Q&A - Yellow Light Collision

Yellow Traffic LightA vehicle cannot stop safely before the intersection - as per MVA article 128

And this is where the controversy begins. I am going to try to make this concise and not bore you with too many details.

Sep 27-2015, at the Intersection of Willingdon and Moscrop.

I am driving WB on Moscrop, approaching the intersection with Willingdon. There is a cop car in the right turn lane waiting for pedestrians to clear, so I am careful not to go over the speed limit. I am however doing 50km/hr. The light turns yellow. This was not a complete surprise, but my instant assessment is that I am already beyond the point of no return, in other words I may not have enough time to stop. There is a slight slope and my foot is still on the gas so I can maintaing speed. I do not slow down and I do not accelerate. There is a vehicle waiting to make a left turn and I am watching it like a hawk as I am about to enter the intersection and that's when the unexpected happens. The driver of the other car (a woman - and I make this mention only so I can refer to her as "her" in this post) decides to make the turn. I am now exactly at the intersection Stop Line (still doing 50k). I steer left and my foot flies on the brake pedal, ABS kicks in but can't cope, there is some slipping (the road is wet) and the accident is unavoidable at this point. I hit the right side of  her car with my right corner of the front bumper. The impact is minimal but there is damage - broken headlight, damaged front bumper and front fender, etc.

I pull over and walk up to her to exchange information. The cop is there too and he tells me right away that I had enough time to stop and it is my fault. I am not there to argue, so we wrap up pretty quickly and drive off, both cars are still driveable. I do have a dash camera and if there is any dispute, the footage will no doubt prove me right - I say to myself.

The call to ICBC goes as expected, they say that the other driver admitted to making a left turn while the traffic light was still yellow and the fault will be assigned 100% to her, unless she can prove that I did have time to stop before the intersection. And there is a witness, of course, the police officer, which I already know what will have to say. A decision can only be made after the police report is received and we now must wait for that report.

Nov 20th, 2015

A few weeks go by while I try to get a hold of the adjustor and make my case. I submit another email stating the following facts (based on footage from my dash camera):

  • When the traffic light changed to yellow I was 33m away from the intersection stop line
  • I was not speeding
  • Length of time the traffic light was yellow is 3.5s
  • It took me 2.3s to reach the intersection (Stop Line) from the moment the light turned yellow.
  • the other vehicle turned abruptly in front of me (with 1.2s left on the yellow light) just when I was about to cross the Stop Line.

According to ICBC's own document, the safe stopping distance when driving at 50km/hr is 37m.

A few days later I also send them the video showing the moment of the accident.

Jan 21, 2016

After I place another call to ICBC, they inform me the that after reviewing the video clip they now consider me 75% at fault (and they also have the statement from the police officer).

Jan 22, 2016

I dispute this finding right away with a supervisor and request some kind of justification from them, but the supervisor doesn't seem to budge, giving me some laughable (in my view) reasons which I didn't want to list so this post doesn't become too long.

At this point I am willing to go to court with them, but I wouldn't mind hearing other informed opinions.

  • what do you think about the facts presented?
  • how difficult (easy) is it to fight ICBC in court and what do you think my chances are?
  • should I do it alone or hire a lawyer?

Comments

Answer

Whenever this kind of question gets asked, I always suggest getting proper legal advice. Collision liability is civil law and my training and experience is in criminal law.

From an officer's point of view for collision investigation I can point to the following:

Few drivers have a complete appreciation for yielding to left turn vehicles at an intersection. I've written about it in Yielding on Left Turns and the article includes a case law reference.

When it comes to stopping distance, I can say that the distance travelled while you perceive and react to the yellow light plus your stopping distance determines when you should stop for the yellow. Accepted perception/reaction time is 1.5 seconds. 50 km/h is 15.3 m/s, so you travel about 23 meters before you begin to stop. You can calculate your stopping distance on the Forensic Dynamics web site and 50 km/h turns out to be about 14 meters. Add the two and you have 37 meters, which agrees nicely with ICBC's estimate. The distance from the stop line you mention to the point of collision is probably right about that distance.

That means to me she did put you in a position where you could not have stopped in time. However, there is definitely the possibility that you should have yielded and allowed her to make the left turn. I can't comment on that because I don't know how long she had been sitting there waiting to turn. The officer would have some idea if he was watching the intersection and that would be important to ICBC's determination of fault.

In general, I would be very careful about providing the video to ICBC as it could easily show fault of your own that you would not consider. A lawyer experienced in collision liability would be good to consult first. Ditto for going to court since you could be saddled with court costs in addition to the liability if things don't go the way you hope.

Additional Details

I had to provide the video to demonstrate the facts: where I was when the light turned yellow and how long it took me to reach the intersection. Otherwise the policeman's statement would have trumped my word.

