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Red-light left turn confuses drivers

Jan 27 2012

It never fails. Every time I try to teach a student driver to make a legal left turn on a solid red traffic light onto a one-way street, an overzealous driver observing the manoeuvre takes offence.

Some shake their fists, others shout and still others look startled and confused.

Most drivers have no idea that such a turn is legal in B.C. and several other jurisdictions in Canada. Provided that the driver executes a complete stop and yields to all traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, it is allowable to make a left turn onto a one-way street while the traffic signal is solid red.

Pedestrians are particularly perplexed when they observe drivers turning left on a solid red traffic light. Some shout, "What do you think you're doing?"

Pedestrians who do not drive are often mystified by the most elementary traffic legislation, let alone the misunderstood left turn on a red light.

Several frustrating situations arise when drivers familiar with the intent of traffic legislation share the roads with the uninformed.

Getting stuck behind an immobile driver who has the left-turn indicator flashing and is preparing to do a left turn onto a one-way street from a virtually deserted signalized intersection is very frustrating.

Some drivers in this "suspended animation" situation will tap the horn to gently persuade the driver ahead to make the legal turn.

I have actually seen drivers get out of their vehicles, approach the driver ahead, and try to explain the proper behaviour, only to have the traffic light change to green at the most inopportune time.

Drivers have been known to do the same when attempting to "educate" other motorists about the magnetic traffic-signal-light changers embedded in the pavement immediately prior to the pedestrian crosswalk. The advice from police is simple: Stay in your car, where you are protected.

When making the left turn at a solid-red traffic light, do it from the farthest left lane to the closest lane to the left. Come to a full stop before attempting this type of left turn.

It's a good idea to delay for a count of three before doing a turn that may seem odd to the uneducated observer.

Only attempt the one-way left when intersection visibility is excellent. It is best to do the manoeuvre when the traffic light is early in the cycle.

It's both embarrassing and dangerous to do it late in the cycle, when the light may change to green.

Check for bicycles and pedestrians that may be hidden in your blind spot. Cyclists seldom come to a complete stop in residential areas and pedestrians regularly walk when the "don't walk" signal is flashing.

Drivers facing the left turners on a solid red traffic light have the right-of-way to turn right on the red.

Yield to them in a one-way single-lane situation if they attempt the right turn on a red traffic light.

Many drivers mistakenly think the left turn on a red can only be made from a one-way street to a one-way street. This is the rule in Saskatchewan and some other provinces.

In B.C., such a left turn can legally be made from any two-way street onto a one-way street, unless a traffic sign forbids it.

The left turn on a solid red traffic light is meant to keep traffic moving and avoid unnecessary congestion. Do it where optimum conditions exist and be entertained by the quizzical looks of the uninformed.

- - -

Further to my last column, shame on me: The Island of Montreal forbids right turns on a red light. For the most part, it's allowed in the rest of the province of Quebec with some exceptions.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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