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There are few manoeuvres more daunting to a novice driver than the dreaded left turn. Many a driving exam has been failed due to a misstep while turning left. There are more ways to fail this move than Baskin-Robbins has flavours of ice cream. Too late? Too hesitant? Too risky? Too bold? Too bad. The left turn, especially at a busy intersection, lays the driver’s skill bare. Traffic rushes in the opposite direction as the budding motorist tries to pick their moment. It’s daunting.

It would be nice to tell those trying to get their licences that once you’ve earned your stripes, the process of making left turns gets less arduous – but we all know that would be a lie. While we may grow more adroit at making lefts, the act itself remains frustratingly fraught with complications. These complications stem from those making the lefts and those driving in the opposite direction.

Before examining the wrong way, let’s take a look at the correct way to make a left turn:

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Signal early. Move into the far-left lane. Look ahead, left, right, left, right, and into your blind spots. When the way is clear, turn left. Remember: Oncoming traffic has the right of way. When two cars are both turning left at an intersection, they may both proceed, after yielding to pedestrians and oncoming traffic.

Simple, right?

Absolutely. Things only get problematic when you add human beings.

Badly behaved left-turners can be separated into three categories.

Swingers: A left-turn swinger pulls forward and swings their car left into the lanes of oncoming traffic. So eager are they to make their left that they nose into the opposite lane and force those driving in it to veer into the lane on their right. Swingers are like garbage in the road that everyone has to drive around.

Turtles: They say slow and steady wins the race. I disagree. This is only true if the race is called “The World’s Slowest and Steadiest.” Turtles creep slowly forward, if they advance at all. Most sit terrified and stalled at the intersection, never daring to prepare for their turn. Then, when the light is about to turn from yellow to red, they bolt forward and go left. This leaves everyone else who had dreams of turning left waiting for another chance.

Daredevils: The previous two varieties are irritating. Daredevils are dangerous but, mercifully, far less common. As they approach the intersection they accelerate and begin to time their approach. Their goal is to hit the crossroads just as the lights change and execute their left turn before oncoming traffic can approach. Daredevil left-turners are a testament to the fact that, if a person pools all their limited faculties and character shortcomings into one futile act, there are no depths to which they cannot sink.

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Then there are the problems posed by the other drivers. It’s surprising that no master of the horror genre has called a movie “The Oncoming.” When turning left, those driving in the opposite direction can be frightening.

Bluffers: These drivers speed toward the intersection. They may as well be in Formula 1. It’s obvious that they intend to blow through the intersection at maximum velocity. So, if you are turning left, you wait. No point in getting in an accident. As the bluffer nears the intersection, however, it dawns on them that they are about to race through a crowded intersection at 110 km/h. So, they hit the brakes and slow to a near crawl, limping through like a wounded deer. By the time they’re through, it’s too late to turn.

Fakers: Their left turn signal is on. That means they’re going to turn left, correct? No. The faker has had his turn signal on for the last five minutes. He drives straight through. Smart drivers know never to trust another motorist’s turn signals. Experience shows looks can be deceiving.

Greeners: You see that red light? Guess what? It’s actually green. Same with the yellow light. That stop sign? Green. To greeners, all signs point to go. Everyone who’s read the drivers’ manual knows that when you see a yellow (or amber) light, the red light is about to appear and you are required to stop “if you can do so safely.” Otherwise, proceed with caution. To the greener, green means go, yellow means go faster and red means go really, really fast. As a consequence, it is impossible to turn left in most Canadians cities until the light is a solid bright red and the intersection is free of the greeners.

What’s left to say? We can all do better. Next time you turn left, make sure you do it right.

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