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How to Make Residential Left Turns

Learning to Make Left Turns for Beginners

In this video, instructors Alejandra and Micah cover everything you need to know about making safe left turns in residential neighborhoods! Learn about left turn rules of the road, preparing for a safe turn, rolling left turns, and more! Plus, there are a couple driving school secrets for new drivers!!

Making Left Turns, Video Transcript

Having trouble getting the hang of turns? Don't worry, you're not alone! Most new drivers struggle when first learning how to make turns because it's a skill that requires the "perfect marriage" between motor and mental skills. In other words, there's a lot going on during every turn that the brain has to manage simultaneously. Truth is, you'll need a good dose of practice in a safe environment to really master this skill. While today's video may not make you an expert driver, I guarantee it will teach you everything you need to know about making safe turns in residential neighborhoods. I'm Alejandra and today I've got fellow driving instructor Micah here to help us out. Let's get to it.

You may be surprised that we are starting with left turns because most drivers know that left turns can be more dangerous, especially when you have to turn in front of oncoming traffic. However, technique-wise, left turns are easier to make because they are usually wider turns and require less steering wheel maneuvering than a right turn, not to mention you don't have to worry about popping a tire on the curb!

Before we get ahead of ourselves and start making turns, let's go over the rules of the road when it comes to turning left:

Left Turn - Assess

As you approach your left turn, you need to assess the situation ahead. You need to know what kind of intersection you are dealing with. Are there stop or yield signs? Who has the right of way? Is there oncoming traffic? Cross traffic? You really want to scan the intersection so that you know what to expect. Also, making any turn requires you to slow down -- and what do we ALWAYS do before braking? We check our rear-view mirrors to makes sure there's no traffic threats behind us -- that is, no tailgaters or fast-moving vehicle that might rear-end us.

Left Turn - Prepare

Now that you have assessed the situation, you can start preparing to make a safe and legal left turn. You want to gradually start slowing down by taking your foot off the accelerator about 150-200 feet before your turn. 150-200 ft is about 10 car lengths or half of an average city block. As you get closer to the intersection, you want to apply gradual pressure to the brake and put on your left turn signal at about 100 feet -- or about 5-6 car lengths from the intersection. Glance in your mirrors again as you continue to slow down -- always know what's going on behind you.

What about lane positioning? Even though there are usually no lane lines in residential, you want to have your car lined up on the leftmost side of your traffic lane before any left turn. Just imagine a yellow line painted down the middle of the road. You want to line up a foot or two from that. If you're at an intersection with limit lines, you can also line up your left tire with the leftmost edge of the limit line... like this. Perfect!

We are almost ready to make our left turn, and so far, our left-turn preparation has been straightforward and should be used before ALL types of left turns in residential: you scan ahead, check your mirrors, slow down, activate your signal, and position your car on the left side of your lane. Here's where you have to make some timely decisions depending on the type of intersection ahead. Let's look at a few left-turn scenarios you're likely to encounter and break each one down:

Example : Left Turn - All-Way Stop

Rather than taking the time to cover all of the intersection right of way rules, I invite you to check out our residential right of way video here. For now, let's just keep our primary focus on turning. When you come to a 4-way or all-way stop, you of course come to a full stop and do your intersection traffic checks for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Also, because you are turning left, look over your left shoulder, making sure your blind spot is clear. When everything looks good, then proceed to make your turn... like this. We'll go over the mechanics of turning the steering wheel and speed control in a little bit, but for now just take note that I don't start turning immediately -- I wait until my mirror passes the left curb. Also, look at how I aim my car towards the center of the lane I'm turning into -- this is my "turning target". Keeping your primary focus ahead on where you want to finish your turn is an essential part of making a smooth, safe turn.

