In December 2022, a young family of three was driving in Phoenix in the middle of the afternoon. The mother, a 20-year-old who had recently given birth, was behind the wheel. When she turned left at an intersection, she didn’t see the pickup truck barreling toward her. The truck’s driver didn’t see her either. He would subsequently be arrested for DUI, but not before slamming into the side of the family’s car. The father and daughter were killed in the crash, and the mother succumbed to her injuries a week later.
While this left-hand turn collision didn’t involve a cyclist, it is one of the most tragic cases in recent memory. It also highlights some of the challenges involved with left-hand turn accidents. While it appears that the driver of the pickup truck may have been drunk at 3:45 in the afternoon, there is no indication of who had the right of way, whether the intersection had adequate visibility, or whether any of a variety of other potential factors were involved in the accident.
We’re sure the police addressed these issues during their investigation, but the details in news stories covering accidents like these tend to be fairly scant.
Just like drivers and passengers, cyclists face very high risks when making left-hand turns. While all drivers should obey the law and pay attention to the task at hand, it is clear that far too many do not. As a result, close calls involving left-hand turn collision are extremely common. Sadly, serious and fatal accidents involving left-hand turn collision are common as well.
“I commute to work on my bike. While I can stay on the right-hand side of the road most of the time, there is one left-hand turn I need to make my way home. It’s always made me nervous, but I never had an accident—until last week. I waited for the green arrow like I always do and started my turn. But, while I was in the intersection, a car came out of nowhere from the opposite direction. It ran the light and, luckily I guess, just clipped my back tire. The impact still sent me flying, and I am still in the hospital recovering.”
“Can I sue the driver? I clearly had the right of way, and as far as I know cyclists can use the traffic lanes in Arizona.”
Cyclists can use the traffic lanes in Arizona. In fact, the law makes clear that cyclists have the exact same rights as drivers in most cases. While cyclists are supposed to ride on the right-hand side of their lane when they can, they need to get over to the left in order to make left-hand turns.
Quite frankly, in this hypothetical scenario, the cyclist is lucky to have survived. If the driver had been going just a few miles per hour faster, he may have T-boned the cyclist—which would have been a much worse collision. In these types of left-hand turn collision, cyclists often get thrown off of their bikes into the street, and they get run over in many cases.
While there seems to be a fair amount of confusion about the left-hand turn collision laws in Arizona, the Arizona Revised Statutes are pretty clear.
For example, Section 28-645(A)(3)(a) states, “vehicular traffic facing a steady red signal alone shall stop before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown.” This means that drivers have to stop at all red lights, and they cannot proceed through the intersection until it is their turn. If a driver runs a red light and hits a cyclist who is making a left-hand turn, the driver is clearly at fault in this scenario.
Similarly, Section 28-645(A)(1)(a) states, “[v]ehicular traffic facing a green signal . . . shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk at the time the signal is exhibited.” This means that even if a driver has a green light, the driver still has a duty to yield to cyclists who are lawfully making left-hand turns.
Another relevant law is Section 28-772 of the Arizona Revised Statutes: “The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle that is approaching from the opposite direction and that is within the intersection or so close to the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.” This means that when an intersection isn’t controlled by a traffic light, cyclists have the right to make a left-hand turn as long as there are no approaching cars that are so close as to present an “immediate hazard.”
If you find the language in the Arizona statutes confusing, you are not alone. Here is a breakdown of what cyclists need to know about the state’s left-hand turn collision laws:
All cyclists can do is follow the law and use their best judgment. If they do these two things and they still get hit by a driver who is drunk, being reckless, or not paying attention, there is nothing they can do other than seek to hold the driver accountable.
“I was riding my bike in the hills outside of Phoenix. I was on a downhill stretch, and my GPS head unit said I was going about 35 mph—still 10 mph below the speed limit. As I approached an area with a left-hand turn lane on the other side, I saw a car with its blinker on, but I assumed they would see me coming and wait.”
“As it turned out, they didn’t. Just as I got there, the driver turned left in front of me. I grabbed my brakes, but there was no way I was going to stop. I slammed into the side of their car, destroyed my bike, and suffered several injuries in the crash.”
“I know I technically hit the car, but wasn’t the driver at fault? I was going straight on a clear day, and the driver made a left-hand turn in front of me for no reason.”
This is another common scenario for left-hand turn collisions, and it is one that can be extremely scary for cyclists. You’re riding along, enjoying the day, and all of a sudden a driver puts you in a position where you have no way to avoid a collision.
In this scenario, the law is also clearly on your side. Let’s look back at Section 28-772. If we focus only on the relevant language, it states:
“The driver of a vehicle . . . intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle that is approaching from the opposite direction and . . . so close to the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.”
While this law specifically references “vehicles,” the obligation to yield applies equally when it is a bicycle—rather than a car, truck, or SUV—that is approaching from the opposite direction. So, if you are riding your bike and a driver dangerously turns left as you are approaching, the driver is responsible in the event of a collision. This is true whether the driver hits you as you pass or you run into the side of the driver’s vehicle.
Since determining fault for a left-hand turn collision is often a matter of timing, proving that a negligent driver is responsible for your injuries (or your loved one’s wrongful death) presents some unique challenges. But, while it may be challenging, it is not impossible. At Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm, we have extensive experience handling these types of cases, and we have helped many cyclists and families conclusively prove their legal rights.
As with any type of serious or fatal bicycle accident, when dealing with an accident involving a left-hand turn collision, it is important to investigate the accident as soon as possible. When investigating these accidents, we typically seek to collect evidence such as:
If you need to know more about how to prove your legal rights after a left-hand turn collision in Arizona, we encourage you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. To discuss your case with a lawyer at Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm as soon as possible, please call 480-634-7480 or tell us how we can reach you online today.