The adjustor made up his mind already (and the supervisor agrees with him) and at this point they are just rationalizing their decision based on some flawed logic (as I would put it). Here's some of his reasons in quotes, with my comments added:

"You did not necessarily have to come to a complete stop to avoid this accident, by slowing down, you could have avoided this accident." - which of course would have meant coming to a stop, theoretically, after the Stop Line (on the crosswalk or in the crosslanes), which just doesn't jive with the MVA definition of  Stop - article 127 (1) (a).

"the 37 M would be emergency stopping distance, not the stopping distance when one is aware they may need to slow and stop." - so he's basically saying that it would take even more than 37m for the car to stop if the light changes to yellow :)

"The light turned yellow, you maintained your speed of 50k, you did not attempt to slow, you did not attempt to brake, you made up your mind that you would just proceed through the intersection." - and they're holding this against me? I was already past the 37m point. This is exactly how it should be done.

I am hoping that going to an Independent Review before going to court will have a better outcome.

PS: your second reply to this post may have been meant for someone else.

More

I would say that the 37 meters is for a driver who is paying attention but not anticipating a sudden need to brake. The 14 meter stopping distance can't really be altered, but the perception / reaction distance could. Some drivers never see and react, others do as you did and some can be somewhat quicker. I think it's safe to say that we all differ, both from each other and from outselves on different days in different situations.

We all tend to forget that ICBC is in the business of paying out only what they have to. They really don't have anyone's specific interests in mind except their own, particularly when they insure all the participants in a collision. While they are guided by the civil courts the number of litigations in the system can give you some idea how often the lawyers feel that people don't get what they are entitled to. Sometimes they are correct and sometimes not.

Making a claim is a process that can be dangerous. While we would all like to think that if we operate in good faith we will benefit. This is not always the case. Just like a criminal defense lawyer will tell you to say nothing to police, a civil litigation lawyer will tell you not to say anything to ICBC. Clearly, this is not always the case, but when you don't know what is the right thing to say and what is the wrong thing to say, you can cause your own problems. This is why I always mention lawyer referral. For $25 and taxes, you can get a pretty good idea what you may want to say to anyone beyond the fact that you were involved in a collision on a certain day at a certain place and time to get the claim started.

It is possible that the review will go your way, it will remain the same or it will make some change either way. If you don't mind, once this is all settled, it would likely be of great interest to others if you came back here and explained the rest of the story.

We're All Different

We are all different that's exactly the point, and that begs the question: those numbers from the ICBC document or from other sites, represent an average value or a worst case scenario value? I don't think they are average values because if they were, half the drivers out there would regularly fail by them.

It sounds like you're having doubts I can invoke the fact that I was less than 37m distance from the intersection as a good defense. Do you not think it would apply to a driver approaching a traffic light?

If 37m is too much to make the case, then what do you think would be an accepted distance?

Thank you for your comments and insight.

I Can't Answer That, Exactly!

It sounds like you're having doubts I can invoke the fact that I was less than 37m distance from the intersection as a good defense. Do you not think it would apply to a driver approaching a traffic light?

If 37m is too much to make the case, then what do you think would be an accepted distance?

Frankly, I thought your combination of using your Dashcam data and Google Earth measurements was impressive and convincing.

It's the variability of the other factors that causes me to question; for instance, it's physically easier to get a vehicle stopped on an upgrade, than on a level road or a downgrade.  And meanwhile, the ICBC 37m data is based on 10m of Perception Distance, 10m of Reaction Distance, and 17m of Braking Distance.  Yet if I understood you correctly, it appears - at least to some degree - that you were anticipating that the light would soon change; it's not like a tree fell on the road or a skateboarder rocketed out of nowhere into your path.  I'm 61 years old and no doubt sluggish compared to when I was 21, but dammit I can still hit the brake pedal at 50 km/h without using up another 20m of distance to do so.

And the other significant thing is, that you apparently maintained your speed, by staying on the gas*.  Whereas, had you lifted off a bit in case the light changed to yellow as you seemed to be expecting, then your ability to stop would have been considerably increased.

* From interest, was this how the police officer saw/heard things, or did he perhaps feel that you accelerated to make the light?

Officer's Reason

The police officer's reason for giving me the ticket was indeed that I was on slight uphill and I could have stopped. I think he saw me only in the last moments before the crash as I was slightly behind him when the light turned yellow. He did not mention speeding, the ticket was issued under the article 125.

I did write another post yesterday which addresses some of your other comments, hope you have seen it :

http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/collisions/consequences/yellow-means-stop-unless#comment-3640

To summarize the whole argumentation, I think I am being assigned the majority of the fault based on some subtle points that the law doesn't mandate, while the other driver gets off easy for a much obvious mistake in my view.

Is there a law that specifically requires drivers to slow down below the speed limit when approaching a traffic light? NO. Is there a law that requires drivers to yield to incoming traffic when turning left? YES.

One Point

There is also a law that requires the through driver to yield and let the left turn driver make the turn. I'm not sure that you have grasped that fact.

Article 174

Yes, I am familiar with that article I think you made a similar remark in a previous post and I kind of addressed it in my yesterday's post, I wonder if you may have missed it. There is a big IF here, otherwise every intersection would become an ALL WAY intersection.

The law says to give right of way if the other vehicle is in the intersection (in the same lane), but the same article (MVA174) says that when the driver is turning left he/she "must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard".

Right of Way is Never Absolute

My own take on how the right-of-way laws are written has always been that there isn't ever a time where you can claim to 'have' the right of way, but there are definitely times that you're expected to give it.

But they're also designed to determine who, primarily, is expected to give right of way to other traffic that is either in an intersection or close enough to be a hazard.

Thus, a driver turning left should yield to anything in opposition; but, if a driver is driving straight, and sees that left turning driver in the intersection attempting to turn left, then he's expected to yield to them.  Simple, right?  Hmmm.

You get a similar situation with something like a 2-Way Stop.  The driver facing a Stop sign is not only required to stop (as in, actually become stationary, and at the correct place, too per Section 186) but also to yield to traffic on the main highway per Section 175(1).  However!  The traffic on the main highway better not get too assertive, because there's also Section 175(2).

The whole idea being (I think) that drivers shouldn't ever assume that they 'have' the right-of-way.  Because they don't, ever.

Thank You Both

Thank you both for your input. I will try to add a few more comments below in answer to questions or feedback received from both of you, so forgive me if this will seem confusing.

CDBC

I don't have a problem with how the police officer handled the case. The day of the accident he said he was in a hurry and because it was only a minor fender bender he didn't issue a ticket or a Police Report right away. He then called me a few weeks later and asked nicely if I could come meet him at his office to serve me the ticket, which I didn't think too much about. He was always polite, but wouldn't budge in his stance, even though I explained the numbers and how I got my facts from the dash camera.

The ticket was issued under section 125 not 174.

In hindsight I should have stopped and I could have stopped. But it's one thing to judge this looking at the 2D screen, seeing the video clip repeatedly, knowing what is going to happen and it's different being at the wheel and living it. I am not trying to trick anyone and certainly wouldn't mind fessing up to my mistake but the question in my mind still remains: How does one judge the circumstances objectively in such a borderline case? Was it a mistake on my part? What about the other driver?

I don't think ICBC gave me a fair judgement.

DSBC

You are correct the law says to give right of way if the other vehicle is in the intersection (in the same lane), but the same article (MVA174) says that when the driver is turning left he/she "must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard". I was very close when she turned, that was a hazard for her and that's why this accident was unavoidable. Perhaps I was not clear in my initial presentation of the facts, but let me just state that she was not in my lane while I was approaching, she turned into my lane exactly when I was about to enter the intersection (while doing 50km/hr).

Is stopping for a hazard the same as stopping for a yellow light?

This argument seems to come up both in your assessment and in ICBC's explanation.

Personally, I don't slam on the brakes every time a traffic light changes to yellow in front of me. With the way traffic lights are timed, there's no need for that. If you're doing the legal speed, you can apply the brake gradually and still stop safely if there is enough room. And that is the key point,  the conversation goes back to the 'point of no return'. How does one determine where that is when approaching a yellow light? If it takes me "x" meters to stop for a hazard, I think it would take even longer to stop for a yellow light. If it's a stale green, I know it can change at any point, but I still don't know when. Perception time and reaction time time are still in play. The bottom line is that the vehicle must be brought to a stop in both cases and the laws of physics apply the same.

A Couple of Observations

I am going to try to make this concise and not bore you with too many details.

I'm far from bored, but would appreciate being filled in on one significant detail - how did you determine (after the fact, presumably) that you were 33m away from the intersection when the light turned yellow?

This was not a complete surprise, but my instant assessment is that I am already beyond the point of no return, in other words I may not have enough time to stop.

If it wasn't a complete surprise, then a lawyer might imply that in fact you had anticipated the occurrence.  Which would lead to the question of why you didn't lift off the gas pedal sooner, being as you were on a wet road, on a downhill slope, with a left-turning vehicle facing you.  I'm just playing devil's advocate here, not trying to judge, I wasn't there and I haven't seen the video.  'Point of no return' does however imply that assessment was far from instant, but decision had already been made; particularly as you didn't reduce your speed.

As a general comment, this whole thing is really unusual in my opinion, and for several reasons.

