Chapter 5: Intersections and Turns

chapter 5


Note:  Practice quizzes are available only for those sections of the manual covering rules of the road (Chapters 4 through 11 and Road Signs).  



Most traffic crashes occur at intersections when a driver is making a turn. Many occur in large parking lots that are open to public use, such as at shopping centers. To avoid such crashes, you must understand the right-of-way rules and how to make proper turns.

Traffic signs, signals, and pavement markings do not always resolve traffic conflicts. A green light, for example, does not resolve the conflict between a car turning left at an intersection while an oncoming car is going straight through. The right-of-way rules help resolve these kinds of conflicts. They tell drivers who goes first and who must wait in different situations.

Here are the right-of-way rules, with examples of how they apply on the road:

  • A driver approaching an intersection must yield the right-of-way to traffic already lawfully using the intersection.

    Example: You are nearing an intersection. The traffic light is green, and you want to drive straight through. Another vehicle is already in the intersection, turning left. You must let that vehicle complete its turn before you enter the intersection.

  • If drivers approaching from opposite directions reach an intersection at about the same time, a driver turning left must yield to approaching traffic going straight or turning right.

    Example: You want to turn left at an intersection ahead. A vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction, going straight ahead. You must wait for approaching traffic to go through before you turn. You may enter the intersection, however, to prepare for your left turn if the light is green and no other vehicle ahead of you is preparing for a left turn (see "Turns" later in this chapter). When you enter the intersection, stay to the right of the center line. 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.

    You must also yield to approaching traffic when turning left into a driveway, alleyway, parking lot or other area, even if the turn is not controlled by signs or signals.

    For any left turn, the law requires you to yield to any approaching traffic close enough to be a hazard. Deciding when traffic is too close takes experience and judgment. If you have any doubt, wait for traffic to pass before turning left.

  • At intersections not controlled by signs or signals, or where two or more drivers stop at STOP signs at the same time and they are at right angles to one another, the driver on the left must yield the right-of-way to the driver on the right.

    Example: You are stopped at a stop sign, and you are going to go straight through the intersection. A driver on the intersecting road has stopped at a stop sign on your right, and is also going to go straight. You must yield the right-of-way to the other driver.

  • A vehicle entering a roadway from a driveway, alley, private road, or any other place that is not a roadway, must stop and yield the right-of-way to traffic on the roadway, and to pedestrians.

    Example: You are driving out of a parking lot and turning right as you enter a street. A vehicle is approaching from your left. You must stop and wait for the vehicle to pass before turning onto the street. If you were turning left, you would have to yield to vehicles approaching from both directions. If a pedestrian were crossing the parking lot exit, you would have to wait for him or her to cross.

  • Drivers must yield to pedestrians legally using marked or unmarked crosswalks.

    Example: You are stopped at a red light. A pedestrian steps into the crosswalk, and then the light turns green. You must wait for the pedestrian to cross. You must also yield to pedestrians in crosswalks on your left or right before turning.

  • You may not enter an intersection if traffic is backed up on the other side and you cannot get all the way through the intersection. Wait until traffic ahead clears, so you do not block the intersection.

  • A driver entering a traffic circle, sometimes called a rotary, must yield the right-of-way to drivers already in the circle.


Emergency Vehicles

You must yield the right-of-way to fire, ambulance, police and other authorized emergency vehicles when they are responding to emergencies. They will display flashing red, or red and white, lights and sound a siren or air-horn. When you hear or see an emergency vehicle approaching your vehicle from any direction, including on your side of an expressway or limited access highway, safely pull over immediately to the right edge of the road and stop. Wait until the emergency vehicle passes before driving on. If you are in an intersection, drive out of it before you pull over.

You must pull over and stop for an emergency vehicle even if it is coming toward you in the opposite lane of a two-way roadway.

If you hear a siren or air-horn nearby but do not know exactly where the emergency vehicle is, you should pull over and stop until you are sure it is not approaching you. An emergency vehicle using lights and a siren or air-horn may be unpredictable. The driver may legally exceed the speed limit, pass red lights and STOP or YIELD signs, go the wrong way on one-way streets and turn in directions not normally allowed. Although emergency vehicle drivers are required to exercise due care, be very cautious when an emergency vehicle approaches.


Blue, Green, and Amber Lights

Personal vehicles driven by volunteer fire fighters responding to alarms are allowed to display blue lights, and those driven by volunteer ambulance or rescue squad members may display green lights. Amber lights on hazard vehicles such as snow plows and tow trucks warn other drivers of possible dangers. Flashing amber lights are also used on rural mail delivery vehicles and school buses to warn approaching traffic of their presence. The vehicles displaying blue, green, or amber lights are not authorized emergency vehicles. Their drivers must obey all traffic laws. While you are not required to yield the right-of-way, you should yield as a courtesy if you can do so safely.



