USA and Canada Holiday Hints
When making a left turn, look out for traffic in the opposing direction, cyclists, pedestrians on crosswalks and other vehicles turning right on a red light into the same road as you are entering.
When turning left, the wide roads with multiple lanes found in many US and Canadian towns can sometimes make it difficult to know where you should go. Be careful not to accidentally turn into the opposing carriageway.
When two cars from opposite directions are both turning left at the same intersection then they should pass each other so that the front passengers pass close to each other, unlike in Britain where in theory two cars from opposite directions both turning right at the same junction should "wrap round" each other so that the two drivers pass close to each other. (In Britain cars drive on the left so right turns are across the flow of traffic in the opposite direction. Also, in practice in Britain most busy junctions are either controlled by traffic lights with filters or are roundabouts, or one driver waits for the other to complete the turn before starting to move.)
Occasionally on main roads in towns left turn lanes are separated from the other lanes by concrete barriers, with openings which allow vehicles to enter them. This is presumably a safety measure designed to stop drivers diverting into or out of the left turn lanes close to intersections. If you are unfamiliar with the road it can sometimes be very difficult to know which left turn channel to take for a particular intersection or driveway. If you do make a mistake then you must always continue on and never reverse in order to enter or leave such a lane.
On main roads in towns there are often two lanes reserved for left turns at intersections. Sometimes the leftmost lane must turn left whereas traffic in the lane immediately to its right can either turn left on continue straight on. At some other junctions vehicles in the leftmost lane can turn left or make a U-turn, while traffic in the lane next to leftmost can only turn left. Signs with directional arrows make it obvious which routes traffic in each lane is permitted to take. While the lanes to be used for making left turns are almost always clearly marked by white lines or studs at these junctions, it is of course very important not to drift into the other left turn lane while turning. Also beware of wide and long vehicles in adjacent left turn lanes. When there are two left turn lanes, the traffic lights almost always stop the traffic in the opposite direction. Two left turn lanes will always lead into two separate lanes in the road you are entering and obviously you must not switch lanes while turning.
In addition, be aware of important regulations regarding U-turns in urban areas.
The California Driver Handbook 2002 (external link verified Jul-02) says: "Left turn from a two-way street: start the turn in the left lane closest to the middle of the street. You may complete the turn in either lane of the cross street if it is safe to do so." and: "Left turn from a two-way street into a one-way street: start the turn from the far left lane on your side of the road. You may turn into any lane that is safely open." and: "Left turn from a one-way street into a two-way street: start the turn from the far left lane. The vehicle may turn into either of the lanes that is safely open." (Laws And Rules Of The Road - Turns - Examples Of Right And Left Turns; checked Jul-02.)
On the other hand, the Oct-98 printed edition of the Illinois Driver's Manual "Rules Of The Road" says: "Complete the [left] turn into the lane closest to you going in your intended direction". (Chapter Three: Traffic Laws - Signalling And Turning.)
Left Turns At Traffic Lights - Permissive And Protected Modes
When making a left turn at an intersection controlled by traffic lights, there is always some doubt as to whether traffic in the opposite direction is stopped by a red light or not. Unless you see traffic obviously waiting at a stop line, assume that it may not be stopped. The official standard for the USA is:
I originally thought that traffic lights never have a permissive mode (circular green light) phase before a protected mode (green arrow) phase but of course somebody has subsequently told me of an exception! In August 2004 Gill Reid wrote:
Hi John, You made mention that as far as you knew, there were no intersections with a permissive mode followed by a protected mode for left turns at traffic light controlled intersections. I thought you would like to know that this pattern is found in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Two intersections in particular come to mind, Stevenson Road at Bond Street and Park Road at Bond Street. A solid green light (permissive) is followed by a flashing green light (protected) then amber, then red.Occasionally traffic in the opposite direction is allowed to turn right (with a green light or a green arrow) at same time as you are allowed to turn left into the same road. At these junctions the left-turning traffic will normally enter the outside lane and the right-turning traffic will enter the inside lane. However, if both streams of traffic enter a single lane then they must merge. I would judge this last situation to be very unusual. Traffic turning right on a red light must yield to traffic turning left on a green light or a green arrow into the same road.
For more information about traffic lights in general, see this article.
On the other hand the California Driver Handbook 2002 (external link verified Jul-02) says: "Do not enter an intersection, even when the light is green, unless you can get completely across before the light turns red. If you block the intersection, you can be cited." (Laws And Rules Of The Road - Traffic Control At Intersections; checked Jul-02).
It is illegal to turn left on a red light, even from one one-way road into another one-way road, in the city of New York and the Canadian Province of Québec. It is also illegal for school buses carrying pupils throughout New York State. Justin JIH (external link verified Jun-03) states that it is also illegal (for all vehicles) in Connecticut, the District Of Columbia, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina (although a law is due to passed soon to permitting), Rhode Island, parts of South Dakota and Guam.
"Hutch" emailed me to say:
Left turns on red are permitted in Ohio as long as they are from the left lane of a one-way street to the left lane of another one-way street, and so long as there are no signs prohibiting it.Left turns on a red light from a two-way road into a one-way road are prohibited in most US states due to the greater risk involved in the manoeuvre. Justin JIH (external link verified Jun-03) reports that they are only permitted in Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon and Washington State.
In Canada, Justin JIH reports that left turns on a red light from a one-way road into another one-way road are generally permitted except in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Province of Québec. The only part of Canada which permits left turns on a red light from a two-way road into a one-way road is British Columbia.
As with right turns on red lights there is some doubt about whether you can turn left on a red arrow from one one-way road into another one-way road. This rule seems to vary between states and provinces. Justin JIH says: "After stop, left turn on red arrow from a one one-way road into another one-way road is permitted in Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Washington State and Wyoming. Michigan, Oregon and Washington State also permit left turn on red arrow after stop from a two-way road into a one-way road. There is no left or right turn on red arrow permitted in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota and New York, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico. Other state laws do not specify red arrows."
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Most recently modified 27-Sep-04