Intersection protocol you may not be aware of

Consider this situation: You approach an intersection which is controlled by a three-color traffic signal. At this intersection, you want to make a left turn, but there is a string of oncoming traffic that prevents you from making the left turn. Do you wait behind the stop bar or crosswalk until there is no more oncoming traffic or do you pull into the middle of the intersection to wait for either a break in oncoming traffic or the signal to change, whichever comes first? More importantly, are you aware of what is legal and what is not?

Under New York state Vehicle and Traffic Law, it is permissible to enter the intersection to prepare for your left turn if the light is green and no other vehicle ahead of you is preparing for a left turn. When you enter the intersection stay to the right of the center line and keep your wheels straight to avoid being pushed into oncoming traffic should a rear end collision occur. When approaching traffic clears or stops for a red light, complete your turn.

I assume few drivers are aware that this is permissible, as I see an extremely large percentage of drivers who do not enter the intersection until oncoming traffic clears. The problem with not entering the intersection is that there is a good possibility that the light will turn red before there is a break in oncoming traffic, and you will now have to wait through the duration of the red cycle until you get another green light. And, the same scenario can repeat multiple times at the same signal.

Take a look at the intersection diagram with this article. At this intersection, the vehicle shown as car “A” wants to make a left turn from “North” Street onto “South” Street. When the light turns green, car “A” must yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles. However, if this driver does not move into the intersection, all vehicles behind “A” will have to wait.

Now, if upon receiving a green signal the driver enters the intersection as shown by position “A-1” to wait for a break in oncoming traffic, vehicles following will be able to pass to the right of this vehicle and continue straight or right. This is one of the situations where passing on the right is allowed. The second benefit is that “A” will be able to complete the left turn from position A-1 without having to wait for one or more light cycles.

According to V&T Law, any vehicle already in the intersection (represented by car “A” in location “A-1”) has right of way over any vehicle not already in the intersection, such as vehicle “B.” This means that should the light turn red for North Street and thus green for South Street, all traffic on South Street, including vehicle “B,” must yield the right-of-way to vehicle “A” until it completes the left turn.

Being legally able to enter the intersection to prepare for a left turn should not be confused with V&T section 1175, “Obstructing traffic at intersection”, which prohibits driving into an intersection except when making a turn, even on a green light, unless there is adequate space on the far side of the intersection to accommodate your vehicle. This infraction, called “blocking the box” has been addressed in previous articles.

For more information on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s website at and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under departments then look for Did You Know articles under “services.”