Two Collision Contributors, One Code Violator

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Robert T. Lynch, PE, Senior Collision Reconstruction Engineer ::::

A motorcycle traveled across the double yellow centerline into the opposite travel lane on a rural, two-lane roadway in order to pass a farm tractor. When the tractor turned left at the intersection a collision occurred. DJS Associates was retained to evaluate the matter to determine the contributing factors that led to the subject incident. The incident would have clearly been avoided if the tractor operator hadn’t turned left or if the motorcyclist decided not to pass the tractor at the intersection. So, in general, the actions of both operators could be considered as contributory. However, a review of the (Pennsylvania) state statutes indicated that the actions of the motorcyclist were in violation of the vehicle code while the tractor operator’s actions were in compliance with the vehicle code

The vehicle code requires that a left-hand turn be completed from the left-most lane available, and that the driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at an intersection yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute a hazard. From an engineering perspective, the actions of the tractor operator to turn left at the intersection from the travel lane were in compliance with the vehicle code.

Provisions within the vehicle code also allow for a vehicle operator to momentarily cross the centerline in order to pass slow-moving vehicles, including farm equipment, traveling on the roadway, so long as the passing maneuver can be completed safely and at a location no less than 100 feet from an intersection. The engineering analysis in this case established that by passing the tractor at the intersection, the motorcyclist was clearly in violation of the vehicle code.

Counsel for the motorcyclist still argued that the tractor operator should have checked to his rear prior to executing the left turn where he would have observed the motorcycle and then had the opportunity to avoid the incident. The engineering analysis established that the motorcycle would have been within the field of view of the tractor operator had he looked behind him prior to the turn. Counsel for the tractor operator responded that there would be no reason for the tractor operator to expect that the motorcycle would violate the vehicle code and be passing on the left at the intersection where passing was prohibited. Ultimately, the counsel for the motorcyclist failed to prove that the farm tractor operator breached a duty of care while turning left at the intersection and the case was ultimately resolved prior to trial.

Robert T. Lynch, PE, Senior Collision Reconstruction Engineer with DJS Associates, can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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