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How do you make left turns?

I live in Chicago, and have been driving here for 30 years. At an intersection when your making a left turn ( no red or green arrows ) we get out in the middle of the intersection and after the light turns red, 2 cars make a left turn. Up until a few years ago I thought that was done everywhere. My brother got pulled over in a small town in Texas and was told that was not allowed. I’ve driven in over 30 states and always done the same thing, never been pulled over, but some nasty looks for people and LEO at times. I want to know if you also make left turns like this and if you would be kind enough to put the state you reside in. I see quite a few people from out of state that will pull up to the white line and wait until its clear to make a left turn and not pull up in the middle of the intersection.

One more reason to avoid Chicago.

I’ve driven in 48 states (Hawaii and Vermont are the exceptions) and in every one of those states it would be illegal as far as I know. I follow the rules as best I can but I do know what you are talking about. I’ve seen it done but I don’t do it myself.

That is called “crowding the light” in my area and although it’s technically a violation there often isn’t much alternative and I am not aware of anyone getting a ticket for it. On a busy 2 lane street deadlock will result if a driver insists on waiting for a green to turn left.

Maybe it’s “gridlock.”

It happens all the time here in OK and as to legality things get pretty murky.

If a car is in the intersection when the light goes red (hopefully not) the car is supposed to “clear the intersection” as it’s referred to. It’s seldom ever ticketed unless there’s an accident or the cop got upon the wrong side of the bed.

You can’t do that in Minnesota. It used to be that if you were in the intersection when the light changed, you could complete the turn (certainly not two cars though). The law was changed a couple years ago so that you have to stay out of the intersection until you can complete the turn. Lots of stuff done in Chicago that doesn’t happen other places.

Around here, one car does it, not usually two. In LA, seemed like four did.

In WI I think they teach you do not encroach into the intersection, but every body does it, like going 5 over, never enforced. I think it is stupid as I have waited 3 cycles of a light behind the obedient citizen to make a let hand turn. The other problem, people that think red light means I can blast through if it is only red for a little bit.

Sometimes it’s best to consider the intent of the law supercedes the letter of the law.

It’s common here in NH. Don’t know whether it’s legal or not. I’ve never heard of anyone being cited for it.

I used to do it, I’ve mostly quit because being in the intersection makes it hard to see oncoming traffic.


I agree that traffic in LA is comical, almost tragic

Personally, if I make a left, I pull into the intersection, and wait until it’s clear. That’s often not until the light turns red

I’ve also notice what you were talking about. It really seems that 3 or 4 cars make that left after the light turns red. And only 1, maybe 2, were actually in the intersection before the light changed. The other 2 blatantly ran a red

But I’ve never seen anybody get pulled over for making that late turn on red . . . running a red light is what I would call it

I’ve even seen patrol cars observe this and do nothing

Apparently it’s tolerated

Some of the other driving behavior here is far more shocking

I will do that if I am at the head of the line. Otherwise, I’ll wait at the white line. Two and sometimes three cars run the pink light in MD. The all time winner is SC. More than once I saw six or more cars run the pink light turning left. I asked my daughter about it and she said that’s called driving southern and is SOP.

If the light is red that generally means you stop no matter what. The only exception that I know if that some lights will have a left turn arrow stay green when the green light for the traffic proceeding straight will be extinguished and the red light will still be on. In the OP’s situation It sounds like there’s one light controlling two possible intents (making a left turn or proceeding straight with no dedicated left turn lane. Around here doing as the OP describes will get you a ticket and maybe a photo from the red light cameras.

Depends on the state.

Most states define “running a red light” as ENTERING a protected intersection after the light has turned red. If you first enter the intersection on the green (or yellow, in certain states) you did NOT run a red light if the light later turns red before you can exit.

Now, you may be breaking some other law, like laws against “gridlocking” an intersection…

Essentially, there’s two ways to make a left turn at a busy intersection that needs (yet lacks) a dedicated arrow: you can either turn early, or late. Turning early by anticipating the light is termed a “Pittsburgh left”; turning late…well let’s call it a"Chicago left."

