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Turning Left on a Yellow Light

Do I have to wait for oncoming traffic to completely stop before turning?  Can I assume they’ll stop if I see them slowing down?  Shouldn’t they expect someone like me to be executing a left turn across their path on a late yellow?

In a recent judgment of the British Columbia Supreme Court, the court considered liability for a collision that occurred at a busy intersection in Vancouver (Domil v Cheng 2017 BCSC 65).  The plaintiff, Ms. Domil, was at a stop in the intersection of Main Street and King Edward, waiting to turn left across oncoming traffic.  When the light turned yellow, she saw oncoming cars slow.  Assuming they would stop, she turned left on the now-late yellow.

The defendant, Mr. Cheng, was travelling with oncoming traffic.  He testified that he had been only about a car length from the intersection when the light turned yellow.  Judging that he’d be unable to stop safely, he accelerated to travel through the intersection.  He struck Mr. Domil’s vehicle as she executed her turn.

After reviewing the various inconsistencies in Mr. Cheng’s evidence (and accepting that while he was doing his best to tell his story accurately, his evidence was more of a reconstruction than an actual memory), Justice Skolrood rejected the argument that left-turners should wait until they see oncoming drivers actually stop before clearing the intersection.  Mr. Cheng was found 100% responsible for the accident:

[98]         In Kokkinis, Madam Justice Newbury said the following about an accident occurring at another busy intersection in Vancouver (at para. 10):

…An amber light is not, as the current witticism suggests, a signal to accelerate or to pass traffic that is slowing to a stop. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Esson noted in Uyuyama, in a busy city like Vancouver and at a busy intersection like 25th and Granville, an amber is likely the only time one can complete a left turn. Drivers approaching intersections must expect that this will be occurring. Putting a burden on a left-turning driver to wait until he or she sees that all approaching drivers have stopped would, in my view, bring traffic to a standstill. We should not endorse such a result. [Emphasis in original.]

[99]         Madam Justice Newbury’s observations apply with equal force to the busy intersection of Main Street and King Edward.

[100]     I find that Mr. Cheung is 100% liable for the accident.