How to Turn Left at Traffic Lights

How to Turn Left at Traffic LightsHow to Turn Left at Traffic Lights

Basic info

WWhen 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


*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.



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.



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.



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?



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.


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.



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.



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.



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.

Leaving the intersection when the light goes Yellow (and then Red)

Of course, it is fine to wait until you are 120% sure it’s safe to leave the intersection, before turning left – even if that means waiting until the light has gone red before you leave (if you’ve already entered the intersection). HOWEVER! As soon as you are sure it’s SAFE to turn (and this is a judgement thing, which you can get good at by practising A LOT!) Then you must leave the intersection quickly. Do not hang out in the middle of the intersection!! See my rant on exiting intersections on yellow/red for new drivers.

Carmen became an ICBC-approved driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver and has spent many years working with a vast array of drivers around the lower mainland. She can be found reading the Motor Vehicle Act for fun while receiving strange looks from others. May the quest for great driving continue!
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  • ErikRP

    There’s a lot of confusion it seems about what happens when cars from opposite direction approach an intersection and each wants to turn right. I’ve seen graphics showing that the cars should pass each other on the right as shown in your graphic above (Oncoming vehicle turning left) but I’ve also seen graphics showing that the cars should pass each other on the left, i.e. go around each other.

    I can understanding the reasoning for each. Passing on the right is the most direct route to the intended lane, however it creates a greater chance of not seeing traffic behind the oncoming vehicle(s) turning left. Passing on the left seems to be appropriate as it aligns you better for the intended lane however requires more space to execute the pass.

    I wonder if it can vary by situation, e.g. go around on the left if there is a wide median but on the right if it’s a regular intersection like shown? Or perhaps if turning onto a multi-lane road rather than just 2 lanes (one in either direction)?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Yes I think it depends on the particular intersection. In BC anyway there are so many different types and sizes of intersections, so it’s difficult to say that you should always turn left a certain way because there are so many variables.

  • Chandra

    In the last video, there was a car approaching to turn right as the light turned yellow. Normally they would have the right of way, but if I am already in the intersection to turn left and the light changes, should they yield to me? I see that the driver in that video turned left ahead of the approaching car.

    • Chandra

      I’ve now read the “rant” page which answered my question for me. Thanks for this great blog, very helpful!

      • BCDrivingBlog

        you’re welcome, glad it helped!! Yeah turning left like that is tricky, and takes a lot of practice to get really good at anticipating the other driver and doing the safe thing with confidence. Always err on the side of caution, esp. when turning left. Anyway, happy driving practicing and awesome left turns to you!!

        • Chandra

          Thanks! I passed my road test yesterday and some of the tips from your blog definitely helped. :)

          • BCDrivingBlog

            Nice work!!! Congrat’s :)))

  • Luisa

    And how can I be sure the incoming car won’t go? Bc if I were to turn left and they would go there would be an accident

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Well, you can never be sure that they won’t go, but when it goes green arrow for you, you can hesitate for a moment and make sure the others are yielding before you go.
      Turning left is dangerous so do be very careful. Never turn left until you are 130% sure it is safe.
      If it’s only 99% sure, then don’t do it.

  • Luisa

    So after I get in the lane to Turn left at an intersection and it turns red do I stop and so do the incoming cars stop And then it turns green, how do I know if i turn first or the incoming car goes ? Do I have to wait till I see a green arrow?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Hey, are you thinking of a particular intersection?

      If you’re going toward the intersection and the light goes red then you have to stop before the line unless it’s not safe to stop. The oncoming cars usually have the same yellow/red light as you so they are supposed to stop as well.

      When the light goes green if it’s just a regular green light without an arrow, then normally the oncoming traffic has the same green light as you at the same time and they will go straight and you have to yield.

      If you get the green arrow, that means the oncoming cars have a red light, and the pedestrians have the don’t walk sign, so you should be able to just go.

      Of course, always scan and look for people who are trying to do things that they shouldn’t.

      It might help just to stand on the edge of an intersection and just observe the patterns and the behavior for 10 mins.

      Not all intersections are the same, so if you’re thinking of a particular one, let me know the street names so I can give you a more precise answer.

      Let me know if that helps :)

      • Luisa

        Thank you thanks exactly what I was asking!(:

        • BCDrivingBlog

          no problem. Oh, and sometimes the light goes to green arrow for you, and the oncoming cars also will have the green arrow, so they also start to move but they are turning left so you can go at the same time. If you have a green arrow the cars oncoming who wanna go straight, will have a red light. OK, happy practicing!! :)

  • Mike

    Hi. I took my motorcycle road test yesterday and passed. But I got called out on how I was performing left turns. My riding school drilled into us to not enter the intersection until we were sure we could proceed immediately through the turn…not to enter and wait like a car does. This is because of the vulnerable nature of motorbikes to getting hit by cross traffic not seeing you there.

    In the test, I stopped at the line, waited for a gap in the oncoming (heavy) traffic but none ever appeared, even had steady line of cars coming through the late yellow…had to wait through a second light cycle before I felt it was safe. . My tester told me this is absolutely the wrong procedure…. I still feel this is the better option for a motorcycle. It is technically against the law or just not ideal for traffic flow?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Hi! I wrote you a long answer here: (or see main page) Hope it helps. By the way, CONGRATS!! On your motorcycle license … Drive carefully!

  • simplex

    I know my question is irrelevant but what is the backgournd music for the first video?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      I get all my music from Kevin MacLeod because it is free and copyright free and can be used on YouTube’s no problem. That song is called NoGoodLayabout.

      • simplex

        Nice! Thank you!