Example : Left Turn - Cross Traffic Does Not Stop

For an intersection like this where we have to stop but cross-traffic does not, we come to a full stop, and repeat all of the same traffic checks and look over our left shoulder just as we did before. However, many times at these types of intersections we may not have a clear view of the cross traffic, like here with the parked cars blocking our view. Since we can't see, we to need to "inch out" or slowly tiptoe into the intersection. You want to creep out until you have a 100% clear view of traffic, you never want to guess in these situations. Instead, only go into the intersection as far as you need to in order to get a clear view of traffic -- don't inch out so far that you block cross traffic. Once you determine that the cross traffic is clear of cars and pedestrians AND you see that there is no oncoming traffic ahead of you, then you can proceed to make your turn -- again head straight into the intersection and start actually turning once your mirror passes the curb. To finish, note that I look ahead to where I want to end up and follow this visual "turning-target" to successfully complete my left turn.

Example : Rolling Left Turn - No Oncoming Traffic

When you come an intersection where you have the right of way and there are no obstacles present, you can make what we call a "rolling left turn" -- a turn where you don't have to come to a stop first. You still need to signal and do all of your rearview mirror checks, traffic checks, and shoulder checks, but this time instead of stopping first, you'll just roll through your turn gracefully at about 10-15mph... like this... I'm already slowed to a safe turning speed before the turn, now I just roll straight into the intersection, let my mirror get pass the curb and then make my turn. Nice and easy into it, then gently accelerating out of it. Again, I'm going to reiterate the extreme importance of picking a visual target and aiming at the lane we want to end up in. Excellent.

Example : Rolling Left Turn - With Oncoming Traffic

Okay, let's do one more left turn -- this time we'll to a rolling left turn where we don't have a stop sign but we do have an oncoming car to cope with. The beginning steps to this example are the same as before. I've scanned the intersection, hit my signal, checked my mirrors, looked over my shoulder and lined myself up to the left. This time though, with the oncoming car approaching, I have a decision to make: should I stay or should I go? This is one of the all-time toughest driving decisions for young drivers to make. The key question to ask yourself is this: if I make my turn right now, will the oncoming car have to brake at all (even a little bit) to avoid hitting me? If the answer is YES or if you are even a little bit unsure, then DON'T GO! Even if a car behind you is honking their horn, do not make the turn. Afterall, the people behind you won't be the ones risking their life if you turn at the wrong time. If it's not safe to go, you can wait about a 3rd of the way in into the intersection -- again, just let your car ease into the intersection until your mirror more or less lines up with the curb. This is where you wait.

Once the oncoming traffic has cleared -- and this is also very important - do your left-right-left traffic checks quickly again and also check over your shoulder. Many times, while you are waiting to make a left, a bike or pedestrian will show up that wasn't there before. Once everything in the world looks good, make your left turn with confidence, accelerating to clear the intersection promptly and heading towards the visual target of the lane you want to turn into. Easy enough, right?!

Important: In situations like this where you are waiting to make your turn, keep your wheels STRAIGHT! Don't start turning them to the left because if you get rear-ended while waiting, your car will be pushed directly into oncoming traffic and, needless to say, that would be a tragedy for all involved.

All right y'all, how's everybody doing? I know that was a lot of information on left turns to digest, and we are still just getting started. By now though, you see that there are various left turn situations you'll need to prepare for, and hopefully you've noticed that while each turn variation is handled a little differently, they all begin and end pretty much the same way:

  • Start by slowing down, put on your signal, check your mirrors, do your shoulder and cross-traffic checks, and position your car on the left side of your lane.
  • Finish by gently accelerating out of your turn and aiming for a specific "turning-target" lane to end up in.

If you've learned that much so far, you've already won half the battle!

Now many of you may be asking, "Hey Alejandra, why aren't you showing us how to steer the wheel and how fast we should be going?" Don't worry, we are getting there, but let me share with you a little driving school secret: The biggest mistake new drivers make when learning to turn is micro-managing the steering wheel and speed control. In other words, they pay WAY too much attention to watching their "hand over hand" movements or staring at the speedometer and they fail to notice the most important thing about driving: scanning in front of their vehicle and looking where they are headed. Ask any seasoned driver what speed they make turns at and I bet most won't be able to tell you. Why? Because experienced drivers aren't watching the speedometer at all -- they just have a feel for making safe turns and are more concerned with the traffic situation around them, and where their car is headed. Whether they know it or not, they are subliminally watching the visual target of where they want to finish their turn -- and that is why we've been stressing that point over and over and over again!

Another tip for beginners: When finishing left turns, many new drivers tend to understeer or not turn the wheel enough, and end up drifting towards the parked cars. Why? Because new drivers are so worried about hitting the parked cars that they stare at them... and you always drive towards where you stare. Again, make your visual target the lane where you want to end up -- don't worry, you'll still see the parked cars with your peripheral vision.

Left Turn - Execution

We've spent most of our time talking about preparing for a left turn, now let's get into the mechanics of turning and what your hands and feet need to do in order to make a turn successful. Real quick, here's another driving school secret: students who have experience driving go-karts, golf carts, and other motorized vehicles have a distinct advantage when it comes to learning how to make turns. This is because they have already trained their brain to be able to control their hand and foot movements smoothly while still concentrating on the road ahead. They have already developed a sense of the multitasking required to be a good driver.

For those of you like me who never touched any sort of vehicle before their first driving lesson, learning to make turns can be a bit more challenging and even frustrating at times. If that's you too, don't worry! Trust me, with enough repetition and time behind the wheel, you will get to a point where you don't even think about steering or when to brake or when to accelerate -- it will just become second nature. Driving is a skill, just like learning how to play a new sport or musical instrument, it'll take dedicated practice to get good. Until then, just accept that it's a learning process and that you need as much practice as possible. While quiet, lowkey residential streets are great to practice on, large empty parking lots are even better -- it'll give you all the space you need to get the hang of making turns without the stress of hitting parked cars or worse!

Ok, that's enough disclaimers about executing left turns, let's get into the details:

Left Turn Speed Control

We've already mentioned that about 10-15mph is the desired speed for a left turn in residential, but that's just a guideline based on making a 90-degree turn on an average sized street -- you may go a bit slower if the street is narrower or the turn is sharper, or you may go a tad faster if you're on a wider street or making a more gradual turn. If you need to check your speed during a turn, use a quick glance -- never stare at the speedometer. Speed control will come naturally, and when you first start out, you may want to go a little slower until you've got it mastered. That's 100% fine! Also, you'll notice some variations depending on what kind of turn you're performing. If you're coming from a complete stop, then you'll have to accelerate a little more to get up to speed. If it's a rolling turn, you'll already have some momentum and you won't have to speed up much at all, until you are coming out of your turn.

Most drivers know that the basic speed pattern of making a turn is this: slow down before the turn and accelerate out of the turn. However, a common mistake new drivers make is the timing of this pattern. Instead of starting to slow down well before the turn -- like 150-200ft before the turn, they wait until right before the turn to decelerate rapidly. Not only is this dangerous, but it also now makes the steering control we're about to discuss much more difficult!

Your speed pattern for a rolling turn should be like this:

  • Slow BEFORE the turn
  • Cover the brake and coast through the arc of the turn
  • Accelerate out of the turn.

Say it with me: Slow before. Cover during. Accelerate out.

Left Turn Steering Control

Ok folks, let's talk about the hand movements required to make a left turn. Before we even start, let's learn another valuable safety tip regarding HOW you grab the wheel. Never grab the wheel from the inside like this to turn it. In the event of an accident where your wheel snaps back into the center position, your poor wrist is very likely to break from the extreme force. Check out the video above for other great tips from instructor Liz about where to safely position your hands on the steering wheel.

So onward with steering control... We're actually going to cover 2 different methods: the traditional "hand-over-hand" method, as well as the "push-pull" method or "shuffle method". We teach our students both methods because both can be highly effective -- and at the end of the day, we encourage our students to use the method that provides them with the best control of their car. For some students that's hand-over-hand, for others it's the push-pull.

Left Turn Hand Over Hand Steering Method

The hand over hand technique is usually a 3-step process for most left turns, let's demonstrate first while we are parked:

Step 1: With both hands on the wheel at the 10 and 2 position, you're first movement will be with your RIGHT hand. As your left hand releases grip of the wheel, use your right hand to push the steering wheel from the 2 o'clock position to about the 10 o'clock position.

