turning left at a junction

Now that you have been introduced to the different elements involved in navigating junctions (Mirrors, Signal, Position, Speed, Gear, Look, Assess, Decide, Act) let’s explore the specifics of turning left. Since we drive on the left in the UK turning left is in many ways the simplest choice you can make at a junction. It is not without it’s difficulties though – dealing safely with cyclists and pedestrians are likely to be your chief concern.

You will need to identify the junction and collect information about it throughout the approach.

You will need to check your MIRRORS as per the Highway Code.

Rule 161 

Mirrors. All mirrors should be used effectively throughout your journey. You should

  • use your mirrors frequently so that you always know what is behind and to each side of you
  • use them in good time before you signal or change direction or speed
  • be aware that mirrors do not cover all areas and there will be blind spots. You will need to look round and check.

Remember: Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre

Rule 182

Use your mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before you turn left. Do not overtake just before you turn left and watch out for traffic coming up on your left before you make the turn, especially if driving a large vehicle. Cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users in particular may be hidden from your view.

Rule 182: Do not cut in on cyclists

Rule 182: Do not cut in on cyclists

Therefore your main responsibility when planning to turn left is to check centre and left mirror in good time, specifically looking for cyclists. Remember to look for cyclists who may be on cycle paths or lanes as well as those on the road with you.

The Highway Code also stresses the importance of giving a SIGNAL to other road users.

Rule 103 

Signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians (see ‘Signals to other road users), of your intended actions. You should always

  • give clear signals in plenty of time, having checked it is not misleading to signal at that time
  • use them to advise other road users before changing course or direction, stopping or moving off
  • cancel them after use
  • make sure your signals will not confuse others. If, for instance, you want to stop after a side road, do not signal until you are passing the road. If you signal earlier it may give the impression that you intend to turn into the road. Your brake lights will warn traffic behind you that you are slowing down
  • use an arm signal to emphasise or reinforce your signal if necessary. Remember that signalling does not give you priority.

Rule 104

You should also

  • watch out for signals given by other road users and proceed only when you are satisfied that it is safe
  • be aware that an indicator on another vehicle may not have been cancelled.

It is important when planning to turn left that you tell others of this intention and that you time this signal well.

Here are the Highway Code rules relevant to choosing a good position.

Rule 183 

When turning

  • keep as close to the left as is safe and practicable
  • give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction.

Rule 131

Lane dividers. These are short, broken white lines which are used on wide carriageways to divide them into lanes. You should keep between them.

Rule 133

If you need to change lane, first use your mirrors and if necessary take a quick sideways glance to make sure you will not force another road user to change course or speed. When it is safe to do so, signal to indicate your intentions to other road users and when clear, move over.

Rule 134

You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily. Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, e.g. when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed.

Rule 141

Bus lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs that indicate which (if any) other vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane. Unless otherwise indicated, you should not drive in a bus lane during its period of operation. You may enter a bus lane to stop, to load or unload where this is not prohibited.

Rule 127

A broken white line. This marks the centre of the road. When this line lengthens and the gaps shorten, it means that there is a hazard ahead. Do not cross it unless you can see the road is clear and wish to overtake or turn off.

So when I am turning left I am normally no more than about a metre away from the kerb, but if you are going left you should be to the left of the road where possible. Therefore, in some roads this will mean being in the left lane for others it will mean being slightly left of the centre of the lane.

If it is a very sharp corner then you will need to be further AWAY from the left kerb (because your back wheels will cut the corner – see steering section) or you will need to emerge farther into the new road before you begin to turn.

It is  important then that you notice and respond to road markings and signs as early as possible so that you can safely get into the correct position. Rule 134 points out that if there are lots of cars trying to move position then you will need to be travelling very slowly and take it in turns.

The Highway Code gives some general advice on speed in SPEED (and therefore GEARS)

Rule 146:

Adapt your driving to the appropriate type and condition of road you are on. In particular

  • do not treat speed limits as a target. It is often not appropriate or safe to drive at the maximum speed limit
  • take the road and traffic conditions into account. Be prepared for unexpected or difficult situations, for example, the road being blocked beyond a blind bend. Be prepared to adjust your speed as a precaution
  • where there are junctions, be prepared for road users emerging
  • in side roads and country lanes look out for unmarked junctions where nobody has priority
  • be prepared to stop at traffic control systems, road works, pedestrian crossings or traffic lights as necessary
  • try to anticipate what pedestrians and cyclists might do. If pedestrians, particularly children, are looking the other way, they may step out into the road without seeing you.

