Intersection For Left Turns – How Many Cars Can Wait Inside?

Good question

Right Turns At Intersections Demo
Right Turns At Intersections Demo

Question time. How many cars can wait in an intersectionOpens in a new tab. for left turnsOpens in a new tab. you ask?

This is a rather controversial subject. And it’s partly because ICBC Opens in a new tab.does not answer this question anywhere in their literature.

That’s why it’s here. I thought I would take a stab at it. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt.

The short answer is: well, it depends on the size of the intersection and the size of the vehicles.

Basic Turning Left Opens in a new tab.Concepts

How many cars can wait in the intersection for left turns…

Say you enter an intersection when the light is green. You’re then allowed to leave the intersection when it is safe. The traffic light may be green, yellow, or red at the time you decide it is safe; the color no longer matters. I assume we can all agree on that much.

In terms of how many vehicles can enter an intersection at a time, consider the definition of a yellow traffic light. Opens in a new tab.

Any vehicle that is…

Not yet inside the intersection AND

Facing a yellow traffic light…

is required to stop before the white stopping line as long as it’s safe to do so.

Any vehicle that has not entered the intersection on a green light…

…is legally not allowed to enter the intersection and turn left once the light has gone yellow or red.

Traffic lights legally control vehicles that are approaching intersections… not vehicles already inside the intersection.

Car 2 from its position can not legally turn leftOpens in a new tab. once the light has gone yellow:Opens in a new tab.

intersection for left turns

Additionally, stopping on top of the marked crosswalkOpens in a new tab. is a strange place to be.

In this position, you are often not yet inside the intersection, so you can not leave the intersection legally once the light has gone yellow or red.

And, it’s illegal to reverse Opens in a new tab.once you’re in this position; and potentially irate pedestrians would ensue.

Car 3 should not stop on the crosswalk, in case the light turns yellow:

left turn intersection

On a larger intersection, there is no reason why more than one vehicle can’t pull into the intersection (although, you don’t have to pull into it if you don’t want to).

Car 2 is legally inside the intersection. Car 3 is waiting behind the white stopping line in case the light goes yellow.

vehicles in intersection

There is nothing that says you must pull into the intersection if you are in the second (or third) vehicle.

Use your judgement, common sense, and consideration for the individual location.

Here is a not perfect, but not too bad example. Clark Drive and East Broadway in Vancouver is a larger intersection.

Car 1 has pulled forward an adequate amount in order to line up with where he’s going to turn and to ensure a short turn into his new lane (better if he keeps his car perfectly straight in case of a rear-end collisionOpens in a new tab. though).

Car 2 (the van) is inside the intersection, and car 3 is waiting behind the line. Overall it looks fairly decent:

how many cars can wait

When the light goes yellow, Car 1 and 2 can leave the intersection, but Car 3 can no longer legally move.

This, on the other hand, does not look decent at all:

left turn at busy intersection

What is car 2 doing in that position?

It is not far enough forward to be considered ‘in the intersection.’

If it turned with the red car once the light went yellow, it would be an illegal turn.

If it stays there when the light goes yellow, it’s blocking the pedestrians. And, it is illegal to reverse on a crosswalk.


For left turns, you really want to be in the intersection, or not in it, not half way between being in it and not in it. If that makes any sense. There are companies that instruct their drivers only to allow one vehicle in the intersection at a time.

I agree that this is the safest option. But, I also acknowledge that there is no specific law that says anything about this. So we really need to understand the Motor Vehicle Act Opens in a new tab.completely in order to answer this question the right way. If in doubt, just wait.


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.

5 thoughts on “Intersection For Left Turns – How Many Cars Can Wait Inside?

  1. Strange. When I was taught (3 decades ago in Ontario) we were told to never enter an intersection to turn left until it was clear of other cars….in other words, only one vehicle past the stop line at a time waiting to turn left. It is rare to see this happening in Vancouver. There seems to always be a solid line of cars waiting in the intersection to make left turns. This creates a danager. One day when I was starting to make my left after the light had just gone red, I noted an oncoming car not responding to his red light, running right through…I had to hit my brakes hard to avoid being t-boned…but then got whacked from behind when the following car didn’t react in time making his left turn….he was hanging out with me in the intersection.

  2. When entering the intersection and waiting for the yellow light to turn left and there are oncoming left turners blocking my view, can I turn left a little to get a better view of the left most lane of oncoming traffic and stop there? Or is it either a. required that the car be straight or not permitted to pass the center line?
    For example this intersection shows a car waiting with the car 25-50% over the center line.,-79.4214071,3a,75y,357.82h,76.59t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sEB3FFH6r3FQGFNFW0tkWiA!2e0!5s20110801T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    1. It is better to keep the car straight just in case you were to be rear-ended. Most instructors teach that if your visibility is blocked, simply wait until the light changes to yellow/red and leave then when it’s safe.

  3. Most people are stupid. They pass their driving test and forget about keeping up with new laws. Or reviewing old laws. If the laws or knowing the laws by themselves were the answers to bad driving. This could easily be solved by commercials. But bad stupid driver get licence.

  4. The trick to being “in” the intersection is that there are lots of intersections where the marked crosswalk is well back from the actual edge of the intersection.

    “In” or “inside” the intersection is actually determined by where the lateral curb lines (or edges of the road, if curbs are absent) are located. It has nothing to do with crosswalk lines. Also, what if the road is covered with snow?

    From the Definitions section of the BC Motor Vehicle Act:
    “intersection” means the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of the 2 highways that join one another at or approximately at right angles, or the area within which vehicles travelling on different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.

    Another thing about being “in” the intersection is this. Suppose the front of your car were protruding a metre past the curb lines and a vehicle driving in the curb lane is approaching from your left and strikes the corner of your car. Was your car in the intersection? Absolutely. You don’t need to have three-quarters or the full length of your vehicle past the curb to be “in.”

    As regards how far to advance into the intersection while waiting at a green light to turn left, generally the farther you move forward, the shorter your path to turn, but the harder it gets to keep track of the light and — most crucially — the harder it gets to see past a large vehicle waiting across from you to turn to his left. Having a safe view generally trumps having a shorter turn.

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