Pull forward please, I also want to turn
July 23, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Why do so many drivers not move into the intersection when waiting to take a left turn on a green light?

I often find myself behind a car that does not pull into the intersection on a green light when waiting for a break in oncoming traffic to make a left turn. Obviously that practice means that cars behind that car are less likely to be able to turn before the light turns red.

Why is it that so many drivers engage in this practice despite it being inconsiderate to other drivers? Are they afraid for some reason of being in the intersection? Or were they not educated to do that? Or is there some other reason?
posted by Dansaman to Travel & Transportation (138 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're not supposed to be out in the intersection, hoping that you'll get that break in traffic so you can make that louie. If the light turns red before you have a clear path to turn, you'll be blocking traffic. That's why.

Also, don't turn your wheels in anticipation of the turn because if you get rear ended, instead of going straight, you'll be pushed into on-coming traffic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2013 [88 favorites]


It means that you're forced to turn left on a red light if there aren't any breaks in traffic before the light changes (and if people run the yellow, which is very common).

This practice is accepted (not sure if actually legal) in some areas but definitely illegal in others.
posted by randomnity at 11:52 AM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, what Ruthless Bunny said.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:52 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I seem to recall reading that this was often a regional thing, but it's also a safety issue - I was specifically taught NOT to do this since if you get stuck out there you'd have to turn on a red and possibly hang up the flow of traffic.
posted by brilliantine at 11:53 AM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was taught in Michigan driver's training that it is perfectly acceptable to pull into an intersection when waiting to turn left. If your light turns yellow and then red before you have been able to go, you may complete your turn once the light turns red and traffic has stopped. This practice is called "clearing the intersection."
posted by Juffo-Wup at 11:53 AM on July 23, 2013 [46 favorites]


Because it's safer to stay back and wait until there's a clear break. Being in the intersection may lead to having to run a red light if there is no break in oncoming traffic. Around here most drivers blow right through the yellow, leaving no time to make a legal left turn.

As an aside, I am legal to drive even though I am blind in one eye and have no depth perception. I am that driver ahead of you waiting in my lane for a clear, safe break in oncoming traffic. Because of my vision, it often takes me a tad longer than other drivers to feel safe. When the driver behind me honks at me, I tend to get distracted by other things inside my car and miss the light (if you know what I mean).
posted by PorcineWithMe at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Huh, I took driver's ed a long time ago, but I was definitely taught to pull into the intersection if the light is green, wait for a break and then go. I live (and drive) in Manhattan, and if you're not on it, you will never ever ever ever get to make that left.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


In Washington State, completing a turn on a red light is explicitly legal (one only has to enter the intersection before the red light). This prevents a blocked left hand turn lane because at least one car can turn on every red light.
posted by saeculorum at 11:55 AM on July 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


Where are you located? I think this is an urban/rural thing, probably. I, too, was taught to go out into the middle of the intersection which, though technically illegal, is widely tolerated around here ("here" being NYC). Why? Because there is often a non-trivial chance that, if you don't block the intersection and force everyone to wait for you to make your left, you will literally never actually be able to make the turn. I'd imagine that the practice is not as common in places where this is not frequently a possibility.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was taught to pull into the intersection. This was over 20 years ago. I still do it but over the years, depending where I'm driving and how busy it is do it less. Why? Over the years I've found it becoming more dangerous because it seems that the number of people pushing yellow, into red to get through the intersection has increased, making it more likely to get stuck and sometimes hit more prevalent. I
posted by Jalliah at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2013


You're not supposed to be out in the intersection, hoping that you'll get that break in traffic so you can make that louie. If the light turns red before you have a clear path to turn, you'll be blocking traffic. That's why.
That's wrong in in New York State:
You want to turn left at an intersection ahead. A vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction, going straight ahead. You must wait for approaching traffic to go through before you turn. You may enter the intersection, however, to prepare for your left turn if the light is green and no other vehicle ahead of you is preparing for a left turn (see "Turns" later in this chapter). When you enter the intersection, stay to the right of the center line. Keep your wheels straight to avoid being pushed into oncoming traffic should a rear-end collision occur. When approaching traffic clears or stops for a red light, complete your turn.
In fact, when you take the written test to get your Learner Permit, there is a question:
You want to turn left at an intersection. The light is green but oncoming traffic is heavy. You should:
  1. Use the next intersection.
  2. Wait at the crosswalk for traffic to clear.
  3. Wait in the center of the intersection for traffic to clear.
  4. Take the right-of-way since you have the light.
Answer three is correct. All the other answers are incorrect.

It's also wrong in the UK:
Only go forward when the traffic lights are green if there is room for you to clear the junction safely or you are taking up a position to turn right.
So I guess the answer to the OP's question is a mixture of regional variation and the precautionary principle.
posted by caek at 12:01 PM on July 23, 2013 [32 favorites]


As above, in Michigan it is perfectly legal to advance into an intersection in anticipation of a left turn. I've never been anywhere that it wasn't, and I've driven (on a long-term basis) in eight states, including New York.

As for why people don't... well, some people are fearful or inconsiderate. And others don't realize that you can.
posted by Etrigan at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Virginia driver here. I was taught to pull into the intersection more than 35 years ago. I, too, hate it when people don't.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pulling out into the intersection in preparation for a left turn is pretty common practice where I live. It's also common practice (for oncoming cars) to slow and stop on a yellow light, in order to give cars attempting to turn a chance to make their turn.

If you do happen to get stuck in the middle of the intersection after the light turns red, traffic will wait for you to make your turn.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you drive in the city you quickly learn it's the only way to clear some intersections.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was taught that this is correct behavior in driver's ed in Connecticut (mid-90's), and a quick googling suggests that it's legal in every state I've lived in since. The corollary to this maneuver is that everyone is also taught to let that person through when the light changes, and not just plow forward the second you have a green light.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2013


Also perfectly legal in California where there are no designated left turn lanes, and expected, especially in LA. Common practice is to pull up far enough to get two left-turning cars into the intersection. Drivers may not do it because they're used to different laws or they're overly passive, much like people who let others go at 4-way stops when they clearly have the right-of-way.

As long as you've entered on a green, being in the intersection on a red light is basically OK as long as you have a clear exit. Where it's problematic is if the lane you intend to enter after crossing the intersection is already occupied such that you cannot exit the intersection when the light turns red. That'll get you a ticket.
posted by LionIndex at 12:12 PM on July 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


It appears that there are a lot of regional differences of opinion on this matter. But I've also found that a certain percentage of "why do people do that" questions about driving can also be attributed to total idiocy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'll second KokuRyu but note that this is completely incompatible with places people run yellows/reds. Where I grew up, sitting in the intersection is common and running yellow/reds is uncommon. Since I've moved around, I've mostly been in places were the reverse is true - no sitting, lots of running (learned by getting stuck in the middle of the intersection with traffic flowing around me).
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:13 PM on July 23, 2013


I was also taught to pull into the intersection while waiting (grew up in AZ, now live in TX), but I have noticed over the past 5 or so years that almost nobody does it any more. I don't know if the law changed, but I also have another anecdote:

It turns out that the lights for both directions are not always synchronized. I was driving north and I pulled forward into the intersection and waited for the light to turn red, but the oncoming southbound traffic DID NOT get a red light - it was still green for them, but I didn't know it at the time. I think their left-turn arrow also activated at that time, which is why my northbound light turned red. But there I was, sitting in the intersection on a fully red light for me but the oncoming traffic was still coming. I of course cursed them all for running what I thought was their red light and tried to turn anyway - lots of honking and almost got hit.

So now I don't enter the intersection until it's clear to turn.
posted by CathyG at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also legal in Illinois (see page 22: "If you enter an intersection while the light is green, you may finish your turn even though the light turns red.")
posted by theodolite at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't forget the Left Turn On Red is legal in most places. Yes LTOR from a one way into a one way. ( Yes a one way means no oncoming traffic, but I hate people who don't know about this obscure rule)
posted by Gungho at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe some people mistakenly think there is a left turn arrow at that intersection?

Are they afraid for some reason of being in the intersection?

This doesn't seem like a mystery to me. At big, busy intersections it definitely feels more "exposed" to be out there. And almost all of the bad accidents I've heard about have been situations where a left turner was hit by a driver speeding through a yellow/red.
posted by mullacc at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was docked points for not doing this on my driver's test. It took me a few years to start pulling into the intersection because I'm a fearful driver and I found it to be a particularly frightening maneuver. But it is the correct way to do it, at least in my medium sized city in NY.
posted by lemerle at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because it's safer to stay back and wait until there's a clear break. Being in the intersection may lead to having to run a red light if there is no break in oncoming traffic. Around here most drivers blow right through the yellow, leaving no time to make a legal left turn.

You haven't run a red light if you entered the intersection on a green, and exit it on a red.
posted by wrok at 12:26 PM on July 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm in Michigan and as many have said, it's legal and pretty much required. However, in one intersection on my drive to/from work, I'm reluctant to do so - there are a lot of car drivers and truck drivers running yellows or reds at full speed, and cross traffic doesn't always wait to let you clear the intersection. I had the front end of my car torn off (literally to the firewall) by a pickup truck once* - I was trying to clear the intersection (properly according to MI law) and he ran the red, going 50 in a 35. You only need to have that happen once to really drive home the point that not everyone follows the law.



* Only got three bruises, one on each knee and one from the seatbelt. My Escort was a total loss. The pickup truck only lost a front headlight. I'm still thankful to have walked away from that crash so easily.
posted by RogueTech at 12:29 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was taught to pull into an intersection for a left turn (called an S-turn) by Young Drivers in Canada.
posted by whalebreath at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was taught in the 1960s (a) to pull out into the intersection, and (b) NOT to turn the wheel to the left until the oncoming traffic had cleared and I was ready to proceed. This is especially important at high-speed intersections. Reason: if you turn your wheels and then are rear-ended by someone, you will be pushed into the path of the oncoming traffic.
posted by beagle at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Totally regional. It's mandatory in Chicago, dumb verging on suicidal in Austin (where everyone runs yellows hard and the bigger intersections often have the staggered light patterns CathyG describes.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am curious where in the US it is illegal to do this? I don't really fault people for NOT doing it in most cases, but in every place I've lived it has been legal.

Why people don't? easy, it scares them a little, which is not an unreasonable reaction.
posted by edgeways at 12:34 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It depends on where you are. In California, it's not legally running a red light if you are turning left and were in the intersection when the light turned red. Most of the time, you're not going to get to turn left at all if you're not already in the middle of the intersection waiting.
posted by The World Famous at 12:34 PM on July 23, 2013


I don't pull forward in most circumstances. This is because I don't want to risk getting smashed turning on red. I also don't want 3-4 people behind me turning left on an obviously red light because that just holds up everybody.

This is in Chicago. I get honked at a lot. I don't care.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I used to pull into the intersection; it was how I was taught in NE Ohio in the 1990s, and I sometimes still do. I'm now a lot less likely to since I attempted to turn as the light turned red and some chuckle-head pulled out from the on-coming right lane traffic that was stopping, sped past the last second of yellow/first second of red, hit me, and, because I crossed into on-coming traffic, my insurance company found me at fault.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm unaware of the actual law here in Philly, but at the intersection by my apartment, the traffic camera will take your photo even if you enter the intersection on green and exit on red, resulting in a $100 ticket for running the light. Which is pretty good motivation for me to stay put until I have a very clear path.
posted by picklesthezombie at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Florida, you are supposed to stay behind the line, not go into the crosswalk or intersection until you are certain you can complete the turn on the green. That doesn't go over well with most other drivers.
posted by tilde at 12:47 PM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


You're not supposed to be out in the intersection, hoping that you'll get that break in traffic so you can make that louie. If the light turns red before you have a clear path to turn, you'll be blocking traffic. That's why.

If the light turns red, you just clear the intersection, as has been mentioned above. You're not stuck there, and cross traffic is not going to plow into you.

Being "out in the intersection" is the prescribed method of making a left turn in Florida. If people flying through yellows and reds is a problem, I just wait for oncoming traffic to stop and then clear the intersection. I really share Dansaman's frustration.

Also, if this is a road with only one lane going each way, not going out into the intersection blocks all traffic behind you that wishes to go straight.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:48 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know what North Carolina law is on this matter, but I was taught to do this. It was referred to as "claiming the intersection". I don't do it that often, because I don't trust other drivers at all. I will do it when I feel like it's reasonably safe. I've been ticketed three times in two days for an expired registration, but I've never been ticketed for claiming the intersection.

But it's obvious there are regional differences aplenty, so it's clearly not as simple as "you're not supposed to do that".
posted by Coatlicue at 12:48 PM on July 23, 2013


I usually pull out in the way others have indicated before.

However - if the intersection is unfamiliar to me and has some sort of visual interference (like a hill where I can't see opposing traffic that might run a yellow or red) or the weather is very foul, or if the intersection is known to have very frequent left turn accidnts (Monroe and Amsterdam in ATL I look at you) I will sometimes decide that discretion is the better part of valor and wait for the next opportunity.
posted by pointystick at 12:50 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating. I always assumed it was one of those illegal-but-tolerated driver moves that drivers with more balls than me made. I just did a search of the Nebraska DMV driver's manual and what we're discussing is not fully described as a legal move...and seems to be illegal. The only time the manual says it's allowable to turn left on red is when it's from a one-way street onto another one way street.
posted by ninjakins at 12:55 PM on July 23, 2013


I've found that at intersections that are busy enough for this to matter, it's frequently IMPOSSIBLE to clear the intersection, and you ARE stuck there, blocking cars and pedestrians. If some the traffic opposite you is turning right onto the same street you're trying to turn left onto, it may back up enough that you have nowhere to go.
posted by peep at 12:56 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


NY Metro area driver here who appreciates that this is the only method in many cases to actually make the turn. But, having driven daily into and out of Manhattan I also think that if you are too scared to make normal driving maneuvers, you ought not be driving at all.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I got pulled over in Oklahoma for doing this because I had to complete the turn on red. So I only pull forward if I know I can make the left turn now. Not sure how this varies across the USA, and I'm not even sure if the cop was right to pull me over in Oklahoma. I just don't risk it anymore because it's made me skittish.
posted by uncannyslacks at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2013


Here are what I assume are the correct steps in making a proper left hand turn.

1) Check if space is available in the lane you're turning into before entering the intersection.
2) If space is available, enter the intersection
3) Make the left turn when available or when the light turns red.

I was making a left hand turn and I had entered the intersection. The light turned yellow so I cleared the intersection. The car behind me decided to follow me (when he had the ability to stop) to turn left. The car behind him was a police car and he pulls him over to ticket him but not me, because I had entered the intersection appropriately on a green light and exited when the light was turning red.

