How to Turn Left at Traffic Lights

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Basic info

When you turn left at a traffic light, enter the intersection only when the light is green. You can turn left on a red light only if it is onto a one-way street and only if you stop and yield first to determine safety. If you are approaching a red light and want to turn left, make sure you are in the correct lane and stop behind the white line. Wait for the green light or green arrow. When turning left at a traffic light, you should not have to worry about pedestrians in the crosswalk in front of you, or the traffic to your left and right. This is the whole point of having traffic lights. Always be cautious, but remember that your primary focus is on the oncoming traffic facing you and the pedestrians in the crosswalk to your left.




Traffic signal anticipation

When approaching the intersection, consider whether the light is fresh or stale Traffic Signal Anticipation. Then make sure there are no turning restrictions.

Where to check first

1) The first thing to do is to check the area you are planning to turn into and make sure there is a space and simply to find out where you are going to actually end up turning.* There may not be an available space due to:
• Accident
• Construction
• Backed up traffic from the next light
• Film set
• Other reason

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*If there is no space, go to the next light and turn left, or wait behind the white line for the traffic backup to clear (if the light turns yellow, you won’t be trapped in an awkward position in the intersection or blocking pedestrians).


2) Check for pedestrians. If there are people walking (or about to walk), move forward to around one-third of the way into the intersection; position the car so that you will have a short and easy turn into your lane without getting in the way of an opposing left-turning vehicle. Wait until pedestrians are out of your way and almost on the opposite sidewalk. Keep your car and your tires straight in case you get rear-ended. If the light turns yellow or red, exit the intersection when safe. (If you enter an intersection when the light is green, you can leave the intersection legally when it is safe, regardless of the traffic-light color. If you wait behind the white line when the light is green, and it turns yellow or red, legally you must stay there, and you may be there all day). If you’re unsure whether or not a person is going to walk, wait to see what they do. This is safer than turning and finding out they are walking, then having to stop at a difficult angle on the wrong side of the road.

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Oncoming traffic

3) Yield to any oncoming and conflicting traffic. Left turns have zero right of way in this situation. No one should have to stop and wait for you when you are turning left. Left turns yield to right turns if there is one lane. If there is more than one lane, stagger it to be safe. In other words, time it so that when you are turning there is space beside you rather than the right-turning car. Follow a few seconds after the right-turning car or, if the right- turning car is very slow and far away, go before it.

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Keep an eye on the traffic light

4) Keep an eye on the traffic light. Note especially the traffic light on the left side of the intersection since it’s in the direction you should be looking. Leave the intersection only when you are 130% sure it is safe.

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Vehicle in front of you also turning left

5) If there is a car in front of you turning left, wait behind the white line in case the light turns yellow. If the vehicle turns, and the light is still green, treat it as you would any other green light. If the intersection is very wide and you can fit most (at least three-quarters) of your car in front of the crosswalk, then you may pull forward behind another vehicle. Legally, you are considered to be in the intersection. If the light changes to yellow, leave when safe (as above).

For more detailed information: How many cars can wait in an intersection for left turns?

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Oncoming vehicle also turning left

6) If there is a left-turning car facing you and your visibility is diminished, or anytime you aren’t 100% sure it is safe, then wait patiently and keep your car straight. The longest you would wait is the time it takes for the light to turn yellow or red. Wait for cars racing through then leave quickly when safe to do so. Never turn unless you know it is safe and are sure that oncoming vehicles are planning to stop. There is no need to watch them stop completely but you must be sure they intend to. If other drivers behind you honk, ignore them. The safety decision is yours, not theirs. The consequences will be yours, not theirs.

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Oncoming vehicle turning left

6a) When a left-turning car is facing you, and there is no oncoming traffic (and you can clearly see that there is no oncoming traffic) nor any pedestrians in the crosswalk, you should have lots of room to safely turn at the same time. Make sure that the other car is showing a left-turn signal and that the driver is actually going to turn left. Drivers sometimes have their turn signals on but then go straight, and this is a very good way to have a crash. Judge the car—is it slowing down? Can you make eye contact with the driver? Wait until it’s clearly obvious the car is planning to turn left—then proceed.

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Oncoming Vehicle Turning Right – Just one example:






 Make sure they’re actually going to turn:



Easy turns

7) If there’s a space to move into, no pedestrians, no oncoming cars, and a green light, slow to 20 km/h, quickly scan the intersection from left to right, then turn and look where you’re going. You don’t have to stop first.

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Flashing arrows

8) Flashing green arrows (left-turn arrow): Everyone else, including pedestrian, has a red light. If pedestrians walk while you have the flashing arrow, honk your horn and ask them to move out of the way quickly. If the light turns yellow, treat it like the point of no return. If the arrow disappears and you still have a green light, move forward into the intersection just as you would at any other green light that never had the arrow.

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You can still turn left just like your normally would, even after the arrow has gone. Just treat it like you would any other left turn.

