White v. Cothran, 260 N.C. 510 (1963)

Nov. 20, 1963 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
260 N.C. 510


(Filed 20 November 1963.)

1. Automobiles § 17—

Wliere the evidence discloses that the street intersection in question had electrically operated traffic signals, with the usual red-, yellow, and green lights, the rights of a -motorist at such -intersection are controlled by the traffic signals and not -by G.S. 20-154 (b).

2. Same—

A -motorist approaching .an intersection controlled by -signal lights is under duty to- maintain a proper lookout -and -to- keep his vehicle i-n reasonable control in order tba-t he may stop before entering the intersection if the green light changes to yellow or red before he enters the intersection, and a following motorist is under duty to keep his vehicle under reasonable control in order that he may avoid collision with the preceding vehicle in .the event its driver is required to stop before entering the intersection by reason of the changing of -the signal lights.

*5113. Automobiles § 46—

Where all of the evidence tends to show ¡that as plaintiff approached the intersection controlled by electric traffic signals, bat before reaching the intersection, the green teg-ht changed to yellow, and that plaintiff brought her car to a stop just before entering the intersection, it is error for the court, in plaintiff’s action against the driver of a following ear colliding with the rear of her car, to charge the law under GJS. 20-154 (b) or to ■charge upon the rights of the parties if .plaintiff had stopped while the traffic light facing her was green.

4. Trial § 33—

It is prejudicial error for the court to instruct the jury in regard to the law mot presented by the evidence in the case.

5. Appeal and Error § 38—

An assignment of error not brought forward and argued in the brief will be deemed abandoned. Buie of Practice in the Supreme Court No. 28.

Appeal by plaintiff from Bickett, J., April Session 1963 of FeaNKliN.

This iis a civil .action instituted by the plaintiff to recover for personal injuries 'allegedly sustained -ais the result -of .a rear-end collision on 8 May 1959, -about 11:15 p.m., between >an automobile driven, by plaintiff -and an automobile driven by defendant Vernon Lee Cothran, under the circumstances hereinafter set out.

Plaintiff appellant was driving -an automobile in an easterly direction along Andrews Avenue, approaching the intersection of Clark Street with said Avenue, in 'the City of Henderson, North Garolixua. Defendant appellee was operating hiis 'automobile to the rear of plaintiff’s lautomolbiie and following plaintiff’s car along Andrews Avenue.

At ¡the 'intersection of Andrews Avenue and Clark Street there is a traffic light, electrically operated, with the usual red, yellow, and green lights. The municipal ordinance of Henderson governing traffic control signals was not introduced in the trial below.

Plaintiff’s evidence tends to' show that as she approached the intersection, the 'traffic light changed from green to yellow, and she applied her brakes, stopping just short of the lines marked upon the street for the pedestrian crossing; (that within seconds after stopping, the defendant’s automobile ran into the rear of plaintiff’s -automobile, causing plaintiff to suffer whiplash injuries.

Defendant Vernon Lee Cothran testified: “Traffic was moving approximately 15 miles per hour. * * As we were nearing the stop light Ruth White came to -a sudden stop near the intersection and the light changed-, and -as it changed', -as quick ns it did, she just came to a sudden stop, and when it did, my oar ran into -the rear of hers. * * I didn’t see the green light change to red, but I looked up and saw the *512green light arad put my eyeis back on the road -and she come up /to- the light iaud stopped when it changed. * if * I * * expected her to- go on through, but, instead, the lights flashed on -change quick and she came to a sudden stop and I went into her car.”

The defendant further testified that >he was following the plaintiff at a distance of 10 or 15 feet.

At (the alose of plaintiffs evidence, defendant John Cothran moved for judgment as of nonsuit .as to him. The motion was allowed.

The jury answered .the first issue against the plaintiff. Judgment was entered on the verdict, and the plaintiff appeals, .assigning error.

Yarborough & Yarborough for plaintiff appellant.

Lumpkin, Lumpkin ■& Davis for defendants appellee.

DenNY, C.J.

The .appellant assigns .as error the following portions of the charge to. the jury: (1) “Now, .there is another statute pleaded by the defendant in (this case which is designated as 20-154, General Statutes of North Carolina, which provides: The duties of all drivers of a motor vehicle upon either (turning or starting or stopping a motor vehicle, and that statute provides that the driver of any vehicle upon highways before starting, stopping or turning from a -direct line — in ■this case, the only allegation and the only proof 'has to. do. with stopping — -there is no -allegation of turning at all, as the court recalls it — ■ that -is, they shall first see .that such -movement, that is, such stopping, can be made in safety, and if they fail to observe that admonition and use reasonable care and -due diligence to see that (the stopping could be made in safety, that, of course, would be negligence, if one of the proximate causes or the proximate cause of the injury or damage, and would b-e actionable negligence;” and (2) “It is not required -by law that you ascertain that a movement can be made in absolute safety, it only requires that you use the care and prudence that an ordinarily reasonable man should- — If she failed to ascertain that .such movement could be made in safety, and if she failed to- 'ascertain that such stopping could be made in safety with the green light on, then that would be negligence on the part o.f Mrs. White, the plaintiff, but if the green light was on when she stopped there, it would also be her duty to give a signal by electrical device or otherwise and .such signal to continue for iat least 100 feet before reaching the stop light, provided that the stop light was green, .and her failure to give such signal would be negligence, -and if -a proximate cause of the injury or damage to- Mrs. White, would be actionable negligence.”

