Iowa Law Regarding Left Turns At Intersections

Intersection collisions can be particularly horrific because they often involve head-on or broadside collisions between trucks, cars, or motorcycles. Such collisions can be much more devastating and cause much greater injuries than a rear-end crash. One situation that requires extra care is an intersection controlled by traffic lights, especially vehicles turning left on a solid green or blinking yellow light. It’s especially important to know how to safely and legally navigate an intersection where vehicles are waiting to turn left on green.

Iowa Code 321.311 and 321.320 provide the rules for turning left in an intersection with traffic control signals. Vehicles facing a signal displaying a green light or a blinking yellow arrow may turn left through the intersection after yielding the right-of-way to other vehicular and pedestrian traffic lawfully within the intersection. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left within an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction that are at the intersection or so close to the intersection as to be an immediate danger. Pedestrians must also be allowed to clear the intersection before the turn is begun. Then the driver, having yielded and having given the required signal, may make the left turn.

Drivers approaching an intersection with a traffic control signal and intending to drive straight through it need to be vigilant about traffic from the opposite direction turning left. Drivers going straight through the intersection should not assume that drivers waiting to turn left from the opposite direction see them. Their view may be blocked (for example by other lines of traffic) or they may be distracted. Even if the other driver does see you, they may turn in front of you anyways, perhaps because they think they can “punch it” and get through the intersection before you arrive, because they simply don’t understand the concept of yielding to traffic heading straight through the intersection, or because they don’t care and they’re going through the intersection regardless of what Iowa law requires. So be extra careful when approaching an intersection where traffic is waiting to turn left.

Drivers waiting to turn left at a green light in an intersection should follow some basic safety tips to ensure that they don’t pull out in front of an oncoming vehicle and cause an accident:

  1. Be careful if your view is blocked by things like lines of standing traffic. There may be an oncoming vehicle in the far right lane that you can’t see because the rest of the traffic is stopped. If in doubt, stay where you are, wait for traffic to become unquestionably clear, and if necessary wait for the light to turn yellow and then clear the intersection when safe to do so and complete your left turn;

  2. Move straight into the intersection when the light is green so that you have less to distance to travel and can get through the intersection quicker when it is safe and clear to make your left turn;

  3. While waiting to turn left, keep your wheels straight; if you’re hit from behind by another car and you already have your wheels turned left, the force of the collision will shove your vehicle left into the path of oncoming traffic;

  4. Don’t forget to look for pedestrians crossing the street in the area where you’ll be completing your left turn. Not only do you not want to hit a pedestrian, but if you begin your left turn and then have to stop suddenly because people are crossing in front of you, you’ll be stopping or slowing in the path of oncoming traffic.

Harley Erbe