- The Gerring Law Firm
What is the The Pittsburgh Left and who is at fault?
Picture yourself at a four-way intersection controlled by a stop light. The car opposite you has their left turn signal on. They are positioned in the center of the intersection. They try to make a left but are unable to do so under their signal. After the signal turns green for intersecting traffic or for traffic in the opposite direction, they make the left even though they now have a red light.
Did they just cut you off? Is this driving practice even legal?
A “Pittsburgh left” is when a left turning driver assumes the right of way by turning on a red light before other vehicles with a green light have a chance to enter the intersection. It is typically done at the end of the left turning driver’s green or yellow signal. This practice angers many people, but unfortunately there is no clear-cut answer as to its legality.
Some view this as “cheating” the traffic signal system because the left turning driver assumes the right of way at a time when the traffic signal favors other traffic. They make their left turn before the traffic with a green light can exercise their right of way. Often they do this by putting themselves in the middle of the intersection, preventing intersecting traffic from proceeding even if they wanted to by blocking their lane.
This act is called different terms. Most call this the Pittsburgh left, but it is also referred to as a Boston left, Massachusetts left, Rhode Island Left, New Jersey Jughandle, or Michigan left.
Why would this be illegal?
The Case For The Cars With A Green Light
Under the Rules of the Road in Missouri a favorable traffic signal is the strongest argument for who had the right of way. Cars granted a green light have priority over other traffic. These cars can also use RSMO 304.351 that provides that the driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn left shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
It seems obvious that those with the right of way would be so close as to constitute an immediate hazard for the left turning car. Driving 101 says that green means go. Once traffic is given a green light, they are given the right of way. If the left turning car hits one of these cars when they did not have the right of way, they will likely be found to be at fault.
The Case For The Left Turning Car
On the other hand, statutory rules relating to right of way should not be construed as granting any absolute and unqualified rights to proceed. Courts in Missouri have many times held that the rules of the road create reciprocal duties. “The right of way does not give an absolute and unqualified right to proceed regardless of the existing circumstances and conditions, although many motorists apparently entertain that mistaken notion…The right to enter depends on many circumstances and is governed by the facts peculiar to each case.” Haymes vs. Swan, 413 S.W.2d 319 (Mo. App. S.D. 1967).
The right to enter depends on many circumstances and would be governed by the facts of each case. In a jury trial, the Missouri Approved Instructions would ultimately provide an outline for how a jury would decide the case rather than make legally conclusive determinations. It would be up to a jury to decide the facts of each case and determine liability on a case by case basis.
Pittsburgh lefters may cheat the traffic flow system, but, so long as the traffic in the opposite or intersecting direction yields to them, they may be doing so legally.
Due to no bright line rule, I think Pittsburgh Lefts will often end up as comparative fault cases. If you find yourself with a case like this, it may be best to consider mediation or attempt to settle prior to jury trial. You cannot be certain how a jury will view the facts of your case, even if it seems obvious to you.