Dr. Traffic

Moving into intersection OK for left turn

Yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians whenever you’re making a left turn. JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
Yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians whenever you’re making a left turn. JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

You’ve probably made this move hundreds of times without giving it much thought.

As you prepare to make a left turn, you pull into the intersection and wait for a chance to go.

Well, one reader wonders whether she should move into the intersection or wait behind the crosswalk until the intersection is clear.

Of course, by moving into the intersection, we’re in a better position to turn as the light changes from yellow to red. This is especially true in heavy traffic.

When you’re already positioned in the intersection, drivers on the other side of the road tend to delay just long enough to let you complete your turn, even after the light they’re facing turns from red to green.

But there’s another scenario to consider. Let’s say you’re in the intersection waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you can make a left. As you wait for an opening, the light turns yellow.

You know at that point you’ve got only a few seconds before the light turns red, but oncoming traffic, which is probably also facing a yellow light, hasn’t really slowed down. Will those cars stop before the light turns red or will one of them keep coming?

That’s the safety concern that sparked the question about left turn etiquette. Where should a car be positioned during a left turn, and how can we stay safe? And are the rules different at a yellow flashing light?

Well, where are the people who wrote these rules when you need them? With no access to that panel of experts, I sent the question to a spokeswoman for NCDOT. That’s the protocol for journalists.

The answer: You don’t have to sit behind the crosswalk.

“It is perfectly reasonable to enter the intersection on the yellow or flashing yellow as long as the driver doesn’t enter into the path of a vehicle that has the right of way,” officials at NCDOT concluded.

That answer, which also applies to making a left at a green light, was approved by multiple safety and traffic engineers at NCDOT, according to Jordan-Ashley Baker, the spokeswoman.

Remember to yield to pedestrians, if that should become an issue when you’re making a turn. But there’s no requirement to stop at an “appropriately marked stop line,” according to the officials at NCDOT.

Here’s more specific information from the state’s rule book:

▪ “driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” (20-155(b))

▪ “approaching vehicles facing the yellow flashing light may proceed through the intersection with caution, yielding the right-of-way to vehicles in or approaching the intersection.” (20-158(b)(4) and 20-158(c)(4)

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms