Not blocking the intersection - a question

I live in Illinois, where it is OK to advance into the intersection while waiting for traffic to clear when making a left turn. If traffic is heavy, you are allowed to occupy the intersection until the light turns red, stopping oncoming traffic and allowing you to make your turn.

In states where you are not supposed to enter the intersection until it is clear to make the turn, what do you do when traffic is heavy enough that a constant stream of cars flows through the intersection during the green light (and the ensuing yellow), so that it might be multiple cycles before you happen to have a gap in traffic that allows you to make your turn?

I would wait until it’s clear enough and then go. I do not intentionally block traffic. But it’s never happened to me in my memory. A place with traffic that heavy will usually have a left turn traffic signal in addition to a regular green.

In California, you may not enter the intersection for a left turn until the street you’re turning left onto has room to accommodate you, regardless of what the lights say. However, if the street you’re turning into is clear but you cannot make the turn because of oncoming traffic, you may enter the intersection to wait for oncoming traffic to clear, even if that doesn’t happen until the light turns red.

You cannot enter the intersection on a green and then sit there on a red because the street you’re turning into is full and you have nowhere to go. That’s 'blocking the intersection." Waiting for oncoming traffic to clear and then immediately completing your turn is not considered “blocking the intersection.”

Assuming that you’re trying to turn left, and there’s plenty of room for you to go on that street to your left, but you can’t go immediately because there’s a constant stream of oncoming traffic and no breaks in between big enough for you to get through…

I know two ways to get through without blocking the box. Both will make someone mad, possibly result in a collision. You just have to decide if it’s worth it.

#1 Pull into the intersection and slowly slowly slowly turn left. At first, the cars coming the other way will just go around you. Eventually, one of three things will happen. Either (a) an oncoming car will see the shrinking gap and decide to just let you go (but they may be really angry about it), or (b) someone will hit you and you can both be really angry at each other, or © the light will turn yellow, which leads me to #2

#2 Be in the intersection when the light turns yellow. At that moment, wait for just ONE oncoming car to pass you and then immediately pull left just behind that car’s rear bumper. If there’s another oncoming car trying to enter the intersection, they will be really mad at you because they wanted to run the yellow light and you just got in their way. But one of three things will happen: (a) they’ll slam on the brakes and let you go, or (b) they’ll hit you, or © they’ll let you go and then try to drive around you while the light is red, at which point THEY are the ones who are blocking the box, not you.

Basically, you have to ask yourself how important it is to you to make that left turn and are you willing to play chicken with the oncoming cars. FWIW, when I lived in NJ, I probably used method #2 about a thousand times, and nobody ever hit me.

The safe alternative is to give up your idea of turning left, go STRAIGHT through the intersection, and then a right at the next light followed by two more rights. Like the wise man said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.”

If there is no red arrow, the exit road is clear, there is no “box”, and the only thing blocking your progress to turn left is opposite-direction traffic going straight ahead, can you give a cite for states where it is not correct to enter the intersection and wait? I was not aware of this.

As a corollary, I think it’s true in all jurisdictions that if you have entered the junction legally under a green light, you have the right of way to complete your maneuver, even after the lights change. Are there any exceptions?

You need to be more precise about this. Do you mean:

You may not enter the intersection until…

  1. …the oncoming traffic has a gap that will allow you to make turn (I don’t know of any states that say this)

  2. …your destination lane is sufficiently clear that you may clear the intersection after entering (I think most, if not all, states say this)

Sorry I don’t have a cite for the law, but they have cameras at the intersections in Seattle which take a photo of the box at the precise moment that the light turns red. If your car appears in the photo, they mail you a ticket. Doesn’t matter how or why you got there. IANALEO.

I know of certain busy junctions in some US (and UK) cities where there is literally a criss-crossed box painted over the junction, and driving into that box before your way is clear to complete the maneuver is prohibited. There are usually prominent signs up at these junctions to make the prohibition clear. Are you saying that all junctions in Seattle are treated this way?

How do you know this?

Generally the law is that you may not enter the intersection after the light has turned red. Cameras generally must show in one photo that the light turned red before you entered, and another photo to show that you did enter after that. Where did you get the information about how these Seattle cameras work?

In Quebec, if you are unable to clear the intersection before the light turns, you can be ticketed. Even if there is nowhere for you to go because of the car ahead of you.

Do you have a cite for this? Google finds several lists of unusual traffic laws in Quebec, and it’s not among them. It strikes me as implausible that it would be applicable to a driver who has legally pulled forward to wait to turn left, because it would be an incentive for a dangerous maneuver to complete the turn before you are sure that oncoming traffic as stopped.

The trick is to not enter an intersection when the odds are you will bog things down. There is a big difference between being the first car waiting to turn left in an intersection, and being the second or third car waiting to turn left in an intersection in an intersection. Usually there is enough time for one left turning car to clear the intersection before the red turns to green. Usually there is not enough time for several left turning cars to clear the intersection before the red turns to green. Want to drive safely? Don’t pull out into an intersection when the odds are you will not be able to clear the intersection before the red turns to green. The law reflects this.

What North Carolina general law 20-142.5 says is that you can’t enter the intersection if there is insufficient space on the other side of the intersection for you to proceed, which would mean the road to the left if you’re making a left turn.

That has, however, been interpreted by some police and courts in NC to mean you shouldn’t enter the intersection if you can’t proceed all the way through without stopping for oncoming traffic.

I’ve seen at least one news story about this. Records seem to show that areas that have been inundated with transplants won’t ticket you for entering the intersection to wait for traffic, but areas with mostly natives will ticket you. Legal Realism in action.

I don’t know if it is an actual statute vs. police practice. My daughter’s roommate fell foul of this, and was ticketed. The idea, I suppose, is that you shouldn’t enter the intersection if you can’t exit it.

I must admit that I don’t really KNOW. I could be wrong. I have seen the cameras flash to take photos of the intersection and I’ve heard people tell me that they got tickets. But since I don’t work in traffic enforcement, I can’t rule out the possibility that there are lots of people whose plates get photographed and DON’T get a ticket.

A phone app that summarizes atypical regional traffic laws would be useful. Including, of course, whether you are allowed to use a phone app.

See post 12 for the Quebec statute.

That says you have to yield to opposing traffic. The OP is about waiting to turn in order to yield to opposing traffic.

You have misinterpreted the statute, specifically: “no person may stop a road vehicle in such a manner that it will . . . obstruct traffic.”

Stopping in the middle of an intersection and remaining there after the red light has turned to green is obstructing traffic.

That’s a dubious interpretation in the context of waiting to complete a left turn when blocked by oncoming traffic. Obviously, you have to wait until you are certain the oncoming traffic has stopped as the light changes; only then can you safely complete your turn. All jurisdictions that I’ve seen are explicit that if you entered the junction legally under green, you have the right of way to complete your maneuver, regardless of the current state of the light. If you have the right of way, you are not blocking anyone.