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Always use utmost caution
when turning left because
if anything happens, it will
probably be your fault .
~~ My Father~~

Left Turns

531 words


A simple rule that might save your life
by Dianne Roth


If you have never learned anything from my father, please learn this: If you are turning left, you never have the right of way. I repeat, you never have the right of way if you are turning left.

But, as with all dictums, there is always an exception. We will begin with the exception: Turning left, you have the right of way if, and only if, you have a green arrow pointing to the left.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it.

Recently, I was in North Carolina visiting my son and his family. I was loading their car in preparation for a grand adventure with a precious cargo, ...my grandchildren.

My daughter in law, who has never admonished me about my driving, told me sternly, “Watch out! North Carolina drivers do not understand left turns.” She went on to describe NC left turn behavior.

Sure enough, before our adventure was finished, I was approaching an intersection with a green light. I was going straight through the intersection and saw the car in the facing left turn lane. The driver was planning a left turn across my lane. He saw me coming and reaffirmed that he had the green light.

My daughter in law’s words were fresh in my head, so I had slowed from the 55mph posted speed and was prepared to stop if he pulled out. Which, of course, he did.

What I was not prepared for was his shaking fist and torrent of unheard, but fully understandable, comments about my driving and intelligence. It happened more than once.

I was home no more than two weeks, when the same scenario played out in Corvallis. The driver assumed that her left turn green light gave her right of way over my going straight green light. It occured to me that my father’s rule needed to be shared.

In Oregon, and most of the civilized world, when you are at a traffic signal and you are in the left turn lane, you have the following choices:

Red light: Stop!
Yellow light: Stop, unless you are already entering the intersection.
Green arrow: You have the right of way, keeping in mind there might be an idiot coming who does not understand the above two choices. Proceed with caution!
Green light: You do not have the right of way over anyone. You must allow all oncoming traffic to proceed while you wait patiently for a safe opening. You may creep forward, into the intersection. This allows you to complete your turn when the oncoming traffic stops for the red light and you have the yellow.

However, my father’s rule is much easier to remember: If you are turning left, you never have the right of way.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on February 19, 2014