Backing Out Of An Intersection

Green LightTwice in the past week I've watched drivers who were stopped legally in the intersection signalling a left turn back out of the intersection when the traffic light that they were facing turned red. Why would a driver do this? The action is completely out of context and unsafe.

Unexpected Behaviour

In this situation, surrounding traffic is not expecting these drivers to suddenly reverse. They will either pull directly up to the stop line or may even attempt to follow the left turn vehicle through on the red. At best there is no room to back into, interfering with cross traffic and at worst a collision will result.

image of truck backing out of an intersection

Must Not Back Over Crosswalk

In British Columbia it is not legal to move backwards over a crosswalk. This rule prohibits backing out of an intersection in urban locations.

Remember that a crosswalk does not have to be marked with paint on the roadway to exist.

Right of Way Rules

These drivers had the right of way, once the signal they were facing turned red, to complete their left turn safely. Cross traffic cannot legally enter on the green until the left turn vehicle exits the intersection.

If anyone on the cross street honks at you, remember that they're in the wrong.

Red Light Overlap

Left turning drivers also have the benefit of the red light overlap, a signal phase where all directions are shown a red light. It's brief, but it will give you a moment where all traffic should be stopped and you can complete your turn.

Exiting an Intersection

Remember, once you have entered an intersection, the proper way out is by going forward. Backing out of the situation is not the correct choice.

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A friends grandson recently failed his drivers test. What the instructor failed him on was a left turn. The boy had proceeded into the intersection on a green light and was waiting for a break in traffic to complete the turn. When the light turned amber two vehicles continued through the intersection. He completed his turn on a red light. 

What the examiner told him was he should not have entered the intersection till it was safe to complete the turn. In other words stay behind the stop line. The way I read section 165 it is permissible to enter the intersection as long as the light is green and then to complete when safe to do so. 

He was going to take it up with his schools driving instructor but it bothers me that there are examiners out there that do not understand the MVA yet have the authority to fail a student.

There's a joke amongst DE's. If the student is succesful, they will exclaim 'I passed my test', but if not then they will say 'He/She failed me'.

You were not there, and probably haven't seen the result.

Speak to the DE Supervisor and you'll get the real story.


In reply to by CompetentDrivingBC

What else do you expect them to say if they failed? 

It could be hearsay but I'm not going to call a person a liar just because some one doubts what he reported. I will try to find out what his driving instructor has to say about it.

What I have found is most say I failed because I screwed up on such and such then proceed to tell you what they did wrong. It is how we all learn. 

In reply to by James_O

Hi James, here are my thoughts.

It could be hearsay, but remarkably you have jumped to the conclusion that "it bothers me that there are examiners out there that do not understand the MVA yet have the authority to fail a student" without proof.

If (despite weeks of training) this DE was consistently choosing to Fail students turning left, it would be addressed by the DE Supervisor as their Pass/Fail rate would clearly reflect this.  

It would seem more likely that the DE took control (verbally or physically), and that the test was an automatic failure at that point.

During a Test, left turns at busy intersections are where the DE is most vulnerable, and as relaxed as they may appear to be, they are keenly aware of the dangers. At the license office where I worked in North Van, it was common for applicants to fail the final turn, due to oncoming traffic running late through the intersection even as the driver is eagerly trying to finish.


In reply to by CompetentDrivingBC

Maybe we both jumped to conclusions. I took the kid on his word and you assumed the DE was correct.  

In smaller communities one may have 10 people doing the test before they run into the same situation so it may not show up that frequently. 

The following video says it is ICBC approved or put out by them, I don't know which.

There is a few sections which refer to the left turn around 2:44 and from 5:09 onwards it explains about entering and completing the turn on either a yellow or red light. And that is the way I heard the story. Pulled into intersection, let vehicles through running the amber and completing on a red. And the way I understand this entering on a green is permitted. Waiting to complete when safe is what you are suppose to do. 

Will try to find out more after spring break.


Just last year someone doing this backed into our car. Luckily witnesses stopped to provide their contact info, because originally ICBC was blaming us for rearending them!

Interesting article but here is the problem I have with the overall gist of the article the vehicle(s) in question should never be in that position that they have to back up or go on a red light.

I grew up and learned to drive in Ontario in the mid 70's. Simpler times and more courtesy on the roads. My instructor always said to look ahead and if it appeared I couldn't make a left turn on the green I should wait behind the stop bar.

This is something I still do to this day. Here in Kelowna completing the left turn on the red will get you killed because there are too many self important drivers who don't make any attempt to stop for a yellow. Usually they are going way too fast to stop or just don't want to wait for the next green.

Personally I arrange my travel to lights that have a left turn arrow for all those reasons. There are a number of T-bone accidents here due to a driver completing their left turn on the red and the straight through traffic not stopping. It is not uncommon to have 3 or 4 cars continue straight on the red or have 3 or 4 cars completing their left turn on the red. Once really needs to pay attention to the traffic on all three sides of an intersection.

If you tried this method in Vancouver, you would quite often end up sitting there through dozens of light-cycles. Advance-turn arrows aren't that common, and unfortunately traffic is so busy that it's often the case that the ONLY time you can turn left is when the light turns red and the oncoming traffic finally stops.

Do it your way and the people behind you would be honking like crazy -- and for good reason; that's not how it's done here.  You would fail a driver's test for doing it your way, too.

I understand your position to a degree. I have no problem with a person completing their left on a red as everything I have read and video's I've watched say that it is legal to do so.

One place I definitely agree with you is the lack of enforcement regarding running that red light. They police can find time to watch that every same intersection to catch people using their cell phone or not wearing a seatbelt and on the open highway for exceeding the speed limit, yet will never give a ticket to the person running the red.

Check the statistics for traffic violations and see what is actually enforced. I'm a firm believe if they would change their priorities and enforce all regulations to the same extend the accident rate would be greatly reduced. As it is it is the individual officers personal bias or that of the commanding office that is enforced. The rest of the MVA is a waste of print as they just cannot be bothered.


Traffic lights DON'T control traffic IN intersections!

Traffic lights control traffic APPROACHING intersections.

Even on right turns, it's usually necessary to get past that second crosswalk line on the green, and wait for the pedestrians to cross before completing the manuever.

Incidentally, it's not by chance that turns into one-way streets aren't part of any road test.