  • new driver

    Qusetion Re: Left turn off hwy, no intersection, no lights:
    There is a shopping plaza in the north end of my city (Nanaimo) that I enter off of the north-bound highway. To do so, I use a designated left turn lane off the highway and cut across the south-bound hwy traffic, into the plaza. When using this lane, it makes sense to slow down and yeild to oncoming traffic, but is it wrong to stop before crossing the south-bound lane, like to come to a complete stop? should I not yeild at all if I can see no oncoming traffic, just keep driving? If you can provide any assistance on this, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Hi, can you tell me the road names/or address just to make certain? Usually if you have no actual stop sign/red light in that case you just yield. So if there’s no oncoming traffic or pedestrians/bikes or anyone else you simply turn without stopping. It would be considered “wrong” to stop by a lot of people if there is no reason because there’s a risk of being rear-ended by the car behind you, who is not expecting you to stop if they see absolutely no reason at all to do so, and most experienced driver’s don’t stop unless there is a good reason!! :)

  • ryanjm

    i just failed my N road test because my instructor said i was not going the speed limit of 50km/h. I was maintaining speed of 45-48 on city roads because it was rush hour and there was alot of traffic. He also said i got a violation for being in an intersection on a red light. I was turning left so i entered the intersection on a green and waited for a good sized gap to turn but there were lots of cars turning right so i had to wait for them to merge as it was a single lane road i was turning on to. As i was waiting the light turned red and cars were still turning right so i was stuck until i had room to merge. I thought i am legally allowed to finish my turn when SAFE? And its legal to be within 5km/hr of the speed limit right? I dont think i was failed for legit reasons, is there any way to contest it?

    • BCDrivingBlog

      Sorry to hear. I’m not sure about the speed, the appropriate speed depends on so many things; some examiners are more picky than others. I would think 45-48 would be close enough. I guess it’s better to go 50 km/hr or 49 km/hr if conditions are good. I am not sure if you can talk to the management at the road testing facility and ask for an explanation or a re-test.

      As for the left turn. When the light first went yellow and then red where was your car? Was it still in the exact same spot, not moving at all? This is a difficult situation because those right turning cars are facing the same yellow/red light as you and legally they are supposed to be stopping before the intersection once the light is yellow, allowing you to leave. However they have bad habits and will happily turn anyway, especially if it looks like the driver of the left turning car doesn’t really want to turn left too badly and is fine sitting in the middle of the intersection almost forever.

      If there are still many right turning cars trying to happily turn after the light has gone yellow or Especially red, that is when you need to start leaving the intersection anyway; at least get the car moving forward, at the very least take your foot off the brake and put it towards the gas pedal, and Do either honk at the right turning car that is obviously not supposed to be turning at that moment, and/or start turning and turn after the last right-turning car whenever it is safe. In that case it’s Okay to start rolling towards your turn, as long as it’s obvious those cars are turning right and not going straight. But you do not want to stay completely stopped inside the intersection. In large intersections the other traffic facing the green light would start to go in certain cases and this would leave you in a dangerous spot. Not to mention like I said about the right turing cars, they might think you’re day dreaming so it’s Ok for them to turn before you. You gotta show them that you seriously want to turn left and you are seriously thinking about it and getting ready.

      The same goes for pedestrians who are happily BEGINNING to cross the crosswalk right when the light goes yellow/red and you’re turning left. They have no right to be there at that moment, that is your moment to leave the intersection. So similarly in that case if I was driving I would start my turn, honk the horn, and then turn after they are out of the way; and I believe that’s what they want to see on the road test as well.

  • jharold

    turn left is uncontroll trafic., car A turning left into mall., mall entrance have 3 line, one is for exit
    car B turning right into mall but the van over the height limit of the mall.,
    car A turn left behind car B while 2nd line of mall entrance is free.,
    car B backing into the right side and almost there but car B front bumper driver hit the front bumper passenger side of car A.,

    car B did not expect car A.,
    cause there a entrance for car A and that is 2nd line.,?

    whos is fault.,?

    cambie left turn uncontroll traffic in oakridge mall

  • malia

    I recently failed my driving test, one of the things I did badly was turning left at a 90 degree angle. The examiner wrote “your turns are not wide enough” so does that mean I turned too early? If so, how do I know when I should start turning my wheel and how much? should I drive a little bit before i start my turns? Would love your advice

    • BCDrivingBlog

      excellent question. I have been meaning to write an article on this and I will do soon, it will make more sense with some diagrams. It basically means you “cut the corner” or started to turn the steering wheel too soon/too early so your car was possibly going across the wrong side of the road a bit when you turned, and that would be a problem if there was a car coming on the new road, your car might get too close to the other car. So you just have to keep the steering wheel straight a bit longer before you turn and/or pull forward more into the intersection before you start to turn. I will post soon about this topic!

      • malia

        Please do! will keep checking for this (my retest is next month and so i will take any advice I can)

        • BCDrivingBlog

          Ok, will be a few more days :)

  • 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.

      • Fireflies

        I needed to hear this. Thank you so much for supporting newbie drivers who are still learning confidence and their footing on the road. It helps a lot!!

        • BCDrivingBlog

          No problem I’m glad it helps that’s why I made the website I just want to help the new drivers! It aint easy being a new driver these days! :)

    • fireflies

      This exact same thing just happened to me today! Two things I learned from it—when to turn and how HORRIBLE it feels to be honked at for missing the open gap. Can’t change the past, so I’ve just learned to pay it forward. I keep practicing my turns and I make sure I myself don’t honk at other drivers who miss their “gap.” Spread kindness and keep growing :)

      • BCDrivingBlog

        That’s great to hear (That are you going to practice a lot)!! Yeah just remember that no one is perfect and we are all human and everyone who is driving was once a new driver a long time ago and what goes around comes around :) Safety first!!