Left turns are a necessary evil when driving a car.
They can seem dangerous.
They can seem complicated and nerve-wracking.
But, they don’t have to be.
There are ways to make sure your left turns are safe, too.
This article will dive deep into best practices, details, tidbits, practical, actionable steps you can take, and safety tips for how to turn left while driving at different kinds of intersections.
Left turns have great potential to be insanely dangerous, and sometimes they can be downright complicated, nerve-wracking, difficult & confusing for new and experienced drivers alike. Let’s jump right into it.
Jump to a section:
- Overview of Left Turns
- Turning Left on a Green Light
- Approaching the Intersection
- Is Your Light Fresh or Stale?
- Turning Restrictions (Restriction Signs)
- Where Are You Going?
- When You’re Stopped Waiting for the Light to go Green
- People and Pedestrians
- Check Out Oncoming Traffic
- Keep an Eye on the Traffic Light
- When the Vehicle in Front of You is also Turning Left
- When the Oncoming Vehicle is also Turning Left
- Can You Turn at the Same Time as an oncoming car?
- When it’s Too Easy
- Turning Arrows
- Left-Turn Signal Lights
- Point Of No Return & Yellow Lights
- Leaving The Intersection When the Light is Yellow
- Left-Turn Hand Signal
- Can You Turn Left on a Red Light?
- Can You Turn Left on a Green Light Without an Arrow?
- Additional Resources
How To Turn Left At An Intersection
Left Turn Yield On Green
Turning left at an intersection will likely be one of the most common driving maneuvers you’ll do in your life. It happens to also be one of the most dangerous. There are a lot of little details to remember when turning left at a light, and these turns can be difficult for new drivers. We will go through:
- How to turn left at a traffic light intersection safely
- Left turn tips & tricks, best practices
- Step-by-step tutorial
- Left turn FAQ’s
- Turning restrictions, turning arrows
How To Turn Left at a Traffic Light
Turning Left On a Green Light
When you turn left at a traffic light, you can 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. You must 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. 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. Not the traffic to your left and right either. This is the whole idea 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.
Tips To Turn Left: Approaching The Intersection
Fresh Or Stale?
When approaching the intersection, consider whether the light is fresh or stale.
If you know it is stale, be prepared to stop if the light goes to yellow.
Consider whether you’re past your point of no return.
Knowing this may play a factor in how you decide to control (or are ready to control) your vehicle’s speed.
Turning Restrictions On Your Left Turn
Make sure there are no turning restrictions.
Are you allowed to turn left?
If it’s not legal or not legal at that date/time then there’s no point in checking anything else.
Behold the no left turn sign
Where Are You Going?
The first thing to do is to check the area you are planning to turn into.
Make sure there is actually somewhere to go. This might sound obvious, but this is important.
Simply find out where you are going, where exactly is the lane you’re going to end up in after your turn?
There may not be an available space due to:
• Traffic Congestion
• Another reason
If there’s no where to go, then you can’t go there.
*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 applicable (if the light turns yellow, you won’t be ‘trapped’ in an awkward position in the intersection or blocking pedestrians).
Remember you might also be able to ‘turn left’ by turning right 3 times instead.
For Example: Marine Drive and Heather Street
For example, you might think you’d like to turn left here. At first it looks like a normal intersection.
There is no love for the left turn here. Read on for more tips to turn left!
Complicated Intersections: Garden City Road in Richmond
Here’s another example. Granville and Garden City in Richmond.
It’s not really a typical intersection. If you’re in the left turn lane it might not be immediately obvious where you are supposed to end up.
When You Are Stopped Waiting at the Traffic Light
If you’re stopped waiting at the red light in the left turn lane, it might be a good idea to check out where you’re supposed to end up turning. Especially if you are the first car at the light.
It’s always good to set a good example for others. Just exactly where are you going to go?! Make sure you know the correct answer.
This is the same intersection here–>
Okay here’s one more. I already covered this but if you check here you’d find 3 ‘Do Not Enter’ signs and 2 ‘Do Not Turn Left’ sign.
More juicy tips to turn left safely…
Check For People Walking & Pedestrians
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. If you still need to work on your basic left and right turns, read this.
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. Of course, we hope that never happens. But we need to realize that it could. It happens every day.
When 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.