I think the one thing that drivers fail to do when making left or straight through a busy intersection is to check the amount of traffic ahead of them.
posted by DetriusXii at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2013


I was taught no to, since one could block the intersection AND get a ticket, especially if the light turned red and/or you blocked the intersection. I was taught that if you go when the light turns red, it is an illegal move.
posted by buzzieandzaza at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2013


driver's ed in Connecticut (mid-90's)

Me too, well, early 90s I guess, and I don't remember being taught to do this, or to specifically avoid it. Now I will do it, or not, depending on the intersection. (Amount of traffic, physical setup of intersection, likelihood of the oncoming drivers to smash into me.) If it would be dangerous to pull forward and/or turn left, I won't do it, and I really don't care whether someone behind me thinks I should. If it will make it easier for me to turn and not put me at risk, I will. It is really common in some places for the first two cars at a red light to go straight through it, so I don't want to be turning left on red as they come through. Nor do I want to be in the way of the drivers coming from the side, who often aren't checking to see who's in the intersection when their light turns green. If you drive in a place where lots of people are entitled and have massive SUVs they erroneously believe to be crash-proof, that could be a reason drivers do not want to turn left (or any other direction) into their path.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:03 PM on July 23, 2013


[Folks, the providing-regional-details thing in the context of the question is narrowly okay but this needs not to descend into just generic traffic habit chatter or "and you know what bugs me is..." stuff, please remember this is askme and not a chatroom.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:04 PM on July 23, 2013


My husband (learned to drive in Indiana) does this and insists it is correct. I (learned to drive in Virginia) am aghast because of the possibility of being left out there if a break does not present itself. I think it's a regional thing. People (other than my husband) generally don't seem to do this in Alaska.
posted by charmcityblues at 1:05 PM on July 23, 2013


Living in Hollywood in my 20s/30s, we used to joke that you could pick out the bridge & tunnel crowd (well, no bridges or tunnels in LA, but we meant suburbanites) by the fact that not only did they not turn left after the intersection cleared on the yellow/red, but in fact they would back up out of the intersection in order to try again unsuccessfully on the next green.

I always credited it to timidity, but maybe they were from jurisdictions in which it was prohibited. But backing up? eek.
posted by janey47 at 1:08 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't always pull into the intersection. If the traffic going the opposite direction is light, I'll pull in. If it's rush hour, I never do. Especially if the light has a green arrow. There have been countless times where I witness a car blocking traffic once the light turns red. Personally, I think it's a pretty unsafe and selfish move. Again, only if it's rush hour.
posted by morning_television at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I vividly remember getting this question wrong on my written drivers test, 20 years ago. I assumed it was illegal to pull into the intersection, but not only is it legal, it is the proper procedure (NY State, anyway).

I too am annoyed by people who don't do this, because at a busy intersection during rush hour, you are almost guaranteed to sit through 2 or 3 red lights before the driver who won't pull out feels it safe to turn.
posted by Roommate at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It appears that there is no substantiation at all for the repeated assertion here that you're not "supposed to" pull ahead to wait for an opening while turning left (or, in the UK, right). Therefore, the answer to the question at the top of the page appears to be that some people do not pull ahead to wait to turn left because they erroneously and without any legal basis believe that they are not legally permitted to do so.
posted by The World Famous at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was taught not to do this (mid 90s in Virginia) because it:
- blocks the intersection
- makes things dangerous and tricky for pedestrians
- is dangerous because sometimes (often times or most of the time) people in traffic in the opposite direction suddenly speed up to make a yellow (or outright red) light
- hinders visibility for people also making left turns opposite you (traffic in other direction)
- and that generally, it's better to be a patient rather than impatient driver.
posted by raztaj at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2013


Note that there's a difference between pulling into the intersection when prepared to make a left turn (legal and proper), and pulling into an intersection when going straight but traffic is backed up in front of you (illegal). It's the second scenario that would cause you to be blocking traffic when the light turns red.
posted by Roommate at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or is there some other reason?

Whether I pull into the intersection or not is often determined by the width of the road and the angle of the intersection. If pulling forward means I'll have to make a tight turn, I'd rather sit back and take the corner a little wider.
posted by zinon at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2013


Straight through traffic doesn't clear until after its red and into the green on cross traffic on the heavy intersections near me. If you are sitting in the middle of the intersection until after the straight traffic is clear you are now impeding cross traffic. You will get honked at and run into.
posted by TheAdamist at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


It really depends. I do it all the time in Atlanta, but people here drive like lunatics. I too have no depth perception, so I'll wait until I feel safe. Feel free to honk, that's my finger you see.

In San Francisco you can't "Block the Box" so if you get stranded, enjoy your ticket and the love and appreciation of people stuck in gridlock.

So what we've learned here is that different people do it differently. My thought is, waiting won't hurt you, so if the person ahead decides not to chance it, that's his or her perogative.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Last time I took the driver's test (in Florida) it was required that you pull into the intersection, wait for the light to change and traffic to clear, and then make your left turn. Like others above, I'm still much annoyed by folks who don't do that, and find the certainty of some comments above rather alarming.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:18 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, just chiming back to say good luck with that in Atlanta rush hour traffic. Frequently taking the intersection on green and hoping for cross traffic to clear is just a really nice thing you think is going to happen. It may be LEGAL but it often lands you in illegal territory (blocking the intersection) partially if not wholly because everyone else is busy running the light or traffic is just so heavy.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another reason to not pull into the intersection is being able to see when the light changes. Often times I'm unable to see the light, at all, once I'm in the intersection. So I play it safe and stay far enough back to clearly see the light (which is often well back from the crosswalk).
posted by zinon at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you are stuck in the intersection when trying to turn left because oncoming traffic has not cleared, how is it your fault that the intersection is blocked? Even if you weren't there, the oncoming traffic would still be blocking the cross traffic. And once that is cleared, it takes you at most a few seconds to take your left turn, then you aren't blocking traffic. I don't understand this argument.
posted by Roommate at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Want to know how to upset Ambulance drivers?

Get in the way of them making through an intersection at rush hour. If you're parked in the middle of the intersection, they have to swerve around you. You know who that's really fun for? The dying guy in the back of the wagon.

Why don't I pull out? Because that is not on my list of ways I can bear to envision myself dying. Also, because as a pedestrian, I like to pretend that people making that left hand turn are also looking for me, instead of just the gap in the flow of automobile traffic. Thirdly, because I don't get many chances to drive, not having a car of my own. How embarassing it would be to wreck someone else's car in an intersection!
posted by bilabial at 1:27 PM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you're parked in the middle of the intersection, they have to swerve around you.

Waiting ahead of the white line to turn left is not blocking the box, since light is green in your direction and the traffic going through the intersection is not blocked by you. If there's no break while the light is green, you turn immediately when it changes, thereby clearing the box immediately upon changing of the light.
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Watch what cops do. Here in Chicago, "everybody" pulls into the intersection, but I don't think that cops do.

It's become so ridiculous that when the light turns green, you have to wait for five cars to turn before you can go.
posted by goethean at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2013


Say you are facing south, and pull into the intersection to eventually turn left (east). The eastbound traffic, however, is backed up for whatever reason (I see this regularly when construction takes away a lane or screws up signal timing) so your light turns red and traffic heading north clears but you can't go anywhere. There's no way to turn left.

Meanwhile, the folks going west would have free reign to drive across the intersection on their green light, but can't because you (or you + the person behind you too) are in the middle of the intersection.

That's how it can cause gridlock.