Step 2: Now with your LEFT hand, reach OVER your right hand and grab the steering wheel at the 2 o'clock and pull it to the 10 o'clock position, again as your release your right hand grip.

Step 3: Now put your RIGHT hand back to the 2 o'clock position and hold the wheel steady while you make the arc of your turn.

Take a look at the steering wheel -- it should now be turned at least three-quarters of the way -- basically facing the right or even almost back to the straight-up position -- and that's about how much you turn the wheel for a normal left turn. For a wide turn, you may turn in a bit less. For a very sharp turn, you may turn it much more. Every turn will be different, but in general, most turns require you to move the wheel like we just did, almost one full turn.

Let's try a standard left turn again, a little more fluidly this time. Counting "1-2-3" can help you get the hang of the movements, like this: "1-2-3".

One more time, this time you can try saying aloud "hand-over-hand" as you go, like this: "Hand-Over-Hand"

Now you're getting the hang of it! So that's how you will start making your left turn once you get going. When you complete your turn, you basically do the opposite movements to "walk back" the steering wheel, like this: "3-2-1".

When you put it all together, it's "1-2-3" to start the turn and then walk it back "3-2-1" to return the wheel to the straight position and complete the turn. One more time: "hand-over-hand" to start and then "hand-over-hand" to bring the wheel back.

Ok, enough sitting in a parked car and pretending. Let's do a variety of left turns so you can see the entire hand over hand in action!

Example 1 : Hand Over Hand from Stopped Position

Here we are at an all way stop, let's turn to the left. As soon as my left mirror passes the curb, I start turning hand-over-hand to the left like this "1-2-3"... I hold the wheel through the turn, and aiming at my target I begin to walk the wheel back "3-2-1" ... easy.

Example 2 : Hand Over Hand Rolling Left Turn

This next turn is going to be rolling. I've slowed down, and as my mirror passes the curb I turn the wheel "1-2-3" and hold it and then start to counter-steer "3-2-1" as I accelerate out of the turn. Nice.

Ok all, we're definitely making progress!

Left Turn Push-Pull Steering Method

While we start by teaching the hand-over-hand method, some students seem to better grasp the push-pull method and some non-US countries actually require that drivers do their turns using the push-pull or "shuffle method". Do whatever works for you, but we find that hand-over-hand tends to be preferred when making tighter turns, while the push-pull method is great for wider turns... not to mention that the push-pull method also allows for making easier micro-adjustments to the wheel during a turn, if something is a little off.

Here's what making a left-turn with the push-pull method looks like -- whereas hand over hand is more of a 10-and-2 song and dance, push-pull is most easily performed using the 9-and-3 hand positions.

Starting with your hands on the 9 and 3 positions, you push the wheel up with your right hand until the 12-position like this. Then grab the wheel with your left hand at the same 12-position, without crossing your hands, and pull it down to the 9-position. You'll repeat this exact same motion for most turns. The entire movement is basically "push-pull, push-pull" and you'll notice the steering wheel has basically made one full turn.

Let's do an actual turn using the push-pull method so you can see it in action. As my mirror passes the curb, I push the wheel up to the 12-position with my right hand, and then pull it down with my left hand to the 9-position, and then quickly repeat the same push-pull movement again. I hold it here through the turn, and then shuffle back the wheel as I come out of the turn, like this... see how I shuffle back as I accelerate out of the turn? Great!

An added bonus of the push-pull method is that your hands never cross, which is obviously a win if the airbag were to deploy.

Again, we recommend trying the push-pull method if you're struggling with the hand-over-hand technique. Even if you're a pro at hand-over-hand, try out the push-pull on a wider turn and you'll see it provides pretty nice control without you having to cross your hands at all.

Alright everyone, now it's our turn to sign off for Micah and Alejandra and everyone at Drivers Ed Direct, we wish you the best of luck on your driving journey and we'll see you again soon. See ya!