Always signal before you make a turn or change lanes. It is important that other highway users know your intentions. The law requires you to signal a turn or lane change with your directional lights or hand signals at least 100 feet (30 m) ahead. A good safety tip is to, whenever possible, signal your intention to turn before you actually begin braking to make the turn. The required hand signals are shown.

hand signals

Keep these other tips in mind when preparing to turn:

  • Reduce your speed.

  • Be alert for traffic on all sides. Take special care to check for motorcycles. Most crashes involving motorcycles and other vehicles are caused because the driver of the other vehicle has failed to see the motorcycle.

  • Keep in mind that your rear wheels will travel inside the path of the front wheels, closer to the curb (right turn) or opposing traffic (left turn).

  • Watch out for pedestrians, bicyclists and moped riders, especially on right turns. They are often difficult to see in traffic.

The following illustrations show the proper position of your vehicle for turns. These positions are based on requirements in the law, not just good advice.


As you prepare to turn, stay as far to the right as possible. Avoid making wide, sweeping turns. Unless signs direct you otherwise, turn into the right lane of the road you enter.

right turn


Prepare to turn by getting into the left lane, or the left side of a single lane, as close as possible to the left curb or edge of the road. If the road you enter has two lanes, you must turn into its left lane.

one way turn to another one way street



Approach the turn in the left lane or from the left side of a single lane. As you cross the intersection, enter the two-way road to the right of its center line, but as close as possible to the center line. Be alert for traffic, especially motorcycles, approaching from the road to the left. Oncoming motorcycles are difficult to see, and it is difficult to judge their speed and distance away.

left turn from one way to two way



Approach the turn with your left wheels as close as possible to the center line. Try to use the left side of the intersection to help ensure that you do not interfere with opposing traffic turning left. Stay to the right of the center line of the road you enter, but as close as possible to the center line. Be alert for traffic, especially motorcycles, approaching from the left and from the oncoming lane you are about to cross. Oncoming motorcycles are difficult to see, and it is difficult to judge their speed and distance away. Drivers often fail to see an oncoming motorcycle and collide with it while making a turn across a traffic lane.

left turn two way to two way



Approach the turn with your left wheels as close as possible to the center line. Make the turn before reaching the center of the intersection, and turn into the left lane of the road you enter.

left turn from two way to one way



Approach the turn with your left wheels as close as possible to the center line. Enter the left lane, to the right of the center line. When traffic permits, you may move out of the left lane.

left turn from two way to four lane


A "U-turn" is any turn "executed so as to proceed in the opposite direction." Do not attempt a U-turn on a highway unless absolutely necessary. If you must turn around, use a parking lot, driveway or other area, and, if possible, re-enter the roadway going forward, not backing up.

You may make a U-turn only from the left portion of the lane closest to the centerline of the roadway, never from the right lane. Unless signs tell you otherwise, you may make a U-turn when you are given the go-ahead by a green arrow left-turn traffic signal, provided it is not prohibited and you yield to other traffic.

You may not make a U-turn near the crest of a hill, a curve or any other place where other drivers cannot see your vehicle from 500 feet (150 m) away in either direction. U-turns are also illegal in business districts of New York City and where NO U-TURN signs are posted. You may never make a U-turn on a limited access expressway, even if paths connect your side of the expressway with the other side.

Unless prohibited, a three-point turn may be used to turn around on a narrow, two-way street. You may be required to make one of these turns on your road test.

To make a three-point turn:

  1. Signal with your right directional, then pull over to the right and stop. Signal with your left directional, then check carefully for approaching traffic.

  2. three-point turnTurn left, cross the road so you come to a stop while facing the left curb or edge of the road.

  3. Check again for traffic. Turn your steering wheel as far to the right as possible, then back up to the right curb or edge of the road.

  4. Stop, check again for other traffic, then pull away from the curb.



Before going on to Chapter 6, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • What is the hand signal for a stop? A right turn?

  • If two drivers enter an intersection from opposite directions at the same time, one going straight, the other turning left, which must yield the right-of-way?

  • If you enter an intersection to make a left turn, but oncoming traffic prevents you from making the turn right away, what should you do?

  • If you reach an uncontrolled intersection at the same time as a driver on your right, and both of you are going to go straight, who has the right-of-way?

  • What must you do if you are entering a road from a driveway?

  • You are facing a green light, but traffic on the other side of the intersection would keep you from going all the way through the intersection. May you enter the intersection?

  • Does a vehicle about to enter a traffic circle or rotary have right-of-way over vehicles already in the circle?

  • What should you do if you hear a siren nearby but cannot see where the emergency vehicle is?

  • How far before a turn must you signal?

  • When preparing for a right turn, should you stay as close to the center of the lane as possible?

  • Where should you position your vehicle when preparing to make a left turn from a two-way roadway into a one-way roadway?


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