I usually pull into intersections as described in the question, but there are some that I either know well enough to know they regularly cause gridlock, or don't know well enough to be confident I won't cause a problem, where I will wait behind the line. Just because something is legal doesn't require drivers to do it.
posted by misskaz at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Straight through traffic doesn't clear until after its red and into the green on cross traffic on the heavy intersections near me. If you are sitting in the middle of the intersection until after the straight traffic is clear you are now impeding cross traffic.

In the scenario you describe, it is the straight traffic that is running the red lights that is impeding cross traffic. If you make your turn as soon as the last straight traffic has left the lane you are turning into, you aren't blocking cross traffic, since you are becoming cross traffic yourself as you turn.
posted by enn at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to add another datapoint, it was recently made explicitly illegal to pull into an intersection for a left turn here in Burlington, VT and is rather aggressively enforced. I wasn't able to find find a copy of the actual law, but the first posting to this listserv digest sums it up.
posted by nixxon at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2013


Why?

Because many drivers were educated a long time ago, and this situation wasn't covered in Driver's Ed then. Nor were the re-educated in Traffic School (a great California institution that helps prevent these notions). Just look at the idiocy pushback among the nay-sayers here.

NY Metro area driver here who appreciates that this is the only method in many cases to actually make the turn. But, having driven daily into and out of Manhattan I also think that if you are too scared to make normal driving maneuvers, you ought not be driving at all.


Yes, yes, yes!
posted by Rash at 1:49 PM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, of course you can enter the intersection when the light is green, the right of way is yours. (Or technically, the other traffic has to yield their right of way to you.)

The only time you shouldn't do that is if the street you want to turn into isn't clear. That would be blocking the box. But only if the lane doesn't clear by the time the next green light comes on for the lane you are in. You've got the whole other green light cycle to wait for traffic to clear.

The only other time you wouldn't enter the intersection in preparation to turn left would be if the intersection has a red left turn arrow. There are some regions where almost all intersections have these restrictions, so maybe people are just so used to waiting for an explicit left turn signal that they don't notice they can go if they want to.

But ultimately, the argument is moot, because you can't complain what the person in front of you does with their right of way. As long as there isn't a law that says you MUST enter the intersection when turning left, drivers are free to wait behind the line if they please. Same as not making a right on red if you don't want to.
posted by gjc at 1:49 PM on July 23, 2013


That's how it can cause gridlock.

Where more than two cars go after the light turns red, that means all those additional cars crossed the white line after the light turned - in other words, those cars were not waiting in the intersection, and they all illegally ran the red light.
posted by The World Famous at 1:49 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't think it's actually addressed in the PA DMV driver's handbook, but what frequently happens is that at least two cars will follow the one already in the intersection, which is very dangerous and which does cause a back-up, especially when they're blocking cars trying to turn the other way across the intersection. I would be curious if anyone had any more experience with this in Pennsylvania.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:50 PM on July 23, 2013


but what frequently happens is that at least two cars will follow the one already in the intersection, which is very dangerous and which does cause a back-up, especially when they're blocking cars trying to turn the other way across the intersection.

Exactly. The danger and the gridlock are caused by the drivers who were not in the intersection waiting to turn left and who ran the red light.
posted by The World Famous at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity and because I don't know what the law is in Delaware I tried to look it up and I still can't tell. No wonder people are confused.

It sounds like you're not supposed to because the Delaware driver's manual says "If you are turning left, make sure there are no vehicles or pedestrians blocking your path. You do not want to be caught waiting for a path to clear while stuck across a lane that has oncoming vehicles coming towards you."
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2013


Where more than two cars go after the light turns red, that means all those additional cars crossed the white line after the light turned - in other words, those cars were not waiting in the intersection, and they all illegally ran the red light.

I'm not talking about additional cars. I'm talking about a situation where the car(s) that entered the intersection to turn left actually did so when the light was green because hey! I'm not an idiot and I understand the terms of the question. But the street they are turning into is so backed up that there's nowhere for them to go once it time for them to turn. And thus, they are stuck in the middle of the intersection well after their light has turned red and until the backed up traffic starts flowing.
posted by misskaz at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought it was one of those, you can do it but it isn't required, things. Like turning right on red. Yeah, you CAN, but do you HAVE to?

Learned something new today!
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:57 PM on July 23, 2013


Just to add another datapoint, it was recently made explicitly illegal to pull into an intersection for a left turn here in Burlington, VT and is rather aggressively enforced. I wasn't able to find find a copy of the actual law, but the first posting to this listserv digest sums it up.

From your link: You cannot enter an intersection until the way is clear on the other
side and you can exit the intersection completely.


That sounds to me to be more about going straight through the intersection when there isn't enough room to get all the way through before the light changes. The intent is to keep people from adding to an obvious traffic jam and blocking cross traffic, so presumably they don't want you doing the same in the left-turn situation, but only when the lane you're turning into isn't clear.
posted by Etrigan at 1:57 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned to drive in rural Indiana and was taught to do this. I now live in rhode island and people don't do it all the time, probably because they have a very realistic fear that someone will plow into them.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:01 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: Waiting ahead of the white line to turn left is not blocking the box...

If an emergency vehicle approaches, how do you expect to make way for it if you are in the middle of the intersection? There are numerous ways, but as far as I am concerned, none of them are safe.

The World Famous: Where more than two cars go after the light turns red, that means all those additional cars crossed the white line after the light turned

You've misunderstood what misskaz wrote. She was talking about traffic on the street you are turning into.

There is no jurisdiction of which I am aware in which drivers are obliged to enter the intersection when turning across oncoming traffic, just as drivers are not obliged to make right turn on red. These are conveniences to be exploited when it is safe to do so.

So, while you may find it very annoying, it is up to each individual driver to decide whether to take advantage of these latitudes where they exist.

Personally, I would be pissed off if somebody honked at me for not entering the intersection when turning left (fortunately, nobody has yet been dumb enough to do this). If I've learned anything in 25 years of driving it's this: if you can't be patient, you belong in the passenger seat.
posted by rhombus at 2:03 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


This maneuver is dangerous and contributes to cars hazardously ignoring pedestrians. Why? Left turns on green, after a (potential) left turn signal has already elapsed, are frequently concurrent with a walk signal or unsignalled pedestrian right-of-way crosswalk perpendicular to the left turn and are contingent upon there being no pedestrian trying to cross. If the car pulls into the intersection and there's no gap until the red light, the driver is left with only two options: take the left regardless of whether or not there are pedestrians (dangerous) or stay hanging out in the intersection (dangerous). Cars aren't the only ones around, y'all.
posted by threeants at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the car pulls into the intersection and there's no gap until the red light, the driver is left with only two options: take the left regardless of whether or not there are pedestrians (dangerous)

When the light turns red, the pedestrian light will also turn to "Don't Walk."

Arguably, this means that it is better from a pedestrian-safety standpoint to turn left after the light has turned red than while the light is green, because there are less likely to be pedestrians in the crosswalk (obviously, none of this applies if the intersection has a specific left turn arrow signal, but most around here do not).

I am very frequently the pedestrian who has to deal with cars turning left across the crosswalk and ignoring my right of way, it is very aggravating, and 100% of the time it is while the driver has a green light, because by the time the light turns red, I am no longer in the crosswalk.
posted by enn at 2:15 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


When the light turns red, the pedestrian light will also turn to "Don't Walk."

Not necessarily. In some places, the cycle goes NS drivers (no pedestrians), EW drivers (no pedestrians), all pedestrians.

