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Car Accidents and the Danger of the Left Turn

Motorcycle riders face enormous risks whenever they head out onto the roadways of New York as we were reminded once again this week.

A fatal Motorcycle accident occurred on Thiells-Mt Ivy Road in Haverstraw, New York when a driver made a left turn across traffic and straight into the path of a 47 year old Rockland County resident who was riding on a Suzuki Motorcycle. The collision claimed the life of 44 year old Alberto Rivera of Thiells.

What are the Rules applicable to left turn accident cases in New York?

The Vehicle & Traffic Law has a series of rules governing the right of way. The specific statute that applies in most left turn cases is:

ยง 1141. Vehicle turning left

The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Most intersection collisions occur when the left-turning driver misjudges the distance and speed of the traffic approaching the intersection. The driver commences the turn and the collision occurs due to the misjudgment.

  • The key part of the statute is the requirement that the left-turning driver yield to traffic which is " so close as to constitute an immediate hazard".
  • It doesn't matter if the driver of the left turning vehicle arrives at the intersection first if the other driver is close enough to the intersection at that time so that a collision could be imminent.

The law is clear that:

  • violation of a state statute which imposes a specific duty constitutes negligence per se..." Elliott v. City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d 730, 734 (2001).
  • A violation of traffic law, absent an excuse, constitutes negligence..." Delgado v. Martinez Family Auto, 113 A.D.3d 426 (1st Dept. 2014)

Does it matter if the Left-turning driver has a green light in his (or her) favor?

In a word, NO.

For example, the Appellate Division, First Department determined that the driver of the left-turning vehicle was solely to blame for the collision in Griffin v. Pennoyer, 49 A.D.3d 341 (1st Dept. 2008). The court explained that:

  • Defendant's averment that she had a green light in her favor when she attempted to make the left-hand turn did not undercut plaintiff's assertion that she had a green light. Thus, regardless of the color of the light in defendant's direction, plaintiff had the right of way.

Will the driver of the left turning vehicle face any driver's license consequences as a result of this car accident?

A fatal motor vehicle accident hearing before an Administrative Law Judge will be scheduled to determine if the motorist's driver's license should be revoked. He will be well advised to be represented by a lawyer at the hearing

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