Have you received a ticket for failure to yield when turning left? Here is an overlooked defense that the prosecution may not anticipate.

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 4511.42, “[t]he operator 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, whenever the approaching vehicle … is within the intersection or so close to the intersection, alley, private road, or driveway as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

Police officer writing out a traffic citationWhen police respond to a motor vehicle accident in which a left-turning vehicle and an approaching vehicle collide, the outcome is predictable. With virtual certainty, the left turning vehicle will be cited for failure to yield. Likewise, the prosecution likely will take the same default position that the left turning vehicle is always at fault. The problem with this default position is that Ohio law provides otherwise.

The prosecution must establish that the approaching vehicle was either within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. You have a colorable defense if the approaching vehicle was not in the intersection and not so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

The first element – that the approaching vehicle was within the intersection – is simple enough to address. If based on your observations (and that of any witnesses) the approaching vehicle was not within the intersection, then you (and any such witnesses) may testify to this fact.

The second element – that the approaching vehicle was not so close as to constitute an immediate hazard – requires a little more information. In at least one case, State v. Nicholson, 12th Dist. Preble No. CA85-03-005, 1986 WL 7122, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals of Ohio held that an approaching vehicle did not constitute an immediate hazard when the same was traveling at 40 miles per hour at a distance of 500 to 600 feet from the point at which the left turning driver began his turn. In simple terms, the vehicle was so far away that the left-turning driver reasonably believed that he could safely turn left.

This speed and distance in Nicholson can be correlated to other speed limits using simple math. For simplicity, the ratio established in Nicholson is between 12.5 feet per mile per hour and 15 feet per mile per hour. Applying this ratio to a 20-mph speed limit, an approaching vehicle does not constitute an immediate hazard if it is between 250 and 300 feet or more away from a left-turning vehicle. And this makes sense, as the speed and distance are both roughly half of the above examples.

You should consider doing two things to ascertain whether the approaching vehicle in your case constituted an immediate hazard. First, ascertain the speed limit for the given street and the approaching driver’s reported speed. Second, measure the distance from where you were turning left to where you first saw the approaching vehicle at the point at which you were turning left. If the approaching vehicle was outside of the ratio of 12.5 feet per mile per hour and 15 feet per mile per hour, then you arguably have a colorable defense!

This approach is especially handy in traffic cases. In other types of cases, such as personal injury cases, litigants often use expensive accident reconstruction experts to establish speeds and causes of motor vehicle accidents. The problem is that accident reconstruction experts cost thousands of dollars. Generally, large expenditures on such costly experts are justified in cases that involve substantial sums of money, like personal injury cases. But for a traffic ticket, the cost of hiring such an expert is prohibitive. Fortunately, through above common-sense approach, you arguably can reach the same conclusion without resorting to costly experts.

If you ever receive a ticket for failure to yield when turning left, don’t make the mistake of simply accepting an officer’s or a prosecutor’s preliminary conclusion that you were at fault. Instead, consult competent Columbus traffic attorney to ascertain whether you have this often-overlooked defense based upon a common-sense application of speed and distance.