How to Turn Left at a Traffic Light Safely – 21+ Epic Tips

Turning Left

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:

  1. Overview of Left Turns
  2. Turning Left on a Green Light
  3. Approaching the Intersection
  4. Is Your Light Fresh or Stale?
  5. Turning Restrictions (Restriction Signs)
  6. Where Are You Going?
  7. When You’re Stopped Waiting for the Light to go Green
  8. People and Pedestrians
  9. Check Out Oncoming Traffic
  10. Keep an Eye on the Traffic Light
  11. When the Vehicle in Front of You is also Turning Left
  12. When the Oncoming Vehicle is also Turning Left
  13. Can You Turn at the Same Time as an oncoming car?
  14. When it’s Too Easy
  15. Turning Arrows
  16. Left-Turn Signal Lights
  17. Point Of No Return & Yellow Lights
  18. Leaving The Intersection When the Light is Yellow
  19. Left-Turn Hand Signal
  20. Can You Turn Left on a Red Light?
  21. Can You Turn Left on a Green Light Without an Arrow?
  22. Conclusion
  23. 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

how to turn left at an intersection

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 lightOpens in a new tab. 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

Tips To Turn Left: Approaching The Intersection

approaching 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

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:

An Accident/Crash

• Construction

• Traffic Congestion

FilmingOpens in a new tab.

• Another reason

tips to turn left

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.

But if you check, you can see that you could turn right, but not left. (Marine Drive and Heather, Vancouver).

There is no love for the left turn here. Read on for more tips to turn left!

no where 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.

complicated intersection

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–>

Richmond Intersection

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.

No turning left signs

More juicy tips to turn left safely…

Check For People Walking & Pedestrians

Check For Pedestrians

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.

car tire

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.

more tips for turning left
Left Turn Tutorial
Left Turn Tutorial

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.

tips to turn left

Keep An Eye On The Traffic Light

traffic lights

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.

eye on traffic light
lower traffic light

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.

wait behind line for intersection

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.

left turn visibility blocked

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.

left turning at the same time

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!

turn left easy

Turning Arrows

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.

left turn 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

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

yellow traffic light

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. Opens in a new tab.

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 I Turn Left On a Red Light?Opens in a new tab.

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.

Conclusion

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?

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Carmen

Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

64 thoughts on “How to Turn Left at a Traffic Light Safely – 21+ Epic Tips

  1. Hi. I had a question about turning left on an intersection. When I try to turn left and there are other cars turning left (but on the other side of the road facing me) as well how do I complete the turn since my view of oncoming traffic is not visible. Should I just try to move as far left as possible without entering the lane of oncoming traffic? I know I can’t just blindly turn left and hope for the best so what do you suggest?

    1. If you can’t see then you can’t turn.. You have to wait for the yellow/red and then leave cautiously and as quickly as possible once you see it’s safe. Sorry for the very late reply to this.

  2. Hi. In regards to the point about when a left-turning vehicle is blocking your visibility of the oncoming traffic (particularly, oncoming traffic on the leftmost lane), I’ve been told to “roll” forward and turn the wheel to see clearly and farther. However, this method bothers me…because of the possibility of being rear-ended, and thus, I should be keeping my wheel straight and wait (as you said in your post).

    There was one time when left-turning vehicles were blocking my view of the leftmost lane. Even though it seemed like there were no cars, I still did not go, because I couldn’t see far enough of the leftmost lane to anticipate the distance of a potential oncoming car. I got honked at for this. What should I do? Some people would turn the wheel a bit such that their view is not obscured by the left-turning vehicles…but as I mentioned previously, there is the whole risk of potentially being rear-ended.

    (Btw, discovered your blog recently, just wanted to say it’s been a big help reading your posts!)

    1. Hi! That’s great and I am glad it has helped.
      Yes this situation does seem like it is an unpopular predicament. When I was teaching driving lessons I would get honked at pretty much every day for this reason. But I still told the driver to wait. It just is not safe to blindly turn or to “roll” forward . There could be anything coming including a fast moving motorcycle, or any other vehicle that you can’t see. And since green usually means go for them, chances are they aren’t slowing down to look for you before they go thru the intersection although this is a good idea.
      Personally what I do when I am driving is switch my rear view
      Mirror to the night position. This way the person behind me doesn’t distract me if they start flipping out or waving their arms around and stuff like that in addition to honking! Also they can’t see your face either so I find this is helpful to say focused on the task. It’s very simple … You are at a traffic light so that means the longest you’ll wait is for the light to go yellow/red. You won’t be there for an eternity so you really have no good reason to rush or feel pressured. Your job is to turn left safely that’s it. The decision to turn as well as any associated consequences belong to YOU… Not anyone else, especially not the person driving behind you. If they are in a rush, that is their problem for not leaving enough time for their journey; it’s not your fault nor your problem. Sometimes the person behind you is in a much larger vehicle that has a better view than you do. But still, I don’t think they have a right to honk and tell you to move it. You’re not in their vehicle you’re in yours, it’s different, and how do you know for sure if they aren’t honking for another reason? You have no idea who they are or if you can trust them… Do they really think they can just honk and then the person in front will say “Oh thank you for honking, I was just waiting to hear the horn sound so I knew exactly when it was safe to blindly turn left which is one of the most dangerous things a car can do.” Really??? Haha sorry I got carried away. I guess I could have just said “you’re right… Just ignore them.” 😂😂😂

      1. Thanks for the reply. And it’s okay! I appreciate the long post, it helps validate that what I’m thinking (despite it being different from what drivers on the road are doing) is what I should be doing.

        1. Yeah. For sure if people want they can start rolling forward and getting their vehicle on strange angles and stuff if they choose to (although that won’t go over well on a road test)… How often do people get rear ended while they’re turning left??? I am not sure but probably not too much. But still. Is it worth the risk ??? That’s the question each driver has gotta ask him/herself. Also in the eyes of the law.. a car turning left has no case to turn left if it’s not safe and will likely be found at fault – at least partially – in the case of a collision that resulted from their left turn…

  3. Quick question: a car is coming from the North in the single left turn lane with a green turn arrow to turn onto a 2 lane street (intersection is Hwy 97 & 15th Ave in Prince George), is it OK and or legal to just go almost straight and try and enter the frontage road (Central St), or is the car supposed to enter the 1st/closest lane the make a safe lane change to the right lane then maybe turn right at Johnson St.

    1. Hi, The car is supposed to keep to the left lane. However… if it turns into the left lane it can then immediately change lanes if safe – almost in one fluid motion without even driving along in the left lane for any amount of time (so it kind of just touches the left lane sort of thing) – as long as it’s safe and the turn indicator is on, and it’s not crossing any solid white line, then it’s legal.

      1. I don’t have to mention… If there’s a car trying to turn right on the red light, even if you have the green left arrow.. It may become dangerous pretty quickly if they assume you’re going to stay in the left lane. What I usually do when trying to do this is change the turn signal to the right signal when you’re in the middle of the intersection, even just after you’ve begun your left turn just after it’s obvious that you are turning left.. then the right turning car can see it (maybe they will notice it.)

  4. 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)?

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

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

      1. 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!!

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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?

    1. 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 :)

        1. 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!! :)

  8. 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?

    1. Hi! I wrote you a long answer here: http://wp.me/p3gwdN-3WS (or see main page) Hope it helps. By the way, CONGRATS!! On your motorcycle license … Drive carefully!

    1. 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.

      http://incompetech.com/music/

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