  1. ICBC almost automatically blame the left turning vehicle for a collision of this kind, regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It's like they stop half way through reading Section 174 and don't get to the end of the sentence.
  2. There isn't ever a police officer there when you need one, or not.  And yet, remarkably, there he was!  How he was able to determine whether you had enough time to stop is another matter; you would have thought that on this stale light, he would be focused on the pedestrian who was preventing him from completing his right turn.
  3. You had a dash cam running, and just when you needed it, seemingly.  Holy smoke, the 'Witness' picture has to be about as complete as you could desire.  (Obscure thought just came along - is there a red light camera on that intersection, and if so, do those things run continually, with a digital record?)

Thing is, you'll have to get ICBC to shift their whole blame apportioning from 75/25 to 25/75 in order to 'win' this.  Even a 50/50 decision just means both drivers may face an increase in their insurance premiums.

Another thing is, ICBC do not like to take things to court; the mere threat of doing so is likely to make them reconsider.

Another other thing is, they must be feeling awful confident to change their viewpoint so radically.

The cop is there too and he tells me right away that I had enough time to stop and it is my fault.

Whatever the cop 'tells you', the question is, did he/she issue a ticket under Section 174?  If not, then you're golden, I reckon, on that evidence alone.  If so, well ...

Clarification

Thanks for your comments. Here are some more details that will hopefully answer your questions.

- I know that I was 33m away from the stop line based on the footage from my dash camera. By looking at the white lane markings on the pavement, I was able to determine the exact position of the vehicle. I then measured the distance on Google maps.

- The road is actually on a slight uphill. Once the decision was made in my mind that I am too close, I had to maintain speed, which required to continue applying the gas, but I did not accelerate. I knew the cop was there all along.

- The cop did not issue a ticket right away, but he called me almost 30 days later and asked me to go meet him so he can serve me the ticket (for a yellow light violation), so yes I did get a ticket eventually.

I don't know if there is a red light camera in that intersection, but those do go off only when someone enters the intersection on red as far as I know. I entered the intersection with 1.2 seconds left on the yellow.

Thanks for Clarifying, More Comments

I thought that was an uphill there, been a while since I drove along that section of Moscrop, When you wrote 'There is a slight slope' I misinterpreted your meaning.

Incidentally, I'm replying to your post preceding this, but also quoting from or alluding to other info further down the page.

I hope our site host will comment on the police officer's decision to issue a ticket after the fact.  Frankly, I think that's unreasonable, particularly as he had already advised of his opinion (not in your favour), and that it should have been written on the spot.

My gut feeling (which is irrelevant to this discussion) is that you could have and should have stopped in response to the light turning yellow per Section 128 but only attempted to do so in order to avoid colliding when the vehicle facing you turned across your path.

I think you're right about the way those red light cameras work.  So your own dash cam video was the only supplemental evidence available.

I had to provide the video to demonstrate the facts: where I was when the light turned yellow and how long it took me to reach the intersection. Otherwise the policeman's statement would have trumped my word.

I don't believe (could be wrong!) that anybody is compelled to provide their own dash cam footage; oftentimes, these devices automatically erase as they re-create storage space; and it's easy enough for anyone to accidentally do the same.  And it isn't clear why the policeman's statement would have 'trumped your word' as you put it; we're all prone to error, or misjudgment, and the courts know this.  In a court, the judge is king - not the policeman.

If I were you, I would do some research on that 'Independent Review' stuff.  See how it's all set up, so to speak.

Please keep us informed as to how this whole thing works out, eventually; I realize that to you, it's a very personal concern - but academically, it's intriguing; particularly with those of us with no stake in the outcome.

Ticketing After the Fact

The Motor Vehicle Act has a limitation of action of one year. This means that the officer has plenty of time to issue a ticket later on down the road. Since our legislators  decided to write the law in this way, they must have contemplated a need for this to happen.

I can think of a number of reasons for going back after the fact. Chief among them is to look for advice or to consider the circumstances at length before choosing to issue the ticket. Another would be the ability to correct a situation where the wrong ticket was issued in the first instance.

I used this provision twice in my service to correct defects in tickets that I had written by serving corrected copies just prior to trial.

The thing I have trouble with is requiring Chris to present himself to receive a ticket. I might have politely informed the officer that he was welcome to come and visit me instead.

Claim Review

I took this to the ICBC's independent Claim Assessment Review, but they didn't budge. I have doubts that the so called Independent Review is actually independent since the reviewer is actually paid by ICBC.

In the meantime I have fought the ticket in court and the police officer didn't show up, so the ticket was dismissed. I wonder if this could play favourably in court if I did go that way.

This is not over yet, I am currently exploring my legal options by getting some legal advice from a specialty lawyer.

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