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Chapter 5 Rules Of The Road

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5.4 - INTERACTING AT INTERSECTIONS

Unfortunately, not everyone follows traffic controls at intersections. Some drivers run red lights (enter intersections after the light has turned red) or ignore stop signs. Illegal lane changes are also common in intersections. Right-of-way rules are often ignored. Violations such as these make intersections among the most dangerous areas on the road, so it is important to know how to interact safely at intersections.

In the United States over the last several years, an average of 21% of traffic crash fatalities and roughly 50% of serious injuries have been attributed to intersections.49 Among all collisions in Indiana, failure to yield the right-of-way is the most common primary factor.50

Intersections

Intersections

An intersection is any place where two or more roadways meet, whether or not one road crosses the other. Intersection collisions are common because many important driving decisions, such as whether to cross the intersection, turn, or slow down, are made there.

When there is a traffic signal, a vehicle may enter the intersection on a green or yellow light and proceed out of it, even if the light turns red after the vehicle enters the intersection. If you enter an intersection on a green or yellow light, but cannot clear the intersection prior to the light turning red, your vehicle may block traffic and cause a gridlock situation. Gridlock often occurs when heavy traffic prevents a vehicle from clearing the intersection after the light has turned red. As a result, opposing traffic cannot proceed through the intersection.

The first line of the crosswalk marks the beginning of the intersection. A marked or controlled intersection has a traffic signal, stop sign, or yield sign. These traffic controls determine the right-of-way for drivers. Residential areas often have unmarked or uncontrolled intersections. At these intersections, drivers must follow the rules below to determine which driver may proceed first through the intersection.

Yielding the Right-of-Way

When you arrive at an intersection controlled by a four-way stop, the driver that comes to the intersection first should be given the right-of-way. In the animation below, the driver in the yellow car coming from the top arrives first, so the driver in the red car yields the right-of-way.

If two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver to the right should be given the right-of-way. The driver in the gray car coming from the right is on the right of the driver in the blue car, so the blue car yields the right-of-way. These two rules on yielding always apply, whether a driver is turning or proceeding straight ahead.

Also, if you reach an intersection at the same time as another vehicle or other vehicles, you should yield the right-of-way to the vehicle traveling on a continuing highway if you are on a terminating highway.

 

Even if the law says you should be given the right-of-way, do not insist on proceeding if the other driver refuses to yield to you. It is safer to let him or her go first. If the other driver expects you to move because it's your turn, take it. Never take the right-of-way or try to force your way into traffic; being rude or inconsiderate to other road users often will earn you the same. Following right-of-way laws goes a long way toward preventing crashes and making your drive more pleasant.

Intersections with Limit Lines

Always stop behind the limit line at an intersection or street controlled by a traffic light when the light is red. Proceed only when the light changes to green. At a street or intersection with a stop sign, you must come to a complete stop behind the limit line. Then you may proceed into the intersection at a cautious speed to go straight or begin a turn or other maneuver.

Intersections without Limit or Crosswalk Lines

Intersections without Limit or Crosswalk Lines

At unmarked intersections with no painted lines, the intersection begins at the end of the curb and you should stop at the end of the curb. A crosswalk exists at every intersection, even if it is not marked on the pavement.  

Crossing Intersections

Use caution when approaching and proceeding through intersections. Intersecting roads, vehicles making left and right turns, and opposing signals all increase the potential for collisions at intersections. In addition, drivers jumping green lights may conflict with drivers running red lights, leading to collisions. By law, you must signal your intention to turn when you are within 200 feet of an intersection. If the speed limit is 50 mph or higher, signal at least 300 feet in advance. In addition, always consider the speed and distance of other vehicles that may conflict with your vehicle as well as the time required to cross an intersection or complete a turn or other maneuver. Crossing an intersection completely takes about four seconds. It is always best to use intersections that are signal-controlled as opposed to those with stop signs.

