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Driving Concerns

When turning left, should I pull into the intersection to wait my turn? Add to ...

I was waiting to turn left at an intersection recently. I was the first car in the left-turning lane, and when the light turned green I didn’t move right away, as there was a long line of cars coming in the opposite direction. The driver behind started to honk at me to push up, even though I couldn’t turn. Am I obligated to pull into the intersection to wait for a break in traffic? Wouldn’t it be safer to stay behind the line until there’s a reasonable chance of making the turn, so I don’t get stuck in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red?

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– J., Mississauga

Should you move out into the intersection when waiting to make a left turn? In Ontario, it’s left entirely up to you.

“It’s accepted practice to move ahead... but it’s not required by the law,” says Sgt. Dave Cross, media relations officer with Halton Regional Police in Mississauga. “But if you sit behind the line waiting for a break in traffic, you could be waiting an eternity.”

Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) doesn’t address where you should wait to turn at an intersection.

Young Drivers of Canada teaches new drivers to move ahead when turning left at a light, but just a little.

“New drivers are taught to advance into the intersection with just the front end of the car,” says driving instructor Berk Dietrich. “When the light turns amber you begin creeping forward slowly and then finish your turn around the end of the last car coming through.”

By moving ahead just a little, you’re less likely to block the view for left-turning drivers coming from the opposite direction, Dietrich says.

What if you move up too far and the light turns red before you've finished your turn? You could be stuck sitting there while the traffic with the green light drives around you. 

Dietrich says those other cars should be courteous enough to let you finish that turn so you're not blocking the intersection. In reality, that might not happen. “Drivers to your right and left tend to ignore this,” he says.

And if you decide to wait at the stop line instead of moving ahead? You have to stay there once the light turns amber.

“If you don't take possession of the intersection to wait for your turn, when the lights do change, you are not allowed to enter to make the turn,” Dietrich says.

Section 141.5 of the HTA says you can't turn left across the path of an oncoming vehicle unless you have "afforded a reasonable opportunity to the driver or operator of the approaching vehicle to avoid a collision."

Correction: The original story incorrectly stated that there is a legal requirement for other cars to allow you to complete the turn if you're stuck in the middle of the intersection when the light changes.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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