Yellow Lights & Left Turns & Right Turns
Question: Right of way in an intersection question. If car A is in an intersection turning left and car B is turning right coming from the opposite direction, and the light turns amber, car B has the right of way to turn then followed then by car A correct? If there is a car C behind car B who also tries to turn right directly after car B turns right, does car C also have the right of way before car A turns? My understanding is that if there is an amber light and since car C is not already in the intersection when it was a green light, then car C does not have the right of way. They need to stop at the intersection before proceeding to turn right as long as it is safe to do so. Is this correct?
The short answer is
The short answer is: The only time Car ‘B’ has rights to go before Car ‘A’ is when the light is still green, or, if the light has gone yellow and Car ‘B’ is past his point of no return and can not safely stop the vehicle before the stopping line due to its speed (which should be kind of slow anyway if he’s planning a turn yes?), the proximity to the intersection, the unsafe/too close vehicle behind him, or the weather/road conditions.
The long answer is:
Traffic Lights Control Who?
Technically speaking, traffic lights control vehicles (or are legally supposed to control traffic) that are approaching the intersection; not ones that are already inside the intersection.
Once inside the intersection
Once already inside the intersection – or appropriately pulled forward into it – it is the job of the left-turning vehicle to turn only when absolutely safe to do so, regardless of the colour of the traffic light. The traffic light has no legal consequences for that vehicle nor does it intend to control it. Having said that, this is by no means a ticket for the right-turning cars to do whatever the $%^ they want and leave the left-turn car hanging in the middle of the intersection forever. That would be rather rude wouldn’t you say.
The Motor Vehicle Act on Yellow Lights:
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,
Right of Way Language Disclaimer
We also must watch our language here. It is dangerous to assume that someone “has the right of way.” This makes it sounds like you can always just assume that you can go in certain circumstances. In the laws (and in practice, I would recommend to think more like this), the language describes situations in which one vehicle should yield to another; not that it’s actually going to happen. This implies that while of course there is a certain thing that is supposed to happen, it’s still your job to observe what is actually happening and react to prevent a collision, regardless of which driver may have done something they were perhaps not supposed to have done; or even at times when there may have been a perceived grey area in which drivers were not 100% sure what to do and so they just ‘rolled with’ a decision. No pun intended. Ok it kind of was.
Right of Way Basics
Clearly, the law says that Car ‘B’ and ‘C’ must stop before the intersection unless the stop can’t be made safely. So as long as they can stop, then they should, and then Car ‘A’ can go. If it can’t be made safely, then Car ‘B’ can complete their turn while Car ‘A’ yields and then turns directly after.
Car ‘C’ is definitely required to stop before the intersection. I can not really imagine a case where Car ‘C’ would not be able to stop in time. Cars must slow down before turning right anyway, so the ‘point of no return’ will be much closer to the intersection at 20 or 25 km/hr when compared to a regular car who is planning on going straight through the intersection; the speed of that car might be more like 50 km/hr. Not to mention, there should be at least 2-seconds of space between Cars ‘C’ and ‘B’; add the car length of car B onto that and the guy has 3 seconds to stop. That’s oodles of time if you ask me. Even if ‘C’ is following too closely I can’t really imagine how it would not be able to stop in time. It really has no right at all to turn the corner without stopping at the line and yielding AT LEAST to Car ‘A’, first; not to mention any pedestrians and traffic who will then be facing a green light & walk signal after that.
Red & Yellow Traffic Lights
Yellow means Stop. But Red Light also means stop and yield to everyone; don’t forget that!!
Car ‘B’ might be able to make a case for completing his turn due to being past the ‘point of no return,’ however, likely it will be slowing down before turning anyway. So if it is very close to the turn and it is actually past the point of no return, then – well this is just my opinion – it will be already long gone by the time the driver of Car ‘A’ even has a chance to move their foot from the brake to the gas and/or start rolling through his turn. Otherwise, it should stop before the line and Car ‘A’ can go as soon as the driver is certain it is cool.
The following is just one example but generally what we want to see. It seems to me the right-turning vehicle is a bit aggressive here (I can tell partly because it stops on top of the crosswalk and only because it had to in order to avoid a crash) and if the left-turning vehicle had not been a bit assertive by starting to move, the right-turn would have happily continued through and completed his turn without stopping; which would have been positively illegal.
Hope that all makes sense.
Please drive safely everyone
Thank you for the great question, Van.