Rule 152:

Residential streets. You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars. In some areas a 20 mph (32 km/h) maximum speed limit may be in force. Look out for

  • vehicles emerging from junctions or driveways
  • vehicles moving off
  • car doors opening
  • pedestrians
  • children running out from between parked cars
  • cyclists and motorcyclists.

Rule 154:

Take extra care on country roads and reduce your speed at approaches to bends, which can be sharper than they appear, and at junctions and turnings, which may be partially hidden. Be prepared for pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists, slow-moving farm vehicles or mud on the road surface. Make sure you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear. You should also reduce your speed where country roads enter villages.

There is no specific guidance from the Highway Code about speed on approach to junctions but as a very rough guideline, left corners can be taken at around 15mph (and therefore you will likely be in 2nd gear). In the early stages of learning to drive you may choose to go much slower than this (and use 1st gear) and that is fine. After all, the responsibility to choose a safe speed to turn the corner is yours (the driver). I am confident you will soon learn to assess the corner and choose an appropriate speed and gear but do feel free to ask your Instructor or accompanying driver for help and guidance when necessary.

The Highway Code advises us on how we should LOOK and ASSESS, DECIDE and ACT.

Rule 170

Take extra care at junctions. You should

  • watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists, powered wheelchairs/mobility scooters and pedestrians as they are not always easy to see. Be aware that they may not have seen or heard you if you are approaching from behind
  • watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way
  • watch out for long vehicles which may be turning at a junction ahead; they may have to use the whole width of the road to make the turn (see Rule 221)
  • watch out for horse riders who may take a different line on the road from that which you would expect
  • not assume, when waiting at a junction, that a vehicle coming from the right and signalling left will actually turn. Wait and make sure
  • look all around before emerging. Do not cross or join a road until there is a gap large enough for you to do so safely.

Rule 170: Give way to pedestrians who have started to cross

Rule 170: Give way to pedestrians who have started to cross

Rule 147

Be considerate. Be careful of and considerate towards all types of road users, especially those requiring extra care (see Rule 204).

  • you MUST NOT throw anything out of a vehicle; for example, food or food packaging, cigarette ends, cans, paper or carrier bags. This can endanger other road users, particularly motorcyclists and cyclists.
  • try to be understanding if other road users cause problems; they may be inexperienced or not know the area well.
  • be patient; remember that anyone can make a mistake.
  • do not allow yourself to become agitated or involved if someone is behaving badly on the road. This will only make the situation worse. Pull over, calm down and, when you feel relaxed, continue your journey.
  • slow down and hold back if a road user pulls out into your path at a junction. Allow them to get clear. Do not over-react by driving too close behind to intimidate them.

Law EPA sect 87

These rules highlight that cyclists and pedestrians can be a particular hazard when turning left and it is your responsibility as a driver to look and find out if there are cyclists or pedestrians nearby. If they are then I would highly recommend slowing down further and letting them pass you. Turning left across the path of the cyclists is dangerous – you don’t want to knock them off or scare them. You also don’t want to turn the corner at the same time as them – it creates unnecessary risk. If there is a cyclist around then make sure you are well in front of them before you turn or slow down so that you are a safe distance behind them when you turn.

Cyclists can also be a hazard if they are on a cycle track on the pavement – so make sure your observations (just before you turn as well as at the beginning of this routine) include any cycle lanes/ paths as well as the road.

In a similar way, pedestrians who are crossing the road can be an issue. Look for pedestrians approaching the junction and proceed only when it is safe. If this means slowing down or even stopping on the approach road then do that. Only begin to turn the corner if you are sure the pedestrian has seen you and is waiting for you to turn before they cross.

My advice for this section when turning left is to make sure that once you are turning the corner you are looking further along the road so that you are able to get suitable position and speed for the road conditions. You haven’t finished turning the corner until you have straightened the wheels and where appropriate regained your speed. 

In summary:  be considerate, be careful and be aware of what is on the road with you.