Blind Intersections

At a blind intersection, buildings, parked vehicles or vegetation may obstruct a driver’s line of sight. Because there is limited visibility, you must use extra caution when approaching a blind intersection. Slow down to 15 mph as you approach the intersection. Then stop and check that there is no cross traffic before you proceed. When it is safe, proceed through the blind intersection at a reasonable and safe speed, not exceeding 15 mph. This reduced speed allows ample time to see conflicting vehicles and road hazards. Also ensure that you have visibility of at least 100 feet in all directions before attempting to pass through a blind intersection. Stop and yield the right-of-way whenever it is not safe or prudent to proceed through the intersection.

Crosswalks

Crossing Intersections

Crosswalks may be marked or unmarked and are located at every intersection, unless the intersection is marked with a single white limit line and a "NO PED XING" sign is posted. It is important to use caution and watch for pedestrians at all crosswalks because conflicts with pedestrians can lead to tragedy. At a typical intersection, there are four pedestrian crosswalks, unless a "NO PED XING" sign is posted. At a "T" intersection, there are usually three crosswalks, unless otherwise marked. You must stop for pedestrians crossing the street in a marked or unmarked crosswalk or at an intersection. This means stopping at or before the limit line of the crosswalk or the end of the curb and staying stopped while the pedestrian crosses the street.

Pedestrians always have the right-of-way, even if crossing illegally.

Turning at Intersections

Traffic crashes often occur at intersections when a driver is making a turn. To avoid such crashes, you must know how to make proper turns. It is also important to understand how to turn at different types of intersections. The following explains how to:

  • Make a U-turn
  • Turn right
  • Turn left
  • Turn into and out of a one-way street
  • Turn at a "T" intersection from a one-way street into a two-way street

U-Turns

U-Turns
  • A U-turn is legal in an intersection unless a "No U-Turn" sign is posted. A U-turn is legal in the middle of the block only in a residential district, and not in a business district. An area where 50% or more of the buildings are businesses, apartments, churches, or schools is considered a business district.
  • A U-turn is a dangerous maneuver that must be attempted only after considering your vehicle’s position, its turning radius, and the width of the roadway. You must always check for and yield to oncoming vehicles before making a U-turn. Often making a three-point turn or another turning maneuver is preferable and more prudent than making a U-turn.
  • A U-turn is never legal on an expressway.
  • To make a U-turn, signal to turn left, stop, check for oncoming traffic, and then make a U-turn when it is clear.

Right Turns

Right Turns

Collisions commonly occur during right turns when a driver turns the vehicle too wide, enters the left lane, and collides with a vehicle making a left turn into the left lane. When making a right turn, always complete the turn in the lane that is furthest to the right.

After coming to a complete stop and checking for traffic and pedestrians, you may turn right on a red light unless there is a sign prohibiting it. You must complete the maneuver in the right or slow lane, keeping close to the curb at all times. If traffic is stopped at an intersection and you are several cars back, you may travel along the right curb before making a right turn, but only if it is safe to do so. If there is no curb, the curb is a parking zone, or there is a bicycle lane, you may not travel along the right before making a right turn.

If you are in a lane that allows you to turn right or proceed straight on the road and the lane to your right is marked "Right Turn Only," you, as the driver in the left lane, have the option to turn right on a red light. The driver in the "Right Turn Only" lane, however, must proceed to make a right turn after the lines dividing the lane on the left side change from broken to solid. Once the solid line begins, changing lanes out of the "Right Turn Only" lane is illegal, even when no other vehicles are present.

Left Turns

Left Turns

Left turns tend to be dangerous due to potential conflict with oncoming vehicles traveling at high speeds, changing traffic signals, pedestrians using the crosswalk, and limited visibility due to large vehicles, trucks or other obstructions. A green left arrow signifies it is your turn to make a left turn. When there are no oncoming vehicles or pedestrians in the crosswalk, you also may make a left turn on a green light. You may complete the turn in either lane of the cross street to the right of the yellow center line.

If you are making a left turn at the same time another vehicle is making a right turn onto the same street, the vehicle making the right turn has the right-of-way. You may make a left turn on a red light only from a one-way street into another one-way street, unless otherwise posted. A driver making a left turn against oncoming traffic never has the right-of-way. Regardless of the situation, always proceed with caution when making a left turn.