9) Left-turn signal lights: Stop behind the line and when the light turns red wait for the next green arrow. Turn left when the light changes to green. All other conflicting traffic and pedestrians will be facing a red light.

Point of no return & yellow lights

10) Point of no return is the same as going straight. If the light turns yellow and you can still safely stop behind the white line, then do so. Otherwise, if you are past the point you can safely stop, complete your left turn.

  • learner

    What if you want to make a left turn (from a single left turning lane) and the oncoming traffic lanes across the intersection has two left turning lanes, do you have to wait for the cars in the rightmost (from their side) lane to finish turning before you go (because they go so far into the intersection) or can you turn at the same time?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Which intersection are you thinking of, is this at Cambie and Marine?

  • Conner

    If the left turning light is red, the straight through light is green, and there’s no oncoming traffic, is it legal to turn left?

    • BCDrivingBlog


  • learner

    what happens if you came to the light on a green and wait it out (cars still going) and then it turns yellow but there are pedestrians still walking?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Honk your horn (this asks them to hurry up as they don’t really have any rights to be there, though you can not just run them over of course) and start turning/moving so you are ready to get out of the intersection as quickly as possible after they are gone.

  • Ravana Hamzayeva

    today at 3 pm I had a road exam. No failed, all was excellent. 6 times left – 5 left turn not noted on paper only, last one noted. turn, instructor stopped on the road and asked questions about hazards. End when I did left turn traffic light was yellow and was my way, suddenly one driver cross the intersection on yellow where he was to far from intersection outcoming car and traffic light was red. For my safety I wait for a gap and another cars started to move. Instructor with Jayson at Point Grey ICBC office claimed that I failed to block the pedestrians where that time wasn’t any pedestrian. Another driver where ICBC handled him driver licence didn’t gave me way to proceed and for my safety I wait for gap. After all I asked instructor to call manager he refused that there is no manager in office about road exam. This is DISCRIMINATION. I lived in Europe several years never meet such things where I got it in Canada where claim itself zero level DISCRIMINATION.

    • BCDrivingBlog

      I am sorry you had that experience, I am not sure what exactly you mean happened… If you’re in the intersection and the light goes yellow and red you must leave as quickly as you can once it is safe.. is that what you mean?!

  • Ash

    I sometimes find it hard to judge the speed of oncoming cars when waiting to turn left. Does this just come with practise?

    I’ve been honked at for not turning when I should have (by the time I realise that I should have turned, the cars are closer and Ive missed my chance). I know being cautious is preferable to turning and causing an accident, but It knocks my confidence everytime I get honked. I also get nervous now when I’m the lead car waiting to make a left turn, as I’m so conscious of not annoying the drivers behind :(

    • BCDrivingBlog

      I think this does get better with practice yes! I recommend not to just left turn on your way to where you’re going, but go specifically and practice the left turns for 1 hour or 45 minutes, that way you get some actual experience. And then do that again and again until you feel more confident.
      The other thing that may complicate this is when you’re new at driving, the time it takes you to actually turn may take longer than a more experienced drivers’ would (if your turn is slower, you’ll need a bigger gap); if you find this is part of the problem, go into a residential area and practice turning without the traffic lights until you feel like you can do them with your eyes closed, and then add the traffic light. It’s unnecessary stress – and probably a bad idea – to do the traffic light turns otherwise.
      Keep in mind huge trucks and other vehicles carrying fragile or dangerous cargo must wait for bigger gaps in traffic – and there is nothing the car behind can do about that. The choice is always up to the driver and not the vehicles behind.
      What I would do is put my rear-view mirror onto the night position so that the driver behind can’t make eye contact with me and I won’t be distracted by his arms flailing around in the air if that should happen. The truth is people can be generally impatient, downright rude, unsympathetic and wrapped up in their own world. It is for sure a hostile learning environment at times. But there is one way to get better at your left turns and that is to turn left. JUST IGNORE THEM. I know this is hard but consider turing left the wrong way is such a brilliant way to cause a very painful collision. And if you get into a collision that guy who honked is just going to go home and you’ll be the one with all of those awful consequences.
      Just try not to worry about the other people too much. It is impossible to please everybody. There will always be someone who is unhappy even if you are doing everything right. For example the other day the driver behind me was angry and swerving around behind me because I was driving 30 km/hr in a 30 km/hr school zone. Does this mean I am going to speed in a school zone just to make him happy? NO!! There have been many times people honk at me (and at other driving instructors) when I’m driving in my own car on my own spare time for waiting on a left turn. I just don’t care what they think of my decision because it’s MINE and not theirs. And in my 15+ years of driving I have never had a left turning collision and this is one of the many important reasons why. I can’t count the number of times the car behind has honked, either. I would need a really big calculator to add it all up. Just keep practicing and keep it SAFE.
      Just think about it this way: Do you want to have a crash, or do you want to do a safe turn with the sound of a car horn in the background? Pick one.

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