I do it if I believe I will be able to get through the intersection on the light, but not if I am unsure.
posted by jeather at 2:21 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, right; I meant that if you wait for the gap but then have to wait for pedestrians crossing and miss the rest of the green, you could get stuck in the intersection. So basically the same deal. (Although as jeather notes, there are all sorts of configurations.)
posted by threeants at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2013


I was also disturbed by this:

Dansaman: Obviously that practice means that cars behind that car are less likely to be able to turn before the light turns red.

and

Tanizaki: I really share Dansaman's frustration.

First, there should never be more than one vehicle in the intersection waiting to turn left at any one time. If the light turns yellow and you're not in the intersection, tough beans. You stay put and wait until the next green.

Second, I read the Florida statute a little differently. Specifically, it says

(b) Left turn.—The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at any intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of such vehicle, and, after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction upon the roadway being entered.

Nowhere in that paragraph does it say that the driver should enter the intersection while waiting to turn. It describes the lanes to be used when approaching and leaving the intersection, and nothing more.

Show me a jurisdiction in which a driver is obliged to enter the intersection when waiting to turn left. I routinely enter the intersection when preparing to turn across oncoming traffic -- when it is safe. When it is not safe (and it is not safe more often than you think) I don't.
posted by rhombus at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


@rhombus: Then you're disrupting left turning traffic if you never enter the intersection. At minimum, one car should be able to make a left turn per green light interval, provided the lane the driver is entering is clear. By not entering the intersection, you're blowing the chance to take one left turn per green light interval, which will cause the drivers behind you to get annoyed that you're holding up traffic.
posted by DetriusXii at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2013


Show me a jurisdiction in which a driver is obliged to enter the intersection when waiting to turn left.

In the absence of evidence that such a jurisdiction exists, I'm inclined to modify my previous answer as follows:

It appears that some people do not pull ahead to wait to turn left because they erroneously and without any legal basis believe that they are not legally permitted to do so and other people do not do so because, though they realize that they are legally permitted to do so, they believe (probably correctly) that they are not obligated to do so and they have decided, usually for safety reasons, to exercise their option to wait behind the line until they determine that the way is clear for them to turn.
posted by The World Famous at 2:41 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Second, I read the Florida statute a little differently...Nowhere in that paragraph does it say that the driver should enter the intersection while waiting to turn.

Having a license to practice law in Florida, chances are good that I have you at an advantage in this regard. The statute is rather straightforward to me. The statute lays out the steps of (1) approach the intersection (2) enter the intersection and (3) make the turn. If it were one fluid movement, there would be no need to mention entering the intersection because obviously the intersection will be entered while making the turn.

Remarkably, I found that this statute has a reported case in Florida, State v. Y.Q.R., 50 So.3d 751 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010). However, it does not address this particular issue.

When it is not safe (and it is not safe more often than you think) I don't.

When are these times when it would not be safe to enter the intersection? If other motors are obeying the traffic signals, no one should be crashing into you.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:57 PM on July 23, 2013


This is fascinating. I always assumed it was one of those illegal-but-tolerated driver moves that drivers with more balls than me made. I just did a search of the Nebraska DMV driver's manual and what we're discussing is not fully described as a legal move...and seems to be illegal. The only time the manual says it's allowable to turn left on red is when it's from a one-way street onto another one way street.

That's not the same thing. What is illegal is *entering* an intersection when the light is red.

But in the scenario at hand, you entered the intersection when the light was green and you had the right of way. Clearing the intersection after the light turns red is not a violation, it is what you are supposed to do. You are not blocking the box if your intended lane was clear when you entered the intersection.
posted by gjc at 3:04 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


If an emergency vehicle approaches, how do you expect to make way for it if you are in the middle of the intersection? There are numerous ways, but as far as I am concerned, none of them are safe.

You do what you always do: get out of the way as soon as you can. You can't be trapped, because in order for the emergency vehicle to get anywhere, the other traffic has to yield too. So when they clear out, so do you.
posted by gjc at 3:10 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I took driver's ed in Michigan, and was taught to enter the intersection and turn left when possible, even if the light was red.

An excerpt from the Michigan State Police website FAQ's

The bottom line is, unless it is dangerous to stop, you must stop when the light turns yellow. The only exception is when you are preparing to make a left turn and you are already within the intersection. You can complete your left turn after oncoming traffic has stopped, even if the light turns red.

This means to me that you can do this in Michigan.
posted by Stewriffic at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2013


It's illegal in Oregon:

Blocking Traffic
Before you start through an intersection, crosswalk, or railroad grade
crossing, be sure there is room on the other side for your vehicle. Even
if you have a green light, do not start across an intersection if it causes
your vehicle to stop in the intersection and block other traffic or a
pedestrian crosswalk.


(Italics mine.)

Source: Oregon Driver Manual, page 44 (52 of the pdf)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:21 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(To clarify: in Michigan I was taught to enter the intersection when preparing to turn left, and turn when possible, even if that meant waiting till the light turned red. I didn't mean to imply that you should turn left on red willy nilly)
posted by Stewriffic at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2013


These days, the actual answer to the question of *why* people are only half attending to any aspect of their driving is because they are looking down at a screen and talking on the phone at the same time.

If you are sitting in the middle of an intersection you are exposed in multiple directions to other people's failures of attention. You should pay maximum attention in that situation. It is not the same as being stopped at (behind) a red light.
posted by spitbull at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2013


Actually, now that I read that again, maybe the "it" refers to the cars on the other side, in which case maybe it's not specifically against the law in Oregon.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2013


I see nothing about this maneuver in my 2011 California Driver Handbook. Nevertheless it was taught as legal (and encouraged) by the State Trooper leading my Traffic School class.

If it causes your vehicle to stop in the intersection and block other traffic or a pedestrian crosswalk.

But that's the thing, rabbitrabbit -- executed correctly, you're not blocking traffic or the pedestrian crosswalk -- just pull straight into the intersection, and then turn left when your light goes yellow or red. Else how will all of us waiting behind you ever get through?
posted by Rash at 3:27 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, page 91 of the State of Michigan publication What Every Driver Must Know has this:

If you have entered an intersection when the signal light
changes, complete your turn as soon as traffic clears.
Do not try to back up in an effort to avoid blocking the
intersection.
posted by Stewriffic at 3:31 PM on July 23, 2013


@Tanizaki: if you are a practicing lawyer, then you'll also know what a modal verb is and the difference between something being allowed and it being prescribed. Even if I accept your interpretation of the statute (I don't) there is no imperative in "and, after entering the intersection..."

Tanizaki: If it were one fluid movement, there would be no need to mention entering the intersection because obviously the intersection will be entered while making the turn.

If I make the turn from the stop line, when the light is green and after waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, it isn't a fluid movement either. That still doesn't oblige me to enter the intersection while waiting.

If other motors are obeying the traffic signals, no one should be crashing into you.

Truer words were never written.
posted by rhombus at 3:31 PM on July 23, 2013


executed correctly, you're not blocking traffic or the pedestrian crosswalk

I don't get how some people don't get it: sometimes (many times?) you CAN'T TELL at the point of entering the intersection whether you will be able to execute it correctly. You rely on other drivers not to block your path so you can continue your left turn. You HOPE that opposite right-turners don't fill up the street you're going to turn on.