Neither one is necessarily running a red light; both of them are legally ambiguous; but failing to execute one or the other will (justifiably) irritate everyone waiting behind you.

Ben: was your brother warned–or cited?

That behavior is rampant in Austin. I don’t know whether it is legal but I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone get ticketed for it. Running lights in this town is so frequent that the left-turning cars that have pulled into the intersection have to wait for the oncoming traffic to run the red light, then the 2-3 cars turning left have to clear the intersection, making their turns well after the light has changed… it’s ridiculous.

My own approach is similar to that of jtsanders - I’ll pull ahead if I’m first in line and I can see a viable opening coming up or I know there is a green arrow coming up for me to make my turn no matter what, but I wait back at the line if I’m second, probably to the annoyance of everyone behind me.

I will quote the NJ Driver Manual:

“If the traffic light changes while a driver is already in the intersection, he/she should go through with caution.”

So, while I can’t speak to regulations in other states, in NJ it is perfectly legal to complete your left turn if you were in the intersection when the light turns red. Obviously, one should only make that turn if it is safe to do so.

The New York driver’s manual ( says:

You may enter the intersection to prepare for your left turn if the light is green and no other vehicle ahead of you plans to make a left turn.

Having a sunroof is nice here, as you can see the light to know when it’s turned red.

In Wisconsin you are allowed to enter the intersection to prepare to make a left turn, while you wait for on-coming traffic to clear. If there was no opening in the on-coming traffic for you to make your turn, you must clear the intersection during the yellow light.

This all sound perfect…but only if the on-coming traffic obeys the law and six cares do not try to rush the yellow light and beat the red. Then you are trapped and the only thing to do is to finish your turn to clear the intersection for the cross traffic.
I too have never seen anyone in this situation get pulled over and sited. And you would hope the officer would use enough common sense to know you were trapped and had only that choice…unless he would have preferred you back up???

In our town there is one terrible intersection that needs a “left turn Arrow” bad.
When the high school ends it’s day, there are two ways out. The one route gives all the 100-150 cars…taking this route…about 8 blocks to the intersection I am speaking of.
If these kids are your on-coming traffic…you may as well not even try to make your turn. The first car in your lane…wanting to make that left turn…will be forced to stay in the middle of the intersection, because these kids will enter even at the last second of their red light…trying to make it through.
So one car in your lane will be able to make it through the intersection on every light cycle, and if you’re the fifth car back…that means you will wait through 5 light cycles.
Why the city doesn’t put up a left turn arrow…I don’t know.

Before we had a by-pass around the city it was even worse at another intersection.
Imagine yourself sitting at a “T” intersection. your street ends here and this intersection is the main street through this town, and you want to turn left to go through town. It is busy traffic because between 3pm and 5:30pm the highway is bumper to bumper traffic with people going and coming to and from work. You finally get a green light…but there’s no where to go. The traffic from the right has filled both westbound lanes and blocked the intersection. 1/2 block west…the west bound traffic has to merge into one lane…so not a car moves. Because the east bound traffic saw that the west bound was going to block the intersection…the east bounders go the idea to get a car farther up and now they are blocking the intersection too.
You could sit there through 5 light cycles and never get near the intersection.

Had I been the police chief (less than a block away), I would have had a field day.
One plain clothes officer to walk into the intersection, instructing the violators to the station house the 1/2 block up. Where I’d have every available officer writing citations.
I’d have them lined up like domino’s.


It is common to occupy the box in WI, MA and NH while awaiting a left turn. If you sat behind the line in MA, you’d never turn. Turning is not the problem, it’s people that block the box because they enter it and can’t make it through. I have been honked at numerous times by people thinking I should go forward into the intersection even though there is no chance of clearing it before it turns red. That causes more snarls around here than anything, morons blocking the people with the green light because they couldn’t wait an extra 30 seconds…