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Best Practices for Making Left Turns

As drivers, we make left turns every day. And yet, a 2010 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that most intersection-related crashes involve a left turn. Drivers tend to make more mistakes during a left turn than in other intersection actions. Some of the reasons this happens is that drivers can’t see as well, make false assumptions about oncoming traffic, or miss some important observations about their surroundings.


Since we know left turn crashes are more likely to happen, it’s that much more important to help teen drivers gain more experience and awareness about turning left. Teens who learn to handle left turns by relying on their safe driving skills will be better prepared to avoid the pressures of traffic in these dangerous intersections.


Never Make a Left Turn with an Obstructed View

There are many ways a driver’s view could be obstructed when trying to make a left turn. A few examples include:

  • A car in the neighboring lane obstructs the view to the right

  • Oncoming cars in their own left turn lane block the view of the approaching straight lane

  • Buildings or trees/shrubs near the corners obstruct the view of the roadway

  • The cross/oncoming road has hills or turns that prevent the view of approaching cars


Whatever the obstruction, it can cause a dangerous situation for any driver. When there are other cars waiting behind the car turning left, pressure mounts, and the driver may act impulsively to get out of the way. This is the biggest mistake a driver can make. Every driver’s top priority is to get themselves safely to where they need to go without causing harm to anyone else.



As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s really important for drivers to keep their emotions under control at all times. When dealing with an obstructed view, drivers need to move up to where they can see or wait for conditions to change so that they have a better view. Trust me, it’s better to annoy a stranger in the next car back than to do something hasty and cause a crash.


Left Turn Legalities at a Traffic Light

I covered a lot of left turn rules in my October blog about who has the right of way. There are a few more legalities of making left turns that are important to keep in mind. These are actually some of the worst offenses I see from other drivers, so I make sure my students learn the laws and follow them. A high percentage of my students realize they should tell Mom and Dad that they’ve been breaking the rules of the road on these.


In the left turn lane of a traffic light intersection with a red light, cars turning left need to stay behind the white line! When the light is red, that line marks the clearance needed for vehicles to make a right turn into the oncoming lane. When drivers pull up past that line, not only are they not triggering the scale to get the left turn arrow, but they are not allowing enough room for other vehicles to make a turn. It’s a dangerous and unnecessary hazard.


When the light is green, left turning cars still need to stay behind that line! I know that it’s very common to pull up into the intersection to make the turn when oncoming traffic has a break or is expected to stop at a yellow light. In reality, most cars sitting in the middle of the intersection will have to wait until the light is red to actually make their turn. This obstructs the cars in the cross lanes who now have the green light and slows the intended flow of traffic. This is also one of the riskiest moves for causing a crash. If the oncoming cars don’t stop, and the car turning left goes anyway, there will be a crash, and the driver turning left will most likely be at fault.


There is ONLY one instance when turning left during a red light is legal. Left turns are legal on red from a one-way street onto another one-way street. These intersections are not all that common, so it’s important to proceed very carefully if this kind of turn is possible.


Always Give Pedestrians the Right of Way

Since left turns are often a little more stressful than other driving actions, it’s easy to forget the basics. Giving pedestrians the right of way, even when there is very limited time or space to make a left turn, is a basic safe driving skill that can never be ignored.


Pedestrians who are legally (or even illegally) crossing a street have the right to do so safely before any cars turn onto that roadway. Never assume that pedestrians will wait for cars to make a left turn before they cross. If they are crossing on a green light, or crossing straight on a crossroad that a car is waiting to turn left onto, cars must yield the right of way to them. No matter what else is going on to put pressure on the driver to make the turn, this one aspect of safe driving is always a must.


If you as a driver still feel more stress than usual when making a left turn, just imagine how your teen driver feels while practicing! As a parent driving coach, it is vital that you do not pass on your ingrained driving worries to your teen. Our course for parents will help you get in the right frame of mind for coaching your teen driver: The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers. If you’re still concerned about making sure your teen gets the right kind of experience behind the wheel, consider lessons with a Safe Driving Coach. We’ll make sure your teen can handle left turns, and every other safe driving skill, in everyday situations on the road.

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