This question is prompted by me sitting at a green light today while multiple people streamed through from the opposite direction, turning to their left, against a red turn arrow. (Throughout this question, assume right-side traffic, as in North America, and no one-way streets.)

If I have a green light and enter a clear intersection, then it would seem obvious that an unseen red light runner on the cross-street, coming from my left/right, would be at 100% fault for hitting me and causing an accident.

But suppose I am sitting at an intersection waiting to go straight through and facing a red light, while traffic on the opposite side of the intersection has a green left-turn arrow, and are turning across my intended path.

The left-turning cars lose their green arrow, get a red arrow (or red light, or other signal that they no longer have the right-of-way), and I now get a green light, but the line of cars still continues, turning left and driving across in front of me, running their red left-turn arrow.

If I now enter the intersection and an accident occurs, who is at fault? Is it the opposing car for obviously running a red left-turn arrow? Or is it me for performing an unsafe action, even though I had a green light?

I can imagine that I would be allocated some/all fault if I can see all these cars driving in front of me but still enter the intersection, yet at other times there is some car wanting to turn that is lagging all of the others and it enters the intersection after I have already entered it (and I don't see them coming, making it like the original red light runner scenario I mentioned above). In such a case I would expect the turning car to be at fault. So there would seem to be an area where fault allocation moves from one driver to another.

I'm mainly interested in US interpretations, but any jurisdiction would be interesting to me.


1 Answer 1


The apportionment of fault will be highly case specific, based on ordinary principles of negligence.

In one example, the fault was apportioned with 60% of the fault to the late left turner and 40% of the fault to the driver advancing imprudently into the intersection on a green light. See Pierce v. ING Insurance, 2006 NSSM 31 (my annotations and emphasis):

[11] I believe that Mr. Pierce [the left-turning driver] was late in entering this intersection. I do not accept that he could not have stopped on the amber which he asserts. However, I am not prepared to find that he is solely responsible at law for the collision.

[12] As stated above, I am unable to conclude with precise exactitude which signal light was on when Mr. Pierce [the left-turning driver] entered the intersection. I can conclude that the amber light had ceased and the green light for Mr. Williams [the through driver] had turned on at some point prior to the collision. The intersection is a well known intersection and given Mr. MacKinnon’s evidence of the relative speed of Mr. Pierce’s vehicle and what I understand to be the distances involved, I cannot accept that the signal light was green and turned to amber as Mr. Pierce entered the intersection.

[13] On the other hand I am struck by two inescapable facts. First, the fact that Mr. MacKinnon who was stopped next to Mr. Williams did not proceed through the intersection because he knew it would not be safe to do so. While to some extent I take Mr. Boyte’s point that Mr. MacKinnon was, because of his experience with the intersection “hyper aware” to the prospect of drivers being late, I cannot entirely dismiss the fact that he obviously exercised prudence in not proceeding. The fact that Mr. Williams did not see Mr. Pierce’s vehicle is not an answer. In fact, just to the opposite in my view.

[14] In my opinion, there is clear a duty on drivers stopped at an intersection to ascertain that the intersection is clear before proceeding once a light turns from red to green. Had Mr. Williams discharged this duty, the collision could well have been avoided.

Your scenario is even more stark—not just a single late left turner, but an entire line of late left turners, readily apparent as an obstacle to safe advance. I would not be surprised if a judge were to attribute even more than 40% fault to the driver entering on the green.

The Court of Appeal for British Columbia has even said (Pirie v. Skantz, 2016 BCCA 70, para. 14):

... where a through driver ... should have become aware of the left-turning driver’s own disregard of the law in circumstances that afforded him a sufficient opportunity to avoid the accident through the exercise of reasonable care, the through driver may be found wholly or primarily at fault for the accident.

  • 2
    Excellent answer. The basic analysis is essentially the same in most U.S. jurisdictions, except that the application of the law to the facts is usually much more bare bones since it is usually dealt with in a minimal jury verdict form since bench trials for auto accidents are rare in the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 11, 2023 at 22:33

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