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

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Good question

Question time. How many cars can wait in an intersection for left turns you ask?

This is a rather controversial subject. And it’s partly because ICBC 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 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.

Any vehicle that is…

  1. not yet inside the intersection AND
  2. 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 left once the light has gone yellow:

intersection for left turns

Additionally, stopping on top of the marked crosswalk 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 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 collision 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. 😆

BC Motor Vehicle Act:

Turning at intersections

165  (1) If the driver of a vehicle intends to turn it to the right at an intersection, the driver must cause it to approach the intersection and then make the turn as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.

(2) When the driver of a vehicle intends to turn it to the left at an intersection where traffic is permitted to move in both directions on each highway entering the intersection, the driver must

(a) cause the vehicle to approach the intersection in the portion of the right side of the roadway that is nearest the marked centre line, or if there is no marked centre line, then as far as practicable in the portion of the right half of the roadway that is nearest the centre line,

(b) keep the vehicle to the right of the marked centre line or centre line of the roadway, as the case may be, at the place the highway enters the intersection,

(c) after entering the intersection, turn the vehicle to the left so that it leaves the intersection to the right of the marked centre line of the roadway being entered, or if there is no marked centre line then to the right of the centre line of the roadway being entered, and,

(d) when practicable, turn the vehicle in the portion of the intersection to the left of the centre of the intersection.

Green light

127  (1) When a green light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle facing the green light

(i)  may cause the vehicle to proceed straight through the intersection, or to turn left or right, subject to a sign or signal prohibiting a left or right turn, or both, or designating the turning movement permitted,

(ii)  must yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or in an adjacent crosswalk at the time the green light is exhibited, and

(iii)  must yield the right of way to vehicles lawfully in the intersection at the time the green light became exhibited, and

(b) a pedestrian facing the green light may proceed across the roadway in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, subject to special pedestrian traffic control signals directing him or her otherwise, and has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

(2) When a green light alone is exhibited at a place other than an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle

(i)  may cause the vehicle to pass the signal, and

(ii)  must yield the right of way to a pedestrian still in the roadway or on a crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal when the green light is exhibited,

(b) a pedestrian still in the roadway or on a crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal when the green light is exhibited must proceed as quickly as possible from the roadway, and

(c) a pedestrian must not enter the roadway in the vicinity of the signal until either

(i)  the traffic control signal facing the vehicular traffic exhibits a red light, or

(ii)  a traffic control signal instructs the pedestrian that he or she may cross the roadway.

Yellow light

128  (1) When a yellow light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal, following the exhibition of a green light,

(a) the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection and facing the yellow light must cause it to stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before entering the intersection, unless the stop cannot be made in safety,

(b) a pedestrian facing the yellow light must not enter the roadway, and

(c) a pedestrian proceeding across the roadway and facing the yellow light exhibited after he or she entered the roadway

(i)  must proceed to the sidewalk as quickly as possible, and

(ii)  has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

(2) When a yellow light alone is exhibited at a place other than an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle approaching the signal must cause it to stop before entering the nearest marked crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before reaching the signal, unless the stop cannot be made in safety, and

(b) a pedestrian must not enter the roadway in the vicinity of the signal until either

(i)  the traffic control signal facing the vehicular traffic exhibits a red light, or

(ii)  a traffic control signal instructs the pedestrian that he or she may cross the roadway.

Drive Smart BC – Making a Left Turn at an Intersection


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