How many cars can wait in an intersection for left turns?

Good question

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 LeftOpens in a new tab. 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.

So, how many cars can wait in the intersection?

I really don’t know the answer to this


Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada.

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