Tim Schewe

Drivesmart column: Turning left one of our most dangerous road moves

Left turns also place a heavy cognitive demand on the driver

By Tim Schewe

Probably one of the most dangerous things that we do as drivers is to make a left turn. As we sit in traffic waiting for a large enough gap between oncoming vehicles we risk being hit from behind, the most common collision type on our roads. When we do turn, we present the sides of our vehicle to other traffic which is the most vulnerable position to be in.

Left turns also place a heavy cognitive demand on the driver. There are many potential conflicts to identify and resolve in order to turn left safely. Common errors include failing to signal properly, misjudging the speed of oncoming traffic, turning without a complete sight picture and incorrectly estimating the time it will take to complete the turn.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at whether you can turn left in the middle of the block legally and why you might choose not to even when the turn is legal.

Many drivers have an incomplete idea of what the lines on the road really mean and what the law requires. The basic intent is that regardless of what kind of yellow line is painted on the highway, drivers are required to stay to the right of it.

Even a single broken yellow line means stay to the right, except when you are safely overtaking another vehicle on the left.

I can hear the muttering starting now. What? That’s not right! It is correct, but it is not complete. Once we are past the basic intent there are special circumstances where a driver is allowed to cross yellow lines if the situation permits it.

The double solid yellow line is even more strict. A driver must keep to the right of it at all times, with one exception, and that is when you are entering or leaving the highway. Even then you must do so safely and not unreasonably interfere with other traffic.

What is unreasonable interference? That’s a good question, and one where there is no simple answer. Each situation must be looked at individually depending on the circumstances.

The ICBC manual Learn to Drive Smart cautions us on page 52 that most drivers expect others to turn left at intersections. When traffic is heavy this is good advice. Instead of turning left mid block, turn left at the next intersection and then make right turns to arrive at your destination instead. Trading a small inconvenience for safety might be one of the best deals you could make.

If you are one of few vehicles on the road and the vehicle behind must wait for a few seconds perhaps this isn’t unreasonable.

To sum up, it is not illegal to turn left over yellow lines in all cases, but there may be few opportunities to do so legally and safely.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca