Clearing the Intersection - Left Turns

I’m hoping to get a clear answer to a question I’ve always had about whether or not to proceed and clear an intersection on a yellow light or to stay put until next green light.

It seems to me that you could easily get a ticket for proceeding yet just as easily get found at fault for not proceeding. Here are the details:

  • controlled intersection with traffic lights
  • may or may not have left turn slots, either apply
  • crosswalks may be painted, stop lines are definitely painted
  • drivers wishing to turn left legally enter the intersection on a green light
  • the light changes to yellow, then red
  • typically straightforward, once it is safe to do so drivers already in the intersection waiting to turn left proceed (seems to work fine 99% of the time, typically one or two cars have entered part of the intersection and proceed on yellow turning to red)

However….. - here’s the 1% where I see a grey area (ok, maybe more than 1%)

  • you are turning left and have entered past the painted stop line and/or are blocking the crosswalk on a green light, the light changes to yellow then red
  • you are not actually blocking any of the lane for crossing traffic nearest to you but are clearly well past the stop line and/or blocking a crosswalk

Scenario 1: you proceed as soon as it is safe to do so, typically on a yellow light, thus clearing the intersection

Is this correct? Legal? What if you are the 3rd car to proceed on yellow? What if you proceed on red due to a car in front of you hesitating to also clear the intersection or because oncoming traffics runs through late?

I suspect you could get a ticket for running a red light and would be advised you should have waited for the next light

Scenario 2: you decide to be more cautious and safe, you do not proceed and choose to wait for the next light

  • you are in the same place as scenario 1, you are not blocking crossing traffic but are clearly past the stop line and/or blocking a crosswalk
  • you wait, the light for you changes to next green cycle, you proceed with your left turn when safe

All good, right? Not so fast……

In scenario 2, a pedestrian crossing has to walk around your car to get past and gets hit by crossing traffic, you are ticketed for blocking the intersection or failing to clear it

ICBC finds you 100% or at least 50% at fault, you lose (not to mention potential further litigation)

You may or may not get ticketed but my experience is that either way, ICBC will find enough fault for it to be a claim (yes, the love 50/50 blame and yes, I’m not an ICBC fan)

In a similar scenario 2 situation, a car crossing from your right hits you while attempting to turn left around you (remember, you are protruding into the intersection but not into the near crossing lane)

Similarly, ICBC finds you 100% or at least 50% at fault, you lose (not to mention potential further litigation)

So the question is do you proceed as in scenario 1 and risk a ticket or do you stop as in scenario 2 and risk being found at fault for blocking the intersection?

I found this picture to help clarify.

In my scenario 2 (see original email further below) you are the yellow car at the top of the diagram and plan to turn left. You entered the intersection to where shown on a green light.

You end up in the same spot after the light changed red due to others in front of you also turning left who hesitated before clearing the intersection on the yellow light.

Assume you actually are even a bit further and are blocking the entire crosswalk BUT not past it.

I have driven in BC in all areas, in all conditions, for over 40 years. Terrace, Cranbrook, Ft. St. John, Victoria and just about everywhere in between.

I’ve had my share of ICBC “rulings” and can easily see this being a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Appreciate any comments you have and any details on what rules apply.


To start, and crucial to the answer, is the legal definition of the word intersection:

"intersection" means the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of the 2 highways that join one another at or approximately at right angles, or the area within which vehicles travelling on different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict;

In your image, the gray car is the only vehicle that is actually in the intersection. Your yellow car has not yet entered it. In fact, depending on the circumstances, the driver may have stopped illegally.

When vehicle stopping prohibited

189 (1) Except when necessary to avoid conflict with traffic or to comply with the law or the directions of a peace officer or traffic control device, a person must not stop, stand or park a vehicle as follows:

(e) on a crosswalk;

To properly prepare for the left turn here, your yellow car should be sitting sitting further into the intersection, similar to the gray car.

Now, properly engaged in the intersection, there is an onus to yield, which applies to both the left turn driver and the oncoming driver which I discuss in Yielding on Left Turns.

If you are still waiting within the intersection when the light turns red you may complete your turn when safe to do so and drivers and cyclists must let you do that.

Green light

127 (1) When a green light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle facing the green light

(iii) must yield the right of way to vehicles lawfully in the intersection at the time the green light became exhibited, and

Complicating matters are the requirements to yield to pedestrians:

Green light

127 (1) When a green light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(b) a pedestrian facing the green light may proceed across the roadway in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, subject to special pedestrian traffic control signals directing him or her otherwise, and has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

Pedestrian controls

132 (1) When the word "walk" or an outline of a walking person is exhibited at an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal, a pedestrian may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal in a marked or unmarked crosswalk and has the right of way over all vehicles in the intersection or any adjacent crosswalk.

So, you could be sitting in the intersection for quite some time facing a red light and many drivers could find themselves having to stay outside of the intersection while facing a green light.

Finally, with regard to your yellow vehicle patiently waiting as shown in your diagram, if the traffic signal changes to yellow or red, the driver has no right to enter the intersection and will commit an offence if the driver does.

10+ Tips for Turning Left - BC Driving Blog

Left turns + stopping in crosswalk area

An excellent explanation of the rules around left-turning at intersetions. I follow the rules you outline and avoid my car ending up stopped where the yellow car is is shown (partially on the crosswalk). When driving a bus I stop well back from the first line when it's not possible to enter the intersection on a green (e.g. no green, too little space in or beyond the intersection); among other things this stops the bus from becoming a "billboard" that impedes visibility and makes it more dangerous for crossing pedestrians. But on rare occasions, when a light changes to amber as the bus is approaching the intersection a judgement call may end up with the bus stopped slightly into the crosswalk. This rare choice would be the lesser of three evils:

1. brake the bus sufficiently hard to stop before the line, but increase the risk of complaints or an on-board injury when a standing passenger who's not securely holding on falls over.

2. continue on the amber light either to make a left turn or go straight through but with inreased risks of conflict with others, mainly pedestrians anticpating the green jumping out onto the crosswalk, especially when the intersection you are crossing is very wide.

3. brake gently enough to stop without increasing onboard incident risk but end up with the front of the bus forward of the first stop line, but with enough crosswalk left that it's still possible for pedestrian to cross with weaving out into the intersection albeit with reduced visibility.

Technically 2 and 3 night be considered infractions, but tickets would be very unlikely. They are saved for the black and white cases where a vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red. In Vancouver, Burrard St southbound on the slope approaching the bridge was one favourite spot for that.

The way I've always explained this ...

... is that traffic lights do NOT control traffic IN intersections.

Traffic lights control traffic APPROACHING intersections.

If the light turns yellow, and you haven't gotten a portion of your vehicle into the intersection (at the least, the front wheels past the second crosswalk line is a good guide) then you're stuck. And it's illegal to reverse into, through, or out of an intersection or crosswalk.

There's no law or limit so far as I'm aware on how many vehicles may wait to complete the turn - some big intersections can accommodate 2 or 3 cars, all in the intersection waiting to turn left - so long as they all enter on the green.

Meanwhile, why do folks always ask this about left turns, rather than all turns? Same rule applies; once the light turns green, if you're unable to complete a right turn (probably due to pedestrians in your exit path on a 'walk' signal) you gotta advance to where you've established yourself in the intersection so as to be able to ignore the light turning yellow - or red, even; a commonplace occurrence due to illegal pedestrian behaviour these days. Then finish the turn - the drivers on the cross street who now face a green light must yield to you.

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