And cops do not give one shit if it's "someone else's fault" that you are blocking the intersection, unable to complete your left turn.
posted by peep at 3:34 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Searching around online, what I find of the rule here [in Quebec] suggests that you cannot enter the intersection unless the way is clear to turn immediately. This is probably more honoured in the breach, but I don't think it's clearly the case that in all places it's even allowed to enter the intersection if you're not able to do the entire turn immediately.
posted by jeather at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2013


Moving into the intersection to take a left is legal here in CA. It's also harrowing when there's heavy traffic and/or you're sharing the road with people who are, to say the least, discourteous, if not actually breaking the traffic laws on their end. Unprotected lefts in heavy traffic in the Bay Area are a matter of Punch (the gas) and Pray (that you don't get in an accident or hit a pedestrian). Berkeley and San Francisco are the absolute worst, IME.

These days, I will make a U-turn or a series of right turns in order to avoid unprotected left turns in heavy traffic. I've had too many close calls. If that makes me a wuss or a bad driver, then so be it. Unprotected left turns in heavy traffic are legal, yes, but they're statistically dangerous.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


In San Francisco you can't "Block the Box" so if you get stranded, enjoy your ticket and the love and appreciation of people stuck in gridlock.

This isn't what 'blocking the box' means. Blocking the box is when you enter the intersection going straight, but don't get out because traffic is backed up from the next stoplight. (I wish they'd give tickets for this in Minneapolis. There are some roads where the bus misses multiple lights because of idiots entering the intersection.)

As more data, I learned to drive in Illinois in 2002 and was taught to enter the intersection to wait to turn left. (Though I'm actually not very good at judging how far into the intersection to go, perhaps because I drive very rarely, so I'm sometimesk ind of timid about it.)
posted by hoyland at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually got pulled over once after I'd pulled into an intersection when the light was green, then turned when it was yellow-turning-red. I got off with a warning, but I mostly stopped doing it after that, especially at that particular light. This was in St. Louis County, around the corner from a police station.
posted by limeonaire at 3:56 PM on July 23, 2013


I don't pull forward in most circumstances.... I also don't want 3-4 people behind me turning left on an obviously red light because that just holds up everybody.

I think the reason given in the quote above is the same as why some drivers drive in the fast lane even when they are not passing and fail to yield to faster moving traffic if they are traveling at the speed limit. They feel it is their duty to police the actions of others, even when they have no right to.

Perfectly legal and actively encouraged in California (page 18 of the California Driver's Handbook). Yes, even in San Francisco. The laws mentioned above for "blocking the box" are for traffic moving in a straight line through the intersection, and if there is gridlock, it's the fault of the straight moving cars who entered the intersection when there wasn't room to clear it. Cops may give you a ticket erroneously just as they mistakenly enforce non-existant laws all the time (beat cops were the C student jocks in your high school), but a judge should not uphold the ticket.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:59 PM on July 23, 2013


Wait a minute. I live in Michigan, and got a traffic ticket for "running a red light" for doing what many in this thread are calling "clearing the intersection". I remember that was the same night that George W Bush won the election for his first term. Can the law have changed in the past dozen years? Or is this an example of a mistaken ticket?
posted by matt_arnold at 4:11 PM on July 23, 2013


matt_arnold, was the light yellow when you entered the intersection? According to the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Vehicle Code, when you are preparing to make a left turn and you are already in the intersection when the light turns yellow, "you can complete your left turn after oncoming traffic has stopped, even if the light turns red." In Michigan (according to the Code and the State Police website), it is illegal to cross the crosswalk lines to enter the intersection once the light turns yellow unless you cannot safely stop before the line. So that would mean that, if you were turning left and waited behind the line, it would be illegal for you to go once the light turns yellow.
posted by The World Famous at 4:36 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


A peeve of mine. The stop bar is there for a reason, and at least 3 times a week someone is backing up because they're too impatient to wait another 90 seconds for the light to give them the green arrow and now there's an 18 wheeler making a right turn and needs all that space this car's in. The best though are the people who stay way out there and the sensor doesn't pick up there' s a car waiting to turn so they don't get the arrow.

Really, traffic engineers get it right the majority of the time, don't be so impatient.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:16 PM on July 23, 2013


This maneuver is dangerous and contributes to cars hazardously ignoring pedestrians. Why? Left turns on green, after a (potential) left turn signal has already elapsed, are frequently concurrent with a walk signal or unsignalled pedestrian right-of-way crosswalk perpendicular to the left turn and are contingent upon there being no pedestrian trying to cross. If the car pulls into the intersection and there's no gap until the red light, the driver is left with only two options: take the left regardless of whether or not there are pedestrians (dangerous) or stay hanging out in the intersection (dangerous). Cars aren't the only ones around, y'all.

There exist many intersections that do not have left turn signals where drivers want to make left turns. They are, by and large, the ones to which this situation applies. I typically do not do this at intersections with left turn signals, as its unnecessary and frequently illegal (there will often be a left-turn red while oncoming traffic is passing through).

People who are saying that this maneuver is dangerous to pedestrians, I have to think, do not have much experience driving in big cities. Usually, this is an issue where traffic is heavy and gaps in oncoming traffic, if they exist at all, are very small. If I'm on the lookout for a gap in traffic, it makes it harder for me to be on the lookout for pedestrians, and if I see a gap I'll often have to make the turn rather quickly to squeeze through, which is dangerous to pedestrians. If I wait for the light to change, I know I can proceed, and I know I can do so at a safe speed, while checking for crossing pedestrians. This is, of course, ignoring that the walk/don't walk signal would be in my favor, because people around here typically ignore those, anyway.

So, to answer the OP's question: wherever you are, the people who don't do this probably aren't from around there.
posted by breakin' the law at 5:17 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also see:

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/warrior/mc-stop-here-on-red-20130404,0,966984.column
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:20 PM on July 23, 2013


The stop bar is there for a reason

The reason the stop bar is there is that it is where you are legally required to stop when the light turns yellow unless you are going too fast to safely stop there, and where you are to remain stopped during the time when the light is red. So if you wait behind it and then turn left when the light turns yellow, you've violated the law. When the light is green, you have no obligation to remain behind the line. The line is there for when the light is yellow or red.

Also see:

That article is about lines for cars to stop at while the light is red, and, specifically, where cars should stop when waiting to turn right, not left. According to that article, the purpose of the line is to establish where the cars should remain when the light is red, not where they should wait when the light is green and they are turning left.

The article specifically refers to leaving space for trucks turning left and needing room from the cars that are at the red light waiting to turn right, not trucks turning right as asserted in your previous comment. But even if a truck is turning right and it needs to swing wide, the room it needs is in the lane of stopped cars at the red light, not the left turners who have a green light.
posted by The World Famous at 5:37 PM on July 23, 2013


It's legal and standard practice virtually everywhere: When you have a green light, enter the intersection and complete your turn after oncoming traffic clears.
As noted, this has nothing to do with blocking the box, which is what the Oregon example above also addresses. Blocking the box, in fact, can interfere with this entirely legal turn.
Obviously you don't do it, or anything else, when it's not safe.
posted by LonnieK at 5:43 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


if you are a practicing lawyer, then you'll also know what a modal verb is and the difference between something being allowed and it being prescribed. Even if I accept your interpretation of the statute (I don't) there is no imperative in "and, after entering the intersection..."

I said it was prescribed. I did not say it was mandatory. (to me, "prescribe" means to set forth a guide or rule, not making something exclusively mandatory - it may mean something different to you, but this is my trade and I do not wish to play Dueling Dictionaries). The statute specifically envisions entering the intersection before making the left turn as the norm. But yes, it is perfectly legal to stay behind the line and make your turn from there. However, if you stay there long enough after a few light cycles, your timidity will make you an unlawful obstruction of traffic.

If I make the turn from the stop line, when the light is green and after waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, it isn't a fluid movement either.

Sure it is, because there is no intervening step between waiting at the stop line and making the turn.

Frankly, I think a lot of people are misreading statutes. I think that "if you have a green light, do not start across an intersection if it causes your vehicle to stop in the intersection and block other traffic or a pedestrian crosswalk" absolutely does not bar the practice of entering the intersection before turning. Entering the intersection does not block other traffic or a pedestrian crosswalk. What this provision does bar is entering the intersection where the lane the motorist is crossing into is full or blocked. I am sure we have all seen motorists try to turn into a blocked lane as the light turns red.

I think this is pretty easy to figure out. If pulling into the intersection is unlawful where you drive, which appears to be the slim minority of jurisdictions, don't do it. If it does permit it, I think it is generally overly timid not to do so. Of course, one drives to road conditions.

To explicitly answer OP's question, drivers do not enter the intersection for a left turn, in the great majority of cases, because they are too timid or do not know or care that the local traffic code allows it.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:46 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


breakin' the law (heh): People who are saying that this maneuver is dangerous to pedestrians, I have to think, do not have much experience driving in big cities. Usually, this is an issue where traffic is heavy and gaps in oncoming traffic, if they exist at all, are very small. If I'm on the lookout for a gap in traffic, it makes it harder for me to be on the lookout for pedestrians, and if I see a gap I'll often have to make the turn rather quickly to squeeze through, which is dangerous to pedestrians. If I wait for the light to change, I know I can proceed, and I know I can do so at a safe speed, while checking for crossing pedestrians.

I am a pedestrian in the city and this rings true to me, every word of it. (And I came in here with a knee-jerk reaction similar to the first comment before I actually sat down and read the rest.)
posted by aws17576 at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2013


Two observations that don't appear to have already been covered:

1) If one waits behind the line until the oncoming traffic has stopped, during busy traffic (i.e. where there is no break until the lights have changed) there may never be an opportunity to turn.

2) In the UK there is an anti-gridlock measure of box junctions, marking the entire intersection to indicate that traffic may NEVER enter the intersection unless the exit is clear or.... unless waiting to turn right (which would be left in the US). And I think the right turn proviso is there to address the point 1) I made above.

And concluding that timidity (or a specific law in your jurisdiction, which seems reasonable in more rural areas) is the answer.
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:01 PM on July 23, 2013


Seconding the general safety of pedestrians-- the point of crossing the crosswalk by the left-turning car is at the tail end of the part of the light cycle in which people will be crossing in that crosswalk. The only people who are in that crosswalk are trying to beat the change in the light at that point, and are the ones who are holding up traffic if they get in the way of a car that's using its one and only chance at turning.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:01 PM on July 23, 2013


Also, let's dispense with the stop line, which has nothing to do with the question. The stop line marks the forward limit of movement for a STOP -- which a green-lit intersection does not require.
posted by LonnieK at 5:02 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Maryland (DC suburbs), and a single car at a time pulling forwards to make a left (and completing it on red, if necessary) is standard there.

I currently live in Louisville, KY, and it is far, far less common. But around here a lot more people tend to go straight on lights that have gone red (which, yes, is illegal), which may drive the reluctance to attempt to complete a left turn when a light goes red.
posted by jackbishop at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2013


If other motors are obeying the traffic signals, no one should be crashing into you.

That's...quite a thing to assume though. If I assumed that I'd have died already three times today, and it's only 11:09. I think the point is that many people do not want to pull too far forward to turn left precisely because they know that other drivers aren't always doing what's legal (or sensible.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:11 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I can't remember the comic, but he did a routine about this. Drivers running the yellow while he waited to turn left. He'd start screaming "The yellow is mine!"
posted by Gungho at 9:49 AM on July 24, 2013


After 115 answers, I'd like to say that I'm still not clear what those who say being in the intersection is less safe / more dangerous are referring to. As far as oncoming traffic goes, you are still in the same "lane" as you were before you entered the intersection, so it doesn't seem that someone is more likely to hit you head-on while you are just sitting in that position. And as far as hitting you when you are turning, well of course you wait until you know there are no cars coming, or cars are definitely stopping before you turn, just like you would if you hadn't entered the intersection to turn, so there shouldn't be any increased risk of being in the intersection unless you are creating that risk yourself by turning when you shouldn't. The only possible increased risk I can think of is someone on the cross street broadsiding you, but it seems you can reduce that risk significantly by not entering the intersection immediately on a green light in case someone on the cross street is running a red light. Of course there's always the possibility of a drunk, distracted, or otherwise impaired driver on the cross street running a red light and hitting you, but I don't think that's the type of risk most people here were referring to when they said they feel less safe pulling up into the intersection. So I'm still not clear what they are referring to. I do know some drivers are timid and nervous and thus the fear might not be rational or proportional, but it seems there may be others, including among the answerers here, who are not in that category yet still think there is some increased risk. So what exactly is that risk?
posted by Dansaman at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's...quite a thing to assume though. If I assumed that I'd have died already three times today, and it's only 11:09.

In this case, the assumption of the person waiting in the middle of the intersection to turn is no different than the person who is driving straight through the intersection: that cross traffic will not run a standing red light. If this were "quite an assumption", no one would ever drive straight through an intersection on a green light.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would guess that the people who aren't doing it think it's illegal. I always thought it was, and even after reading my state's driving manual I still don't know if it is or isn't. People don't like getting tickets and unless they have it on good authority that it's legal, would err on the side of caution.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2013


And as far as hitting you when you are turning, well of course you wait until you know there are no cars coming, or cars are definitely stopping before you turn, just like you would if you hadn't entered the intersection to turn, so there shouldn't be any increased risk of being in the intersection unless you are creating that risk yourself by turning when you shouldn't.

I think my experience, as I described above, explains at least one risk. I thought traffic was stopping because the cars in the right lane had stopped as the light was turning red. Cars in the opposing right lane stopped entering the intersection during the yellow and the left lane was empty. But, some guy who was a few cars back in the right lane and wanting to go straight pulled out into his left lane and entered the intersection as the light turned red and as I turned and I did not see him.

This is a risk. I can't speak for anyone else whether it is a risk that might make them hang back, but it is something I now take into account. And it is a risk assessed based on a conditions of a given intersection. So, if someone's behind me at a busy, multi-lane intersection with a green arrow and I'm waiting outside the intersection for the next arrow, they can think I'm being timid and inconsiderate of other drivers. But, I'm seeing something from may vantage point that to my mind suggests I should wait as a measure of defensive driving.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2013


At least around here, the issue is that there is a lot of heavy traffic and most people charge ahead on green, so if you are turning then, it can be dangerous. As a pedestrian in an area without a lot of pedestrian-only signals, it is dangerous because a) the cars in the intersection do not check for pedestrians before turning through the crosswalk and b) many cars sometimes follow them, even if they should not. (Or they pull through the crosswalk and are then stuck there, forcing me to walk around them in traffic.) Maybe you live in an area with more drivers who don't plow through red lights and green lights with abandon?
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2013


I think my experience, as I described above, explains at least one risk. I thought traffic was stopping because the cars in the right lane had stopped as the light was turning red. Cars in the opposing right lane stopped entering the intersection during the yellow and the left lane was empty. But, some guy who was a few cars back in the right lane and wanting to go straight pulled out into his left lane and entered the intersection as the light turned red and as I turned and I did not see him.

How would that risk have been mitigated if you had been beginning your left turn from behind the line, as opposed to from further ahead?
posted by The World Famous at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2013


How would that risk have been mitigated if you had been beginning your left turn from behind the line, as opposed to from further ahead?

I wouldn't have been turning. I'd have been waiting for the next green arrow.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2013


Probably for the same reason you shouldn't park in the intersection when you are going straight and the traffic in front of you isn't moving during the green light. When the light changes from green to red and you are still in the intersection, you are the asshole who is creating gridlock. Stay behind the stop line and wait your turn. If the traffic is that bad, pick a different route or petition for a protected left turn light.
posted by JJ86 at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2013


My dad was in an accident a few months ago. Some of the details I'm a little hazy on, but I believe he was making a left hand turn while pulled out into the intersection. The oncoming traffic was slowing down/stopping, so my dad started to complete the left turn... Only to be hit on the passenger side by a person in the other lane of oncoming traffic that (for whatever reason) he didn't see coming.

After hearing what happened to my dad it has made me less likely to enter an intersection to make a turn. If the intersection has a green-arrow light I generally won't bother advancing into the intersection. For other intersections I try and judge it on a case-by-case basis.
posted by Green With You at 11:33 AM on July 24, 2013


After hearing what happened to my dad it has made me less likely to enter an intersection to make a turn.

How does being or not being in the intersection have any bearing on that situation? It sounds like the situation you described is about oncoming traffic, and that is relevant regardless of whether you are in the intersection or not. Perhaps a car facing the opposite direction in front of him making a left turn (to your dad's right) blocked his view and that wouldn't have been the case if your dad was further back?
posted by Dansaman at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't have been turning. I'd have been waiting for the next green arrow.

If there's a green arrow, then it's a protected left and you are required to wait behind the line until there's a green arrow instead of a red one. That's not what Dasaman is asking about. In your scenario, it would be illegal to pull ahead into the intersection while waiting for the green arrow.
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Green arrow followed by green light?
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:18 PM on July 24, 2013


I'm in northern Virginia.

Almost all of the intersections here have green arrows without a corresponding red arrow, they are "left turn yield on green [dot]" when the traffic in the straight direction has a green signal.

It's also legal here, in that you're permitted to finish passing through the intersection if your rear axle was across the stop line (inside the intersection) before the light turned red.

I don't generally do it because it's rarely necessary and it's inconsiderate for the people who can safely cross the intersection right then. Rarely necessary because we have those left turn arrows, so I'm guaranteed to turn eventually, or if there's a gap in the traffic before then I can enter the intersection at that point. Inconsiderate specifically for people making a left from the oncoming direction, who likely have a clear path and will appreciate having unobstructed sight lines and more space to turn in, and also for people in the cross direction because I'm likely to be there into the beginning of their green light, given that I will wait to make sure oncoming traffic has fully stopped before I proceed.

I will do it if I need to at a specific intersection, but in general I'm on teams patience, it's not a race, and choose your path so that you go through intersections that don't suck.
posted by anaelith at 3:27 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


To those who think that driving into the intersection is a sign of impatience, I am an extremely patient person and driver, so it's definitely not the reason I, and presumably many other drivers, do it. I do it because I find no reason not to do it and lots of reasons to do it, including consideration for the cars behind me.
posted by Dansaman at 3:37 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks, let's not turn this into a debate about general traffic, stick to the question please?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:38 PM on July 24, 2013


I can tell you 100% why I do not do this. One time, I did, and I attempted to turn left as the light was turning red, and a car that was trying to make the yellow by speeding through hit me. I was assumed responsible for this accident by my insurance company.

So yeah, I wait, even if I know it's technically legal. You are putting yourself in questionable territory if someone you expected to stop at the red speeds up to beat it.
posted by almostmanda at 11:18 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


How would turning from behind the line rather than ahead of it have changed that situation?
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Re almostmanda's experience: The rule is "Complete your turn when traffic clears." Sounds like you didn't wait until traffic cleared.
You cannot turn until you're certain no more oncoming traffic is entering the intersection. Sorry the guy sped up, but that's exactly what you have to be alert to. Sounds like your insurance company agreed.
posted by LonnieK at 8:16 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll try and explain my thinking, at least regarding multiple oncoming lanes of traffic. If it's one lane of oncoming traffic I'm more likely to pull into the intersection.

Basically, I feel that it's harder to tell if you're able to safely turn if the inner lane of oncoming traffic has stopped. The inner lane often blocks my view of the outer lane. For example, if there are trucks and suvs in the inner lane that makes the outer lane difficult to see. Because I don't want to have to figure out if it's safe to turn when one lane is blocked, I generally stay out of the intersection. I turn if there's a gap or I clearly have the right-of-way with a green arrow.

Basically, I don't feel I'm able to reliably make the call of whether traffic has cleared. My dad and almostmanda were in accidents where they made the wrong call over whether traffic was cleared. Do you really want me and almostmanda and my dad to enter the intersection even if we don't want to?
posted by Green With You at 10:41 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why it would be easier to make the call from behind the line than it is to make the call from ahead of the line. If you're ahead of the line and there are two lanes of oncoming traffic, one of which is stopped and blocking the view of the other, why not just wait until it is clear that the other lane has stopped, too, and then proceed with the turn?
posted by The World Famous at 10:55 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


AN EXCEPTION
I agree with the basic position: On a green light, enter the intersection -- that is, pass over the Stop Line -- and complete your turn after oncoming traffic clears.
But after motoring about today, I realized there is one exception:
Before pulling into the intersection, be certain your intended turning lane is clear.
.
Don't cross the Stop Line if the cross street onto which you plan to turn is blocked, such that your turn may not clear the intersection.
IOW, if there's not clearly enough room on the cross street for your vehicle -- e.g., because traffic is backed up -- don't pull into the intersection.
.
IMO, most traffic laws are designed carefully.
posted by LonnieK at 6:39 PM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd just like to add the following information for the benefit of any Ontario drivers that might land on this page -- it is lawful (and the norm) to enter the intersection:

"Section 144 (12) of the HTA allows you to enter on a green (well, no kidding). Once you've pulled in to the intersection, as you know, you just wait for traffic to clear and then turn when safely able. Now, here's where some confusion comes up. Section 145 allows by-laws to be passed prohibiting blocking an intersection:

"Blocking intersection - 145.
(1) The council of a municipality may by by-law prohibit a driver or street car operator approaching, at an intersection, a traffic control signal showing a circular green or green arrow indication from entering the intersection unless traffic in front of him or her is moving in a manner that would reasonably lead him or her to believe he or she can clear the intersection before the signal indication changes to a circular red indication. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 145 (1).

"(2) A by-law passed under subsection (1) does not apply to a driver or street car operator who enters an intersection for the purpose of turning to the right or left into an intersecting highway and signals his or her intention to make the turn prior to entering the intersection.


"BUT... it's all written implying that they expect you to enter the intersection on green if you want to turn right or left, and wait for the way to clear. This helps people move through busy intersections, like you suggested. Section (2) is specifically written to exempt drivers who are turning, so that they can be in the intersection after the light turns red - if they entered on a green. (Within reason, of course.) Your friend's instructor is also right, it is illegal to stay behind the line. It's an offence called "failing to proceed as directed." The only exception would be if there was some safety reason to stay clear of the intersection (e.g. approaching emergency vehicle, red light runner, etc)."
posted by papafrita at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2013


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