*513In a factual situation like .that presented on this appeal, the right of the plaintiff to enter the intersection involved and her duty to stop before entering such intersection, were controlled by the electrically operated traffic signal and not by G.S. 20-154 (b).

As to the second portion of -the charge to which the plaintiff excepted .and assignis as error, we have held: The meaning and force to be given to electrically operated traffic control signals, in the absence of a statute or ordinance, “is that meaning which a reasonably .prudent operator of an 'automobile should -and would understand and apply. Coach Co. v. Fultz, 246 N.C. 523. Traffic signals of the kind here described are -in such general use .that it is, we think, well known by motor vehicle operators that a red traffic light is a warning that the highway is closed in order to permit those using the intersecting highway safe passage through the intersection. Hence, .prudence dictates that he should stop. The meaning of the amber light is likewise recognized. It cautions 'but not in the positive tones of the red light. It warns that red is about to appear, and that it is hazardous to enter. It laffordis those who have entered on the green light the opportunity to proceed through the intersection before the crossing .traffic is invited to enter. Jackson v. Camp & Brown Produce Co., 88 S.E. 2d 540 (Ga.); Bkushfield Automobile Law, sec. 1040, perm. ed. The green light indicates that the motorist may proceed. It does not guarantee safe passage through the intersection. The driver accepting the 'invitation must continue to exercise the care of a. reasonably prudent person under similar conditions.” Wilson v. Kennedy, 248 N.C. 74, 102 S.E. 2d 459. Beatty v. Bowden, 257 N.C. 736, 127 S.E. 2d 504; Bass v. Lee, 255 N.C. 73, 120 S.E. 2d 570; Shoe v. Hood, 251 N.C. 719, 112 S.E. 2d 543; Williams v. Funeral Home, 248 N.C. 524, 103 S.E. 2d 714; Funeral Service v. Coach Lines, 248 N.C. 146, 102 S.E. 2d 816; Hyder v. Battery Co., 242 N.C. 553, 89 S.E. 2d 124; Cox v. Freight Lines, 236 N.C. 72, 72 S.E. 2d 25.

When a motorist 'approaches an electrically controlled signal at an intersection of streets or highway®, he is under the legal duty to maintain a proper lookout and to keep his motor vehicle under reasonable control in order that he may stop before entering the intersection if the green light changes to yellow or red before be actually enters the intersection. Likewise, another motorist following immediately behind the first motorist, is not relieved of the legal duty to keep his motor vehicle under reasonable control in order that he might not collide with the motor vehicle in front of him in the event the driver of the first oar'is required to stop before entering the intersection 'by reason of the signal light changing from green to yellow or red.

*514A careful examination of 'all the evidence -adduced in tibe trial below fails to -reveal -any evidence tending -to show that the plain-tiff stopped ihetr ear on the -occasion involved' while the signal light was green for her. On the -other hand, the evidence- of -the plaintiff -and defendant tends to- show that as the plaintiff -was approaching the intersection, controlled by electric signals, but before reaching the intersection, the green light changed to yellow -and the plaintiff brought her ciar -to a -stop juisifc before entering the intersection.

G.S. 1-180 provides that in charging the jury the judge “shall declare and -explain the law arising on the evidence given in the case.” In our opinion, the law as applied in the foregoing portions of the charge, to Which the plaintiff excepted ian-d assigns as error, did not arise on the evidence given in the trial 'below. Farrow v. White, 212 N.C. 376, 193 S.E. 386; Andrews v. Sprott, 249 N.C. 729, 107 S.E. 2d 560; Carswell v. Lackey, 253 N.C. 387, 117 S.E. 2d 51; Motor Freight v. DuBose, ante, 497.

The attorneys for the appellant have no-t brought forward and argued in their -brief plaintiff’s assignment of error to the action of the court below in .allowing the motion- of defendant John Cothran for judgment ias of nonsuit. Consequently, this 'assignment of error will be taken as abandoned. Rule 28 of the Rules of Practice -in the Supreme Count, 254 N.C. 783, at page 810.

The plaintiff is entitled to a new trial, and it is so ordered.

New 'trial.