How to make an unprotected left turn in California?

I’m confused on how to make an unprotected left turn while driving in CA. Do you have to stop before entering the intersection regardless if the light is green? I’ve seen various answers.

Is it legal to be in the middle of the intersection if you entered when it was green, but it turned red because oncoming traffic kept you from turning? If it’s only permitted to enter the intersection when it is clear, what if there is too much traffic and you can never turn? (Assume you are taking a driving test) I’ve also seen different answers. Some people say you should only enter when it’s clear, while others have said you should enter so at least 1 can make a left turn every cycle of the green light.

There’s nothing illegal about going into the intersection and stopping while the light is green when making an unprotected left turn as long as you’re not blocking traffic and as long as you’re able to leave the intersection before the light turns red.

It can be vague (and probably not unique to CA). I have gotten pulled over because I entered the intersection when it was green, and finally made my turn when it was long red. This is because the oncoming traffic were jerks. The officer checked that I didn’t have any warrants and left with with a lame “you should’ve backed up when it turned red” excuse (I don’t think I could’ve anyway).

Here’s another thread on it lol


That doesn’t make sense. If he has to stop while the light is green, how could he be certain that he can clear the intersection before it’s red?

Are you serious? Backing out of an intersection? Does anyone here think there’s any way this can be good advice or should be taken seriously, whatever California’s crazy traffic laws and customs may be?

The section you’ve quoted is poorly written by the DMV. First of all, you cannot enter the intersection when the light is red. You are not required to be out of the intersection when the light turns red so long as you are still moving. I.e. making a left hand turn after oncoming traffic has cleared. If there is a section in the vehicle code I’m not aware of it and would love to see it.

California Vehicle Code section 21450-21468 deals with traffic control devices, nowhere does it state that one is required to be out of the intersection when the light turns red. The code states you may not enter the intersection when the light turns red.

The real answer about how to make an unprotected left in CA is “go really effing fast, and pray.”

Or take three rights.

I hate left turns.

Yep. At the time, I thought it prudent to resist saying “are you fucking kidding me?” and instead keep my trap shut while he ran my plates.

Ah, the “San Francisco left turn.” So named for parts of downtown like Market having blocks and blocks of “No Left Turn” signs.

Well, if there isn’t enough room for his car to fit into the other side due to traffic back-ups, he’s not allowed to enter the intersection. VC 22526: