PSA: The Left-Turn Yield

When you come to an intersection with a sign like this. . .
left turn yield on green traffic sign
. . .and you want to make a left turn, and the light is green, do not wait behind the stop line for a break in the oncoming traffic.

Instead, pull forward into the intersection.

If there is another left-turn-yield lane in the oncoming traffic, pull about a third of the way into the intersection, or as far as you can while leaving yourself and the guy making the corresponding left turn in the other direction leeway to make the turn. If there isn’t, pull two thirds of the way into the intersection, or as far as you can while leaving yourself leeway to make the turn.

Yes, you will block the way of cross traffic, so that they can’t go when their light turns green until you have cleared the intersection; this is okay. In fact, this is the immediate objective. At some point after that green circle turns red, the oncoming traffic will stop; since you are already out in the intersection, cross traffic will have to wait for you to complete your perfectly-legal (YMMV in California) turn.

It’s the safest way to make the turn; it’s also the most considerate to the drivers behind you (who, by the way, would also appreciate it if you hung up the phone at this point).

This public service announcement is brought to you by the guy behind you in the gray Mercedes.

Next week: Left on Red from One One-Way Street to Another: Not Just the Law, It’s a Good Idea.

30 responses to “PSA: The Left-Turn Yield”

  1. It would be nice if there were some way to make all the overcautious idiots on the road GO when it’s safe and legal to do so. Unfortunately, I haven’t found such a rule in my state’s vehicle code. If you discover one, I’d love to hear about it, I could use it against those Critical Mass people.

  2. It’s clear that you don’t drive in Massachusetts. Only one driver makes the left turn when the light turns red? Wrong. Three at least.

    • You make a good point, which I neglected to make explicit: if you are in front of me and you make the turn properly when the light turns red, I, having entered the intersection on green, will make it through as well (legally), as might the person behind me (not so legally).

  3. You know how I know you drive in Houston…Most drivers are so terrible or ignorant to their surroundings that lawyers have to blog about it.

    Do what I do. Apply copious amounts of horn blowing.

    • Honking can be cathartic, but it’s counterproductive if the objective is to get to Point B quickly and safely. People who don’t know how to do the yield left-turn don’t suddenly figure it out when I honk at them.

      I figure that if one person somewhere reads this post and changes the way he makes those turns, it’ll all be worthwhile.

  4. If you do pull into the intersection then make sure that you do not stop in the intersection waiting to turn. There is the stature that prohibits stopping in an intersection if memory serves correct.

    • No no no no no! This is the whole point of the post: don’t stop at the stopline until an opening is handed to you on a silver platter; it never will be! Instead, pull way into the intersection, and wait there for the way to be clear, which might be after the light turns green for the cross traffic.

      Generally, you can’t legally stop in an intersection, but that doesn’t apply “if the avoidance of conflict with other traffic is necessary.” In other words, once you’ve entered the intersection legally (that is, on the green) you can stop to keep from crashing into someone.

      Houstonians: the intersections I have in mind are Westheimer EB turning onto Montrose NB; and Washington EB turning onto Yale NB.

      • It is a problem is all of The Woodlands, too. This just drives me bat-s**t crazy.

        The other thing that drives me nuts is the acceleration lanes at some intersections, especially the u-turn lanes for the freeway feeder roads (1960/249, for example, since I frequent the area). Why do people have to come to a complete stop and wait for an entire light cycle to go with an open lane directly in front of them?

        Of course, I have been accused (by my wife) of treating stop signs as merely advisory, too. . . .

  5. In the state of Oklahoma, entering, turning, or proceeding through an intersection on yellow is a violation. Public service announcement from a Texan who was a soldier at Ft. Sill once, and paid that fine….

    • I am amazed at how often cops cite people for things that aren’t really crimes.

      I looked in the Oklahoma Traffic Code, and the only guidance it provides is this:

      Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter.

      . . . which suggests that it is legal to enter, turn, or proceed through the intersection on yellow.

      Otherwise, what would the point of having a yellow light be? And how would anyone ever make a yielding left turn in the face of heavy oncoming traffic?

  6. Good stuff. I know you intended this as a rant, but I think a series of these would be helpful. More please.

    • Charlie is right: Maybe you could comment on the good citizen who decided he could make the cars in front of me move faster by running his beat-up toyota tercel right behind my backside to the point that I could no longer see his single headlight in my rear-view (the other being burnt out) and flashing his high-beams incessantly?

