The basics of doing left turns

There are many similarities between right turns and left turns; however, there are a few major differences, and we’ll cover those differences in this post. 

Once you’ve mastered doing right turns, you and your driving instructor can start working on your left turns. Of course, we would be starting out with small streets as left turns at traffic lights can get very overwhelming and complicated.

There are many similarities between right turns and left turns; however, there are a few major differences, and we’ll cover those differences in this post.

Left turns: The basics for new drivers

As you approach the intersection, check your rear view mirror to see if anyone is behind you. Start reducing your speed. Signal in advance so you can notify everyone around you about your intention of turning left. (Avoid signalling too early because there could be alleys or hidden driveways before the intersection.) Check ahead for other road users or pedestrians before heading into the intersection.

If your intersection doesn’t have a stop sign, then that means you don’t have to stop before making your turn.

Left turnTurning left at intersections with stop signs

If there is a stop sign, do a full stop. At SenSen Driving School, we recommend stopping twice at two-way stops: the first one is for the law and pedestrians, and the second stop is to check for cars coming from left and right.

If it is safe, then proceed forward and start the turn towards the left. Leave the steering wheel straight until you need to turn—don’t quarter turn the steering wheel left because if you need to wait for oncoming traffic, you might turn towards the oncoming car. When you are turning left think L shape, not a sharp 45 degree turn. Make sure you use the hand-over-hand steering technique.

When you are turning left, only 1 shoulder check is required. It is done before you want to turn. Look for pedestrians crossing the street who are parallel with you on the left side. Once you’ve completed your turn, bring your speed back up and commit. Don’t complete the turn and then linger as that might confuse other drivers.

Turning left at traffic lights

You’ll encounter many different scenarios when turning left at traffic lights. Some intersections have designated left turn lanes, some have designated left turn lights, some have separate left turn signal. Your driving instructor will work through all of these scenarios with you, but some basic common guidelines will be covered below.

When you approach the intersection, look in your rear view mirror and check for cars behind you as you slow down. If the intersection ahead has a red light, then you must do a full stop behind the first white line. When the traffic light turns green and if you are car number 1, then you gently roll your car with the steering wheel straight out to the third white line. Position the car so that you—the driver—is sitting on top of the third white line. This position can vary from size of the intersection, but generally speaking, you can position yourself that way. Your instructor can work you through the variations.

There are three main hazards you need to look out for:
– oncoming cars
– traffic lights
– pedestrians on the left crossing the street

All of these 3 are equally important; not one is less important than the other. I have seen many students focus on 1 or 2 but not all three and fail to complete the left turn safely. Sometimes, student drivers focus on oncoming cars and pedestrians but forget to look at traffic light. They may look at the traffic light and cars, but not look for pedestrians.

If you have been waiting at the white line and the traffic light turns yellow, then you must exit the intersection and complete your turn. You must not stay in that position because you will be blocking the cross traffic when they get the green light. Pay attention to the traffic light.

If oncoming cars are running the light, then you must let them finish running the light and then complete your turn regardless of the light turning red. That said, you need to have some sense of urgency when this happens. Don’t turn your wheel, but at least let of the brake to communicate to the drivers behind you that you’re paying attention to the traffic light.

If you are car number 2 or after, you must wait behind the white line as if it is a red light. It is typically only one car per yellow light that can go.

Turning left to the correct lane

After turning left, you may be confused as to which lane to turn into. Aim to turn into the closest lane or to the right of the yellow line/island. This illustration from ICBC’s Learn to Drive Smart textbook explains the rule.

Left turn1

Turning left at traffic lights can really be a daunting task for many new drivers. This driving skill requires many hours of practice and good coaching for you to master it. Your driving instructor will take the time to explain every detail to you as this is a very complicated skill.

As always, stay sharp, look further ahead and focus! Stay safe!


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