Driving You Crazy: What is the law for making a left turn, should drivers go half way out or wait?

The answer is a bit tricky in Colorado law
Posted at 5:41 AM, May 05, 2017

DC from Colorado writes, “What is driving you crazy? People that do not turn left in the left turn lane.  I've seen people 1/2 way into an intersection, light turns red, and they will back up, instead of continue through intersection.  Yet same driver would have no problem running a red light if they were continuing on straight. What is the law regarding making the left turn and should drivers go ½ way or wait farther back? And if they are out in the middle should they continue the left through the intersection?"

This is a tricky question to answer DC because whether it’s a legal move to pull half way into the intersection when making a left depends on your interpretation of Colorado law.

Colorado statue 42-4-604 states: Vehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits such turn; but vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection and to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk at the time such signal is exhibited.

Sergeant Rob Madden with Colorado State Patrol Public Affairs told me, “To answer this question directly, a driver intending to turn left within an intersection is required to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching. This includes entering the intersection, which includes proceeding past the stop bar and into the intersection.” 

Basically Colorado law, like many other States, does not dictate expressly if drivers should pull out half way into the intersection or wait at the stop bar. Instead, the law indicates that drivers just make sure to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.  

The way several lawyers I spoke with interpret the law is, since it is legal to “proceed straight through or turn” then pulling out half way is perfectly legal. But so is waiting at the stop bar and waiting for all oncoming traffic to clear as to “yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians”. The lawyers suggested since there is no requirement that a driver must enter an intersection or wait at the stop bar while preparing to turn left, the only other law that would apply would be the law prohibiting a driver from obstructing traffic.

Colorado revised statute 42-4-1204 states, “no person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or an official traffic control device, in any of the following places: (b) Within an intersection”.

Some people might interpret waiting in the middle of the intersection to turn left as “standing” and therefore drivers should wait back at the stop bar and not pull out half way.

Even though the law is indifferent to waiting at the stop line or pulling half way out into the intersection, the Colorado driver handbook is much more specific.

TheColorado driver handbook says, “If you are turning left, you should wait at the stop line or crosswalk until there is a gap in traffic large enough to allow you to pull into the intersection and complete your turn. Pulling into the intersection to wait to turn left blocks the intersection for emergency vehicles, limits visibility for oncoming traffic and puts you in a position to get in an accident if the light changes and oncoming traffic runs the red light while you are making your turn. Never turn the front wheels towards the left while you are waiting to turn. If you happen to get rear ended, you would be pushed into oncoming traffic”.

  MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

Eric La, Coaching Services Manager for MasterDrive in Centennial tells me they teach their student drivers the same recommendation as the handbook. “You do not enter the intersection unless you know you can clear the intersection almost immediately. A lot of times we will see people pull part way up in the intersection and wait. That is something we definitely don’t teach.”

Eric says the reason they teach this way is intersections are where accidents happen most often. “You shouldn’t be entering an intersection unless you know you can clear it. The best thing to do especially if you know you can’t clear the intersection is not be in it. You’re opening yourself up to the potential of crashes and injury at that point”.

Most law enforcement recommends that if driver pulls out half way and the light turns from green to yellow and then red, that driver needs to clear the intersection and should complete the left turn.

“If a driver enters the intersection prior to the red, and it becomes unsafe to complete the turning movement, they are allowed to wait in the intersection until it is safe to go through and clear it,” said Lauren LeKander, Social Media Public Information Officer for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

To the suggestion that a driver should reverse after pulling out half way back to the stop line LeKander told me, “It is never allowed to back up or reverse behind the stop bar or crosswalk.  Problems are created when drivers pull out into the intersection on the green knowing that on-coming traffic will not allow them to safely complete the turn, and then they wait for the red light to clear the intersection.  Drivers ARE allowed to wait, but they can’t enter unless it’s safe to complete the entire turning movement.  Little bit of confusion with the two laws for some drivers.” 

The law is much more specific at an intersection with a dedicated turn lane equipped with red or yellow arrows. Turns are not allowed on red arrows but are allowed on flashing yellow arrows if the driver can safely yield to oncoming traffic.

The bottom line DC, you are allowed to enter an intersection while preparing to turn left at a green light or wait back at the stop bar but best practice might be to wait to pull out until you know traffic coming the other way is clear or just about to clear out of the way. 

Maybe this long explanation is why UPS tries its best to only make right turns. Or you could try to adhere to my long time philosophy, three rights make a left.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast.