There's a Right Way to Make a Left Turn


Dear Traffic Talk:

What is the rule for a driver making a left turn at an intersection when an oncoming car signals for a right turn? Who has the right of way?

Sometimes, the motorist making the left turn wants to move into the right-hand lane but is impeded by the car making the right turn. Who has the right of way?

Sidney Weiss, Woodland Hills


Dear Sidney:

As a rule, the oncoming vehicle has the right of way, meaning that the person making the left turn should yield, even if the traffic light is yellow, said Officer Bill Preciado of the California Highway Patrol.

In answering your second question, the driver making the left turn should turn into the farthest left lane but may swing out into a middle or right lane when it's safe to do so, Preciado said.

This rule also applies to the motorist making a right turn. He, or she, should turn into the furthest right lane but may turn into the middle or left lane when traffic is clear, he said.

Obstructing another vehicle's movement while turning is a citable infraction, Preciado said. Fines for this particular moving violation are determined by the local court jurisdiction, but Preciado said they typically start at $100.

Accidents do occur when two turning cars fight to have access to a particular lane, Preciado said. The point of impact is used to determine who is at fault, he added. For example, if the accident occurred on the right-hand lane, the driver turning left is at fault.


Dear Traffic Talk:

Our family tradition is that left turns are dangerous and should be avoided. Is there any proof of this, or is it just a folk tale?

Doris Dell, West Hills


Dear Doris:

Several California Highway Patrol officers were asked this question and all of them answered "yes."

Here are some explanations:

Sgt. Mark Fields: "By nature, left turns are dangerous because when you enter an intersection, you expose yourself and put yourself in more danger."

Officer Bill Preciado: "Intersection crashes are the most dangerous because it usually involves side impact and most vehicles are not well reinforced around the doors, meaning that you'll have inward intrusion of metal into the vehicle compartment."

Preciado said that even if that doesn't occur, side-impact crashes could be more serious than frontal or rear-end accidents. For the motorist making the left turn, a side-impact crash can result in the snapping of the neck and injury to vital organs, he added.

In 1997, 3,651 people were killed in vehicle accidents in California and 500 of them died as a result of unsafe or improper left turns, said Anne Richards, public affairs officer at the CHP. That means left-hand turns accounted for 13.62% of all vehicle accident-related deaths.

Nevertheless, since the left-hand turn is a necessity, Preciado offered these guidelines to avoiding accidents:

* Drive defensively.

* Always pay attention.

* Don't assume that other motorists will make the proper move.

* Never insist on the right of way.

Richards added that wearing a seat belt will improve the chance of survival in an intersection crash.


Traffic Talk appears Fridays in The Times Valley Edition. Readers may submit comments and questions about traffic in the Valley to Traffic Talk, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited, and no anonymous letters will be accepted. To record your comments, call (818) 772-3303. Fax letters to (818) 772-3385. E-mail questions to

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