  7. Handy PSA, although I must say that given the proliferation of red-light camera intersections in Houston, I don’t blame folks entirely for being extra cautious. I know a few folks who have managed to get red-light cam tickets for legal right turns on red after a stop, so I’m sure a legal left turn while in the intersection could just as easily generate one.

  8. Left turn yield on green signs still exist? Wow, I thought they had been completely eliminated by those maddening and slow protected left turn on green arrow only lights who are usually green for no one. (well…the intersection of kirby and westheimer is a throwback in that regard). Maybe if there were more left turn yield on green intersections, people would actually know how to safely turn through them. Much like the prevalence of the automatic transmission, it’s all just another example of how dumb American drivers have become.

  9. So Mark, I’m on board with your explanation of what to do “When you come to an inter­sec­tion with a sign like this… ” My question is, in this situation: “…pull about a third of the way into the inter­sec­tion, or as far as you can while leav­ing your­self and the guy mak­ing the cor­re­spond­ing left turn in the other direc­tion lee­way to make the turn.” Do you turn BEHIND them, and they, BEHIND you? I grew up and learned to drive in CT, and that’s how I learned to do it – you make a 90 degree turn, behind the ‘opposite left-flow’ turning vehicles, i.e., not a “rounded turn” (literally “cutting corners,” I always think). However, here in Boston, no one complies with this. They will not pull up beyond my car; they turn in front of me, and expect me to do the same. But if there are cars coming up behind them, going straight (or, I don’t know what there plans are, because the car stopped only a little ways into the intersection is blocking my view of them), I’m not about to turn into a stream of oncoming traffic. This stresses me out every morning. If I give into the peer pressure, and do what they want me to do, and someone hits me, will the accident be deemed my fault? Or, are the rules different in MA? Haven’t been able to find a definitive answer to this. Thank you.

    • In the case I was considering, there was an odd number of lanes—the northbound left-turn lane would, if it continued straight, run into the southbound left-turn lane, so turning “before” or “after” was not at issue.

      Where there is an even number of lanes, you’re right and they’re wrong. But avoiding an accident is your priority, and most people don’t know how to do this correctly, so if the opposing left-turner pulls forward far enough to make it clear that he’s following the rules (when I’m first to the intersection, I do so), give a cheer follow the rules; if he doesn’t, grumble at the sad state of driving and turn in front of him when you’re pretty sure it’s clear.

  10. Let me clarify: I’m not ONLY talking about intersections with ‘Left Turn Yield on Green’ signs. I thought a left-turn ALWAYS had to yield – sign, or no sign, UNLESS there’s a lighted left-turn arrow.

  11. In California, can one enter the intersection on the green to make a left turn, and complete the turn on the red, after opposing traffic stops?
    I am being told NO. One must wait behind the pedestrian line, and not enter the intersection till opposing traffic stopped.

    • Yes, one may, unless the traffic that one is turning into is backed up so that one will not be able to clear the intersection when the opposing traffic stops.

  12. I’m sorry, but you’re an idiot. You are advising people to pull into oncoming traffic because you are too impatient to wait one light cycle?

    No matter what your justification is, or even the law, I will continue to wait at the line to yield for the car I cannot see.

    I will laugh when it plows through and takes you out. Good news for me, that means one less person around to teach their stupid children to drive like an asshole.

    • I like how you get so emotional about your shitty driving, which naturally makes you an even shittier driver. I don’t think you understand the problem, but if you do you’re going to spend a long time sitting at the intersection because the opposing traffic will be coming across as long as the light is green.

      Light turns green. You wait at the line. Oncoming traffic comes through intersection. The light turns yellow. Oncoming traffic is still coming. The light turns red. The last oncoming car clears intersection. Now you’re going to enter the intersection on red? That’ll get you ticketed or killed, so no. You wait till the light turns green, and da capo.

      On the other hand, if when the light turns green you proceed halfway into the intersection, then you’re in the intersection. Once the light turns red and the last oncoming car clears the intersection you can safely and legally complete your turn (because the cross traffic is not going to suddenly fill the intersection) and clear the intersection, as can I.

    • You are an idiot. Original poster is absolutely right. If you don’t know you’re stuff double check before you open your mouth and look like a fool. I hate bad drivers like you.

  13. I live in Kingwood, but I go to California a lot. Everybody does this in California. It seems that I am the only one who does this back in Houston, which is extremely frustrating.

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