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How to Safely Use the Center Lane for Left Turns

Posted on April 17, 2024 in Car Accidents

The center lane of a road is located in the middle of a two-way street, with traffic traveling in opposite directions on either side. It is not a regular traffic lane or a passing lane. Instead, it is used by drivers to prepare and make left-hand turns. Knowing how to properly and safely use the center lane for this purpose can help you avoid a serious car accident.

Safely using the center lane for a left turn

Getting to the Center Lane

The center lane is also known as a two-way left-turn lane. When left turns are executed correctly in center lanes, it can improve the flow and safety of traffic. The first step is traveling to the center lane safely. If you wish to enter the center lane, signal your intent to do so by activating your left turn signal. This will warn drivers behind you that you plan on slowing down and entering the center lane.

Check for oncoming traffic and look at the center lane to see if another driver is already there. Ensure that it is safe and clear to enter the center lane. If you need to cross a lane of traffic to access the center lane, make the lane change prudently. This means using your turn signal and only changing lanes when it is clear and safe to do so. Then, enter the center lane and position your vehicle close to the center line.

Waiting for the Opportunity to Turn

The center lane provides a safe place for drivers to wait for an opportunity to make a left turn. However, drivers should try to avoid stopping completely in the center lane and staying there for a prolonged period, as it is intended for left turns only. If you cannot complete the turn safely, continue driving until you find a better place to turn or wait for traffic to clear.

Center lanes are not controlled by traffic signals. This means the driver in the center lane has the responsibility of knowing when it is safe to turn. Note that under California law, you may only drive a maximum of 200 feet in the center left-turn lane. Keep within this limit for your safety and the safety of others. Turn your attention toward traffic in the lane you will be crossing and wait for a safe gap before turning left. 

Making the Left Turn 

Ensure that any oncoming vehicles are far enough away to give you ample space and time to complete the left turn safely. Never cut another driver off to execute a turn from the center lane. When you are sure it is clear, proceed to make your left turn to your desired location. Keep your left turn signal on to show surrounding drivers your intent to turn.

Do not pause or hesitate in the road while making your left turn. Exit the center lane and cross the road as quickly as possible to avoid obstructing traffic. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Watch for other vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians that may be crossing the road or also using the center lane. This includes vehicles coming toward you in the center left-turn lane.

Obey all traffic rules and regulations while using the center lane. This includes any posted speed limits in the area, as well as right-of-way rules. You must yield to pedestrians who are using the center lane at marked or unmarked crosswalks, for example. If an emergency vehicle approaches with lights or sirens activated, you should clear the center lane by moving to the right. Always conduct your maneuvers safely and without impeding the flow of traffic.