Readers honked off over left-turn rule

Traffic

Traffic backs up on Ogden just east of La Grange Ave. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on what I learned in online traffic school about turning left at intersections.

I was deluged with responses. Here's a sampling:

"Crazy." "Idiotic." "Moron." "Clueless."

For those of you who haven't yet had the opportunity to be inflamed by this topic, a recap:

A while back I got a ticket for making a right turn in front of an interminably stopped bus. Part of my penance — yes, I repent — involved attending the traffic school administered by Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety. I chose the four-hour online course, during which I stumbled upon this revelation about driving in Illinois:

"You should not proceed into the intersection on a green light until you see that you can safely make your turn."

In other words, the thing I'd done all my driving life — hanging out in the intersection waiting to turn — was not the proper thing to do.

My first response — a common refuge of the aging mind — was "No way! That's not how I learned it!"

It's not how most of us, it seems, learned it. Many readers wrote to say they learned otherwise — in 1968 or 1982 or in Massachusetts — and vowed they're not about to change.

"I recently had a discussion on this issue with my 25-year-old son on a recent drive," wrote Mike Domrzalski of Mount Prospect. "He was not going into the intersection to make a left-hand turn but staying back at the stop line. He said the law was to stay back, while I said that he could proceed into the intersection."

Domrzalski said he would continue to make his left turns the way he'd always made them.

"What we now appear to have is two different groups of drivers that were educated differently," he wrote. "Not good."

To be clear, and even though the online course doesn't tell you this: The law does, indeed, permit you to enter the intersection on green even if you can't immediately turn.

And, as several readers noted, it's legal to turn left on red if you're already in the intersection when the light changes.

But not everything that's legal is safe, and hanging back at the stop line until you can see your chance to turn is a general safety recommendation (though one that's not endorsed by all safety experts).

"Why is it safer?" one reader wrote, a perplexity others echoed.

On Thursday, I put the question to Roy Lucke, director of transportation safety programs at the Northwestern public safety center.

His succinct answer: "In the middle of the intersection you're more exposed. You've increased your odds of getting hit from any direction. Whereas if you're behind the stop line in your own lane, your exposure is far more limited."

Lucke, a former police officer, said the thinking on left turns shifted in the late 1990s or early 2000s, but he concedes that there remains no one-size-fits-all-intersections approach.

There may be times when advancing before you can turn is the reasonable thing to do.

CHICAGO

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