming vehicle is slowing, so obviously the traffic in the other lanes will be able to stop as well, so you “hit it” to clear the intersection.
Instead, please wait until you are completely satisfied that traffic in every oncoming lane is going to stop before you put yourself in front of those lanes of traffic.
All the matters is that you don’t put yourself in front of a vehicle that’s trying to push through that yellow light.
So you sit, and you wait. The light turns red. Cross traffic now faces a green. That’s your automatic “hit the gas” signal, right?
No it isn’t.
But the vehicles in two of the oncoming lanes have actually come to a complete stop. Horns are starting to blare from cross traffic. You have to clear the intersection.
No you don’t.
What about the oncoming driver in the third lane who’s hammering the gas?
The rules don’t change when the light turns from yellow to red. You wait until you are completely satisfied that the traffic in every oncoming lane is going to stop before you put yourself in front of those lanes of traffic.
The June 7, 2016, decision of Severud v. Smit covers this exact situation. The injured plaintiff, described by Mr. Justice Saunders as a 38-year-old mother of two, was the left turning driver.
It was an established fact at the trial that the light had turned red before the oncoming driver entered the intersection.
The defending insurance company argued that the left turner should share in the blame, and recover less than full, fair compensation for her injuries and losses.
Mr. Justice Saunders noted that the idiot (my word) who blew the red light “…bears an overwhelming degree of responsibility for this collision…”.
In the circumstances, though, he agreed that the left turning driver share some fault.
Mr. Justice Saunders’ explanation: “I conclude that at the point in time when the plaintiff began her turn, the defendant, regardless of whether she was in fact slowing, was close enough in proximity to the intersection and proceeding at such speed that there was not enough distance for the defendant to be able to bring her vehicle to a stop.
“The plaintiff, having seen the defendant’s vehicle, ought to have anticipated that the defendant might have been about to “run the red.”
The plaintiff had suffered very serious injuries. Her compensation was reduced by over $50,000 because of the 10 per cent assessment of liability against her.
Yes, the straight-through driver needs to follow the law and stop when facing a yellow.
But regardless of what the straight-through driver does, every single left turn/straight through crash would be avoided if the left turner simply waited until it was safe to complete the turn.