Two-Way Left Turn Lane
 

Many major surface streets have center lanes that may be used by traffic in either direction to make left turns. A two-way left turn center lane is marked by double yellow lines, with the exterior lines solid and the interior lines dashed. If a street has a center left turn lane, you must use it to turn left or start a permitted U-turn.

You may enter and use the two-way center lane when preparing for or making a left turn, when preparing for or making a U-turn if permitted, or when entering or exiting a driveway or private road. If you are exiting a driveway or private road, you may use this lane to merge. You may not drive more than 200 feet in the center left turn lane. You may drive across a center left turn lane if needed.

Before you enter a two-way left turn lane, signal and make sure the lane is clear in both directions. Once you enter the center lane, continue to signal and drive completely inside the lane. Turn only when it is safe. As it is a two-way lane, always watch for oncoming vehicles that are using the lane to turn left.

You may drive up to 200 feet in a two-way left turn lane, but you may not use the two-way lane to pass another vehicle. You may not make a left or U-turn from any other lane when there is a two-way left turn lane that allows you to make that turn.

Examples of Left and Right Turns

The demonstrations in this section show you the proper way to execute a turn in each intersection scenario. The numbers that are next to the vehicles refer to the numbered sections below:

 
1. Left Turn from a Two-Way Street

Left turns are dangerous and require extra caution due to conflict with oncoming vehicles, changing traffic signals, pedestrians, and limited visibility. Start the turn at the left edge of the lane closest to the middle of the street. You may complete the turn in either lane of the cross street to the right of the yellow center line if it is safe to do so. You must use a left turn lane if there is one. A left turn from the next lane may be made if signs or arrows show it is okay.

2. Right Turn from a Two-Way Street

The blue car above is turning correctly. It begins the turn in the lane nearest the right curb and ends the turn in the lane nearest the right curb. Do not swing wide into another lane of traffic. Remember that intersection collisions commonly occur during right turns when a vehicle turns too wide, enters the left lane, and collides with a vehicle making a left turn into the same lane. You may start a right turn from a lane other than the far right lane only where pavement markings or signs show that using that lane for a right turn is permitted.

 
3. Left Turn from a Two-Way Street into a One-Way Street

Start the turn from the left lane on your side of the road. You may turn into any lane that is safely open, as shown by the red car above.

4. Left Turn from a One-Way Street into a Two-Way Street

Start the turn from the far left lane of the one-way street. The blue car above may complete the turn in either lane that is safely open, as shown.

5. Left Turn from a One-Way Street into a One-Way Street

Start the turn from the far left lane as shown by the red car. You may complete the turn in any lane that is safely open. Watch for bicycles between your vehicle and the curb because they may legally use the left lane for their left turns.

6. Right Turn from a One-Way Street into a One-Way Street

Start the turn from the far right lane as shown by the blue car. You may complete the turn in any lane that is safely open. Sometimes signs or pavement markings indicate you may turn right from the lane next to the far right lane.

 
7. Turn at a "T" Intersection from a One-Way Street into a Two-Way Street

Through traffic has the right-of-way. As shown in the animation above, you may turn either right or left from the center lane. Watch for vehicles and bicycles inside your turn.

 

Making a Good Turn

Follow these guidelines to turn safely:

  • Never make a last-minute decision to turn. It is dangerous not to give enough notice to other drivers.
  • Always scan the road ahead and to the sides for hazards, such as vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, or animals.
  • Before you turn, look behind you and to both sides to be aware of the vehicles around you.
  • Move into the correct lane for your turn as soon as you safely can. Make sure you are completely in the proper lane at least half a block before you turn.
  • Turn on your signal at least 200 feet before making the turn or at least 300 feet before turning if you are on a roadway where the speed limit is 50 mph or higher.
  • Slow down when approaching the turn and release the brake and clutch during the turn.
  • Keep both hands on the steering wheel throughout the entire turn.
  • Remain in the proper lane and proceed at the same speed at the start of the turn and throughout the turn.
  • Finish the turn in the proper lane before you consider changing into another lane.

49 Federal Highway Administration.  (n.d.)  Intersection Safety.  Retrieved from http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/

50 Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.  (October 2013.)  Driver’s Manual.  Retrieved from http://www.in.gov/bmv/2362.htm