Yellow Means Left Turn!

On the way to work today, westbound on Burton Drive in Beverly Hills, I was getting ready to make my usual left turn south on Doheny when I saw a really nasty T-bone accident.

For those of you unfamiliar with the system on Burton, it’s weird. There’s a massive central grassy median, so the left turn lanes actually run off from the main road, allowing the left turning vehicles to drive across only the three opposite-direction lanes. The reason I say it is weird is that, even though there are sort of left turn ramps, there is ONE left turn signal that I know of – and it’s eastbound, turning north on Willaman.

Usually, what happens is that cars turn left at the yellow, and the opposite-direction traffic understands the Unspoken Left Turn Rule and allows it. This is a slow process, usually only allowing a car, rarely two, per yellow light. People get impatient. Which is probably why the car two vehicles ahead of me today went up that left turn ramp at full speed, turning left right in the middle of the yellow light…and not checking to be sure that there wasn’t a vehicle speeding up to make the yellow.

I saw the brown minivan coming through the intersection, directly at the white Civic, and knew it was going to hit. The Civic driver hadn’t made sure that no one was coming at a high speed, and the minivan driver had actually sped up to catch the light. It was a perfect T-bone, and the white car actually spun around 180, coming to rest almost perfectly parked, facing the opposite direction on the street she had been turning left onto. The driver, an older woman, got out, initially unhurt. The minivan driver pulled over, and stopped to examine the bent hood on his car before going over to approach the driver he’d hit. I was able to watch this for a few minutes before it was finally my turn to turn left on Doheny and get to work – and I wanted to yell at the minivan driver, “yellow doesn’t mean speed up!”

I intend to write a very strongly worded letter to the City of Beverly Hills about this, because it is just stupid NOT to have left turn arrows in that intersection. Drivers have to cross three lanes of traffic on a fast-moving street, and while it may be almost empty at night, Burton is crammed with commuters on weekdays. Why put in those silly left turn “ramps” and not left turn signals? At least have left turn only arrows during drive hours on weekdays…that would make my commute a little faster, and would mean that I wouldn’t have to be afraid when making that turn.

What’s your opinion on yellow lights, readers? Do they mean “left turn” to you?

11 thoughts on “Yellow Means Left Turn!”

  1. I usually take a few drives through an intersection to see if it has its own rules, but generally I treat yellows the same way I treat greens, in that the person going straight has right of way. The driver making the left has the responsibility to make sure the driver going straight doesn’t decide to run the yellow. But I don’t run yellows very often.

  2. I consider it common courtesy (also the friggin’ law) to slow down for a yellow. No matter where you are in the country, yellow never means “speed up.” It means “get ready to stop.” But at the same time, I’m not going to rely on anyone else knowing that; I don’t pull out until I see the cars stopping.

  3. I remember a traffic class where the instructor told us that it was illegal to accelerate through an intersection when the light is yellow. He also told us that (given the above caveat about accelerating) you’re okay as long as you enter the intersection before it turns red.

    Dunno if it’s true, but that’s what we were taught.

    Otherwise, I’m pretty much with MrHooks. Make sure nobody’s heading through the intersection before you turn. If you’re in doubt, wait it out.

  4. My wife was hit by a yellow-light-turned-red runner while she was turning left onto Fairfax from Fountain and we found 100% at fault by the insurance… She was told if she could get a court order for the red-light camera footage of the other driver then they would reverse the ruling.

    Since then we’ll only turn on yellow if there are no cars or they are nearly completely stopped…

  5. I agree with Gregg. In this case it seems like both drivers sped up to make the yellow, but the Civic driver looks like the one in the wrong.

    When I got my license in Australia the rules there mentioned that you were not to “embarrass” another vehicle’s direction of travel, I thought that was a quaint term then and now it seems even more so!

    Whenever I get a yellow light when I’m on my motorcycle, I cover my brakes and plan an emergency maneuver in case the guy waiting to turn does not see me or ignores my right of way.

    Left turns into the path of a motorcycle is the most common cause of rider injury. Not rider error, not riding without a helmet not excessive speed.

    BTW, to help mitigate this danger, I try not to be in the left side of the left lane, and even make a lane-change so the guy turning left will see my movement and flashing turn signal.

  6. Aye aye…my favorite bonehead move in LA. A yellow light does not mean you left turn. EVER. Read the motor vehicle code, you will lose every time.
    The left turning car has the absolute duty to yield.
    A yellow light means you may still enter the intersection. Further, if you are in the intersection when the light goes red you are allowed to complete your way across unimpeded. CA in its unprotected left turns is a killer, literally.
    I hate to burst your bubble but there is no duty for the person going straight, only the person making the left turn.
    The only way you will EVER win in this situation in the event of an accident is IF you can find a witness willing to testify that the other driver entered the intersection on a red…and then you will get a 50/50 fault determination as you still had the duty to yield before making a left in front of oncoming traffic.
    Sorry…its just the way it goes. Check the CA Uniform Motor Vehicle code for more
    Remember…3 rights make a left and I do that for short blocks as its easier than trying to make a left and getting creamed making a left.

  7. Further, if you are in the intersection when the light goes red you are allowed to complete your way across unimpeded.

    One of my frustrations is people who sit over the crosswalk (or further) and do not clear the intersection. Once your front bumper is in the crosswalk, you are in the intersection and the law states you are to complete your way through the intersection (if it’s safe). It’s illegal to reverse out of the intersection too.

  8. “…yellow never means “speed up.” It means “get ready to stop.” “

    …Ha, then I take it you’ve never lived and driven in Boston!

  9. Yes Mike…one should clear the intersection when entering, not block crosswalks and those other things, the problem lies in the lack of protected lefts in this city. Unless you pull out and get a part of your car into the intersection prior to the light going red you are screwed and will never make your turn. No win situation that causes a lot of serious accidents in this city.

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