I originally wrote this in 2011, and updated it in 2013, then again in 2021.
There seems to be a lot of confusion over how to turn right at crossroads when another vehicle is turning right from the opposite direction.
Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – that’s the official DSA guide to driving – says the following:
Turning right when an oncoming vehicle is also turning right
When two vehicles approaching from opposite directions both want to turn right, there are two methods that can be used. Either method is acceptable, but will usually be determined by
- the layout of the crossroads
- what course the other driver decides to take
- road markings
Turning offside to offside
The advantage of this method is that both can see oncoming traffic.
In congested traffic conditions, leave a space for approaching traffic to turn right.
Turning nearside to nearside
This method is less safe because the view of oncoming vehicles isn’t clear. Watch out for oncoming traffic hidden by larger vehicles. Motorcyclists and cyclists are particularly vulnerable, as they would be hidden by any type of vehicle.
Be ready to stop for oncoming vehicles.
Police control or road markings sometimes make this method compulsory.
Try to make eye contact with the driver of the approaching vehicle to determine which course is best. Your speed should allow you to stop if the other driver pulls out across your path.
What is the difference between nearside to nearside and offside to offside turning? Well, the nearside of the car is the one nearest the kerb, and the offside is the one farthest away from the kerb (the driver’s side). So, the two methods look like this:
With offside to offside turning, the two cars go round the back of each other (with their offsides closest). As a result, both can see clearly down the road and both can see if it’s clear to turn or not.
Nearside to nearside turning (with their nearsides closest) creates a large blind spot (coloured purple here), the size of which is governed by the size and proximity of the other vehicle. You cannot see easily down the length of the road, and neither can the driver of the other vehicle.
As TES says, either method is perfectly acceptable.
Another thing to remember is that every junction is different and rarely will you find one that corresponds exactly with the schematic layout I’ve shown above.
Let’s look at some real examples. The junction above is in Mapperley, Nottingham. It has clear road markings to guide drivers offside to offside – but since the junction is staggered, offside to offside is what any decent driver would want to do anyway.
This one is in Ruddington, Nottingham. It is marked for nearside to nearside turning because the volume of traffic turning right from both side roads would cause gridlock if people attempted offside to offside.
Finally, this example is from West Bridgford, Nottingham. When turning right from the main road, offside to offside appears to be the best option. In reality, there isn’t enough space and what usually happens is that oncoming traffic either steals the priority and turns in front of you – in which case you just hang back and let them get on with it – or it flashes its lights and you take priority (after making sure they flashed at you, and not one of the vehicles waiting in the side roads), and turn in front of it. This is simply the kind of thing you have to learn to deal with.
This is an important learning point: learn from roads you drive on regularly, and modify your behaviour accordingly. If you’re unsure about being able to turn, hang back and give way – then the problem usually goes away!
If you’re turning right from either of the side roads in these examples, and someone is doing the same opposite you, who has right of way? Officially, no one does, and the main road is too narrow for either offside to offside or nearside to nearside turning. Some people out there (including some ADIs) would have you and the other driver sit looking at each other until you both keel over from exhaustion. In the real world – if eye contact doesn’t achieve anything – someone will either just force their way out (and the problem goes away) or flash their lights to tell you to go. The unwritten rule tends to be whoever gets there first is given right of way – but you can’t assume that under any circumstances, since there are plenty of arrogant drivers who will do their level best to go whether you’re there or not.
Remember that the Highway Code says you shouldn’t beckon other drivers and road users. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t communicate with them. It mentions eye contact… but what then? Smile? Wink? Nod your head? A simple hand gesture with a flat palm, as if to say “well, what would you like to do?” is NOT beckoning.
What happens when both cars are turning right at crossroads?
Neither car has priority. The options available to you are to turn nearside-to-nearside or offside-to-offside, as explained above. However, in some cases there will be insufficient room for both cars to go at the same time and priority has to be given (not taken).
When you reach the junction, make eye contact with the other driver. It isn’t a contest, so be prepared to give way – you haven’t lost anything by waiting for a few seconds while he gets out of the way. Obviously, if he gives way to you sing some sort of signal then you should check that it’s safe and proceed.
