Law for Left Turns under Pennsylvania Vehicle Code
This guide provides a general guide for the law of left turns in Pennsylvania.
General Rules for Left Turns in PennsylvaniaUnder the Vehicle Code of Pennsylvania, drivers have three basic obligations when making a left turn. First, such turns must be made from the lane farthest to the left for traffic moving in the driver's direction of travel. Second, a motorist must make a plainly visible signal of the intention to turn left, and the signal must be given far enough in advance of the turn to give an approaching motorist an opportunity to react to the warning. Third, motorists making a left turn must yield the right of way to any oncoming vehicle that is "so close as to constitute a hazard." The first two duties are relatively straightforward, but the third requirement is what is the cause of most accidents and the centerpiece of most litigation arising out of left turn crashes.
Making a left turn across oncoming lanes of traffic is a movement that is fraught with peril. While it seems obvious that a car cannot make a sudden turn in front of another vehicle, the issue of when a vehicle is "so close as to constitute a hazard" is one that is hard to define. Courts have often noted that the act of colliding with a vehicle approaching in the opposite direction while turning left is a factual indication that the oncoming vehicle was too close to turn in front of without constituting a hazard. And, certainly, if a motorist fails to look for oncoming traffic just before entering the intersection and then makes a left turn and strikes another vehicle, this is sufficient to infer that the motorist violated his duty to yield the right-of-way.
Obligations on Turning MotoristsBefore making a left turn, a motorist must look for an oncoming vehicle and "a driver of a vehicle cannot claim to have looked when he has failed to see what the physical facts declare he should have seen." A court cannot ignore certain facts that demonstrate that the negligence of a driver was an actual real factor in causing an accident, such as making a left turn in front of an oncoming vehicle only 40 to 50 feet away. Where a driver cannot see far enough into an oncoming lane to proceed into the road safely, it remains incumbent on the person entering into the through road to continue to look down the lane to be crossed as he or she proceeds into the roadway.
Turning motorists do have the right to assume that the driver of another vehicle, who might be outside of their range of vision and coming from the opposite direction, will fulfill his or her legal duty and observe the restricted speed limit on the roadway. The turning motorist is not required to "anticipate and guard against the want of ordinary care on the part of another," or to assume that another will "flagrantly violate the statutory speed limit." One court justified this standard by finding that "if the mere suggestion of a tire on the horizon is to instill apprehension and fear into all others using the highway, all traffic will freeze to a standstill." But in a situation where there is no allegation or evidence that the non-turning vehicle was speeding, and where there is evidence that a collision took place a "split second" after the motorist began his or her turn, then a court may reasonably conclude that the turning motorist began the turn when the non-turning vehicle was almost upon his or her vehicle.
Special Precautions Necessary For Special CircumstancesA motorist must exercise special precautions while attempting a left turn in weather that significantly reduces visibility and requires the motorist to make the turn at a very low rate of speed. The overriding duty of reasonableness mandates that a motorist making a turn in such weather conditions take extra precautions to make sure that the turn can be made safely and without interfering with oncoming traffic.
Pennsylvania courts have also discussed the duties of vehicle operators who encounter a vehicle turning left into their path of travel. A driver approaching an intersection has a right to assume that a motorist approaching from the opposite direction will not, without adequate warning, suddenly turn across a roadway in front of the driver. Generally, drivers do not have to anticipate the negligence of other drivers and motorists approaching an intersection are not required to predict that a vehicle that has given no notice or insufficient notice of turning will negligently attempt to cross their path of travel.
When a driver is stopped, waiting to make a left turn across oncoming lanes of traffic, an oncoming motorist may sometimes wave the turning car on, signaling that the turning motorist should proceed in front of the stopped oncoming vehicle. Our courts have recognized that such a signal "might be considered simply an invitation to allow the turning driver to pass in front of the signaler, or that it might be safe to pass all the way through the intersection." A hand signal may be nothing more than an invitation to pass when safe, and not a command to pass or an "all clear" signal." On the other hand, where the turning driver indicates that she saw the signaling motorist look in his rear view mirror to check whether any cars were coming and that she saw the signaling motorist wave to her three times and repeatedly mouth to her "come on," then, under a "totality of the circumstances" analysis, it is for the jury or fact finder to determine the significance to be reasonably attributed to the hand signal of the oncoming motorist.