Behind-the-Wheel

Left-turn surprise

A signal light does not provide you with any protection when you make a left turn.

This simple fact was discovered by a lady who slowed as she approached her driveway, signaled for a left turn, saw a truck approaching in her rear-view mirror and started to make the turn.

To her complete surprise, the truck passed on the left and they collided corner to corner.

The woman driving the truck said that she did not see the signal light and there were no witnesses to confirm whether it was in use or not.

As there were no lines painted on the highway to prevent the truck from passing, ICBC divided the liability for the collision 75/25 with the highest portion borne by the driver of the turning vehicle.

This collision should not have come as a complete surprise to the lady for a number of reasons. The first might be that she hadn't actually checked to see if her signal lights were working.

The second is that she may not have signaled for a sufficient time to give the driver of the truck notice of her intended left turn. Finally, she could have taken human nature into account.

My experience with many drivers is that they will tend to remain in motion rather than slowing or stopping if there is sufficient room to pass.

When is the last time that you walked completely around your vehicle and checked to insure that all the lights were working? Unless you are required by law to do pre- and post-trip inspections, I suspect that it could be a long time, if ever.

We rely on systems that can fail to protect us far more than we should because, for the most part, they keep working. Until they don't.

It's up to the driver to make sure that the vehicle is in proper working order in all respects before leaving the driveway.

How long should we leave our signal light on before we do what it indicates? Certainly long enough that other drivers can see it, recognize what it is telling them and then react as necessary to insure safety.

I might suggest that at least four seconds of signalling should be the minimum time before we take the advertised action. Failing to give sufficient warning is as bad as not giving any warning at all.

The Slow Down, Move Over law has resulted from the drivers tendency to remain in motion without taking action when presented with a sudden situation that does not require slamming on the brakes.

Chances are good that you have watched many fail to slow down or move over in your travels. This lady's left turn indication, if she made it properly, is another example of the same circumstances.

ICBC assesses liability for collisions based on guidance imposed by civil law. The case of Carmichael v Mayhew is an example of similar circumstances that I wrote about in the article Who's Responsible?

There may be a witness to the operation of the signal lamp after the fact. If it was on when the force of the collision was applied to it, the signal filament could show indications of hot shock stress that could be discovered in post crash lamp examination.

This kind of determination would require a trained collision investigator to provide ICBC or the courts with an expert opinion, but it is possible.

What about the driver of the truck who was found to be 25 per cent at fault? The onus was on her not to pass on the left if it was unsafe to do so.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/collisions/left-turn-surprise

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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