Say you waited 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.
When 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 or awkward angle on the wrong side of the road.
Check Out Oncoming Traffic
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, and if it’s safe and there are no pedestrians then go before it.
Read more about space management in driving.
Keep An Eye On The Traffic Light
Keep an eye on the traffic light. Note especially the traffic light on the left side of the intersection since it’s in the general direction you should be looking.
Leave the intersection only when you are 138% sure it is safe. Turning left is considered generally complex and dangerous, since you are turning across the lanes of the oncoming traffic.
This light is also lower than the regular one, and can help so much on a sunny day, when you have your sun visor thingy down blocking the regular normal traffic light.
This left light is your friend.
You definitely have to do some multitasking when you’re turning left.
New drivers often pay attention to the oncoming traffic without noticing their light has changed, sometimes leaving them hanging out in the intersection longer than necessary.
When The Vehicle in Front of You is Also Turning Left
If there is a car in front of you turning left, wait behind the white line in case the light turns yellow. When the vehicle turns, and the light is still green, treat it as you would any other green light.
When the intersection is very wide/large 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).
Keep in mind you don’t have to enter the intersection if you don’t want to when there is another vehicle in front of you. This is difficult to make suggestions about because it depends a lot on the size of the intersections and vehicles, and other circumstances, so use your best judgment.
When The Oncoming Vehicle Also is Turning Left
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.
Drivers are allowed to pass around to the right of a left turning vehicle and continue straight through the intersection. The longest you would wait is the time it takes for the light to turn yellow or red.
When the light goes yellow, wait for any cars that may be racing through – or casually meandering as the case may be – 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.
Can You Turn at The Same Time?
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?
Not that eye contact would help too much, but you can often tell a lot about the intended plan for the vehicle by looking at the driver. Wait until it’s clearly obvious the car is planning to turn left—then proceed.
Also, you do not ‘have to’ go at the same time.
If you’d really like to play it super duper extra extra extra safe, wait for the other car to go and then go after it. That is perfectly fine.
Tips to turn left: Make sure the vehicle is actually going to turn right before you move. Even then, you can not trust that they’ll go into the lane they are supposed to.
It’s not wise to turn at the same time
Sometimes It’s Too Easy
Have you almost had enough of the tips to turn left?
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 — Please don’t!
Flashing or not 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.
When the light turns yellow, treat it like the point of no return, just as you would if you were going straight.
Say 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.
You would only stop and stay stopped behind the line if you had a good reason to do this, such as a red light, or traffic congestion. We have a few more tips to turn left.
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.
The Point of No Return & Yellow Lights
The idea of the 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, simply complete your left turn quickly as soon as it is safe (as above).
Leaving The Intersection When the Light Goes Yellow (And Then Red As They Do)
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 practicing A LOT!)
Then you must leave the intersection quickly. Do not hang out in the middle of the intersection!
Some new drivers don’t get the greatest tips to turn left and are told not to leave until safe, they end up on the extreme opposite where they are stopped in the middle of the intersection long after it’s been safe to leave, and this isn’t good either.
Tips To Turn Left: Hand Signal For Left Turn
Do you know what to do if your signal light burns out? You can check this article out for a reminder how to do your proper hand signals when driving.
Can You Turn Left on a Red Light at an Intersection?
You can not turn left on a red light if you’re turning onto a two-way street (it’s illegal).
You may turn left on a red light from a one-way street onto another one-way street or from a two-way street onto a one-way street. Treat as you would a right turn on a red light. You must completely stop and yield to others before proceeding. Of course, check for turning restriction signs.
So check with your local laws, as this info is relevant to beautiful British Columbia. And always remember, you never have to turn on a red light.
Can You Turn Left On a Green Light Without an Arrow?
Some intersections have left-turning arrows that don’t last as long as the green light. Yes you can turn left on a green light without an arrow, as long as you’re still facing a green light, and not some kind of a red one.
Turning left isn’t always fun, but if you must know how to do this, may as well do it safely. With enough practice you will get more confident with them and it will be just another driving skill.
However if you do this wrong, it can be very dangerous. Don’t take chances with your left turns. Err on the side of caution. And remember, the longest you will wait is for the light to change. You won’t be there all day, so just be patient. Time to read about turning right at a traffic light?