Ryan from Colorado Springs writes, “What’s driving you crazy? I have had a dozen of near misses all to do with drivers making a left turn and not yielding to drivers making a right turn at a traffic light. Here’s the scenario, both drivers have green lights but the left-turning driver has a flashing yellow light. After a long discussion on Facebook's "719 can’t drive" page, I found that a third of people think the driver making a right turn on green must yield to the driver making a left turn. Another third thinks that they both go at the same time when there are two lanes because the right turn driver goes to the right lane and the left turn driver goes to the left lane. Another third thinks that the driver making the left turn always yields unless the person turning right has a red. I am a part of the third group. I have reviewed the 757 pages of title 42 and have come up with nothing but telling all drivers to yield. Any help would be appreciated.”
This is similar to a couple other stories about making left turns. One where I answered the question why drivers don’t pull out into the intersection to turn left at a green light, the other asking what’s the law for making a left turn — should drivers go half-way out or wait.
I took your question, Ryan, to the Colorado Springs Police Department, which told me the right-turning vehicle will generally always have the right-of-way, especially if they have a green light. However, Lt. James Sokolik, CSPD public information officer, tells me the answer to this question is dependent upon all the circumstances happening with the lights and the drivers at the intersection.
In situation #1: A driver making a left-hand turn must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle making the right-hand turn if they are turning into the same lane.
In situation #2: Where the driver making a left-hand turn and the driver making a right-hand turn can turn into two separate lanes, then they are both free to do so, however, the driver making a left-hand turn must exercise all due caution to make sure there is no immediate hazard otherwise they will be at fault in any traffic incident.
In situation #3: A driver making a left-hand turn on green has the right-of-way, and the vehicle making a right-hand turn on red must let the left-hand turn go through first.
Lt. Sokolik told me the difficulty with these kinds of traffic what-ifs is that each scenario is entirely dependent upon the totality of the circumstances. Details such as the number of lanes, the type of lights like flashing arrows, any signage with alternate instruction, all control who will have the right-of-way in any given situation.
One of the few times a driver turning left has the right-of-way is at an intersection with a traffic light that has a green turn arrow. That solid, green arrow permits drivers making the left the opportunity to make their turn before the mainline traffic or right turns proceeds through the intersection.
Colorado statute 42-4-604 states: “Vehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits such turn; but vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection and to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk at the time such signal is exhibited.”
The latest edition of the Colorado driver handbook is much more specific with what drivers should do saying on page 11, “Turning left: You must yield to all oncoming traffic, unless you have a green arrow or arrived first at a four-way stop.”
The handbook explains further on page 12 where you should wait to make that left turn saying, “If turning left, you should wait at the stop line or crosswalk until there is a gap in oncoming traffic large enough to allow you to complete your turn. Pulling into the intersection while waiting to turn left blocks the intersection for emergency vehicles, limits visibility for oncoming traffic and puts you in a position to get in a collision if the light changes and oncoming traffic runs the red light while you make your turn. Never turn the front wheels towards the left while you are waiting to turn. If you happen to get rear ended, you would be pushed into oncoming traffic.”
Bottom line? Right turn before left turn unless left has a green arrow.
Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.