Can you flash your headlights?
Some people out there will be having kittens at reading this, but many other drivers WILL flash their headlights to tell you they are giving way. It’s your responsibility to check there is no traffic coming from your right or left (or from ahead), and that they’re flashing at you, but you can then proceed. If someone is giving you a reasonably clear signal that they’re giving priority to you, only a fool would ignore it. And you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to work out how this could cut both ways.
Can you wave people through?
Holding your palms out and shrugging as if to say “well, what are you going to do?” is not the same as waving madly to beckon people out. I certainly wouldn’t do the latter, but the former is perfectly acceptable. In most cases, you won’t have to worry, though. The majority of drivers are generally quite arrogant and will try to take the advantage anyway, and that sorts out the problem for you. Even a small hesitation on your part is often signal enough for them to go.
But should you do this on your test?
The short answer is no, don’t flash your headlights or gesture to people on your test. As a learner/new driver you may not be very good at it and it could easily go wrong. However, it is possible that a situation could arise where the only sensible thing to do is to flash your headlights or gesture to someone – even to beckon them.
You have to assess, be confident… and be safe.
Pupils don’t understand what offside and nearside mean.
Then educate them! It’s what they’re paying you for.
Offside to offside turning is stupid – people don’t do it.
No it isn’t, and yes they do. Sometimes it is the best option. Sometimes it is road marked that you should do it. If people don’t do it when it is clearly the best (or the marked) option then they are the stupid ones. As TES says: either method is acceptable.
Marked crossroads are invariably nearside-to-nearside anyway.
No they aren’t! Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are at least two in Nottingham which are included in test routes.
This comment was picked up from a forum which was visiting this article at the time it was originally published, and it is simply untrue. As I’ve made clear, either method is acceptable and which one you use depends on:
- the junction involved
- road markings
- road layout (i.e. is it symmetrical or slightly skewed/staggered?)
- the time of day (i.e. how busy is it?)
- what other road users are doing (rightly or wrongly)
Offside to offside is unquestionably the safest method wherever it is possible to use it. Blindly trying to do nearside to nearside without understanding what you’re doing often means cutting corners, forcing others to stop or slow down, and taking needless risks. It points to ignorance of road rules and poor attitude.
Why should you check your mirrors when turning right?
One word: cyclists!
You ought to do a quick shoulder check, as well, just to be on the safe side. Trust me, not that long ago I saw a cyclist race up to a car which was turning right into Netherfield near the Colwick test centre, and turn right on his offside just as the car moved off. I’ve also seen them go round the nearside and do it.
To be fair, it isn’t just cyclists (though it is mainly them who are the problem). Motorcyclists (especially mopeds, which are just powered bicycles when you consider the idiots who usually ride them) will do it, and I’ve even had a van overtake (on the offside) when turning into a side road (I reported him to the police).
Who has priority at crossroads?
The short answer is no one does. That’s because you can never be completely certain what others are going to do, so even if there was a rule which said you had priority, and no matter how many road markings there are, there are far too many people out there who simply wouldn’t follow that rule.
However, as a general rule for yourself, assume that if you are going to cross the path of anyone else, then you don’t have any sort of ‘priority’. In other words, if you are turning right at a crossroads, and someone on the opposite side wants to turn to their left or go straight ahead (and they might not be signalling even if they’re going left or right), don’t take any risks and just let them get on with it.
Make eye contact with the other driver. They may indicate with a gesture that they are allowing you to have priority – priority can be given, but never taken or assumed.
Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says:
- if you’re turning right and the other vehicle is going ahead or turning left, you should normally wait for the other vehicle to clear the junction before you make your turn. Otherwise, you’d be cutting across their path
People come up with all sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios for this situation, but the simple answer is not to take risks, and not to assume other people are good drivers. For the sake of a few seconds, it is a minor inconvenience at most. Just give them priority (or let them assume they have it). That way, you are driving defensively even if they aren’t.