Arrive Alive

The U-Turn as a Threat to Road Safety


The U-Turn remains one of the most dangerous driver manoeuvres on roads worldwide. Paramedics respond daily to severe trauma from crashes that could have been prevented had it not been for the hasty decision to make a U-turn in traffic.

We all know U-turns are illegal most of the time - drivers are putting their own lives and the lives of other road users at serious risk when doing so at the wrong place and in the incorrect manner. In this section we want to focus on the U-Turn in an attempt to create awareness that could prevent many further crashes.

Why is the U-turn such a dangerous driving manoeuvre?

The consequences of an accident caused by U-turns are often fatal. It is an unexpected manoeuvre and usually does not allow time for the faster moving vehicle to change course and avoid an accident.

The U-turn requires a street wide enough for the driver to complete the manoeuvre. The U-turn is especially risky because the driver needs to cross lanes of traffic to complete the manoeuvre. Run-under crashes, where a vehicle runs under a truck turning across a road, are some of the most devastating crashes. Where trucks do not have the prescribed reflective materials and tape required for greater visibility, this threat is increased.

What does the Law stipulate?

Whether you regard it as safe to make a U-turn at a specific location does not matter if the law stipulates that it is illegal! The first question when considering a driving manoeuvre is to ask – “Is it legal?”

The rules of the road and traffic legislation governing a U-Turn are not the same across all countries. It is important to know the rules of the road where you are driving and to obey the road signs and markings.

Just because there is not a No U-turn road sign displayed to indicate that a U-turn is illegal, does not mean that U-turns are permitted. Other factors such as road markings, a painted island, traffic flow, and more, can also make a U-turn an illegal manoeuvre. You can expect to find it illegal on most roads at the following locations;

  • On a curve where approaching traffic from either direction cannot be seen for a distance of at least 150 metres.
  • Within 30 metres of a railway crossing.
  • At undivided highways. A U-Turn is not legal on a controlled access highway except through an opening provided for that purpose in the dividing curb section, separation or line.
  • Within 150 metres of a bridge, viaduct or tunnel where the view of traffic is limited.
  • U-turns are prohibited in no-passing zones and one way streets.
  • In front of a fire station
  • At an intersection where there is a traffic light [ Likely to find a U-Turn prohibited sign displayed. Be cautious of this manoeuvre even where not expressly prohibited by a road sign].

The Road Traffic Act in South Africa has specific legislation making it illegal to make a U-Turn on a highway.

Regulation 297 Driving on a divided public road

Reg 297.

(1) Whenever any public road has been divided into two or more roadways

by means of an intervening space or by a physical barrier or dividing section so constructed as to impede vehicular traffic, no person shall drive a vehicle upon such public road except upon the left hand roadway, unless directed or permitted by an appropriate road traffic sign or a traffic officer to use another roadway.

(2) No person shall drive a vehicle on, over, across or within any

dividing space, barrier or section referred to in subregulation (1), except through a constructed intersection: Provided that no person shall so drive through such constructed intersection where such driving is prohibited by an appropriate road traffic sign or by a traffic officer: Provided further that the provisions of this subregulation shall not apply to a traffic officer in the performance of his or her duties.

Road Engineering to prevent U-Turns

Road Traffic Legislation in South Africa


Regulatory road sign R213 prohibits a U-turn where the sign is displayed.

Crossing certain road markings to make a U-turn is prohibited too

You are also not allowed to make a U-turn where there is a solid white No Overtaking line or a double No Crossing line down the middle of the road, or if you need to drive over a painted traffic island to do make a U-turn. I haven't seen a rule about not making a U-turn on a freeway, although it would be obvious because a freeway normally has a centre solid No Crosing line. So, for all intents and purposes you are not allowed to make a U-turn on a freeway.
No Overtaking line

No Crossing line

Painted Island
The official rules for these road markings per the SA National Road Traffic Act:



How can we avoid the U-Turn?

Making a U-turn is not an acceptable driving technique and should only be performed when legal and then only as a last option. There may however be much safer options when you find yourself heading the wrong way. It should not be necessary to inconvenience other drivers or place anyone at risk by making U-turns.

Below are two methods drivers can use to help get back on course instead of making a U-turn:

  1. In urban areas, find a safe area to turn around - Find an area where a driver can safely turn around without endangering anyone. An open parking lot is an excellent spot to turn around.
  2. On the freeway, circle back through other roads - Roads are interconnected. If a driver happens to miss a turn, chances are a turn or off-ramp exists a few kilometres ahead. Use them to get safely back on track.

It is much safer to turn away from the road you are travelling on at a turn-off, to make the turn there and then head back to the busy road, using traffic signs at intersections!

Performing a safe turn-off and then re-entering the traffic safely out of harm’s way will only add a minute or two to your travel time.

If a U-Turn is legal, how should it be performed safely?

A U-Turn is a dangerous manoeuvre yet every driver has done a U-turn at some points in his/her driving life. When legally permitted it should only be performed with proper consideration to vehicle positioning, turning radius, oncoming vehicles, and the width of the roadway.

Never underestimate the skill required to do a U-turn especially in difficult traffic situations.

Crash Scene after Illegal U-Turn

Where is the best place to make a U-Turn?

It is always best to take a turn-off away from the busy and faster traffic. To find a safe location for the U-turn consider the following:

  • There must be no traffic signs or markings on the road prohibiting such a U-Turn
  • The roadway must have at least 150m in both directions of unobstructed view with no vehicles approaching.
  • A U-Turn should not be obstructing free traffic flow
  • Your vehicle should also be clearly visible to others who might be approaching
  • The street or road must be sufficiently wide enough to perform the U-Turn efficiently and safely
  • Always consider the weather and road conditions before making a U-Turn.
  • Factors such as rain, fog and mist may reduce visibility for all road users and slippery road surfaces from rain or snow may require longer braking distances for approaching vehicles.

How should I make a U-Turn?

If You HAVE to make a U-turn, we would like to advise the following:

  • Avoid making U-turns near twists and turns in the road or at an uphill – rather drive a few hundred metres further where you are able to do so safely.
  • Be sure that you have enough room to make the turn without hitting the curb or any parked cars or other hazards at roadside.
  • Never take for granted that your vehicle is seen or that your indicators are in working order.
  • Switch on the turn signal that indicates the direction of your turn.
  • Check for traffic in both directions
  • Be patient – Rather wait a few minutes to ensure that you have open road in both directions to perform the turn.
  • Be mindful that if you cannot complete the turn, the 3 point turn will leave the vehicle stationary for longer and increase the risk.
  • Press the accelerator lightly while turning the steering wheel as far as it will go in the direction you want to turn.
  • The speed must be swift but responsible as you coast through the turn.
  • Do not stop if you have enough room to turn completely.
  • Accelerate into the new target area, check mirrors.
  • Be considerate and don't become an obstruction.

Warning to Other drivers

We would like to extend a word of caution as well to other drivers who are heading in the right direction, not having to make a U-Turn!

When approaching a vehicle parked at the side of the road, slow down and be cautious – expect the unexpected. We need to remain alert to the eventuality and risks of the vehicle ahead changing direction without indicating its intention!


A U-Turn is sometimes described not only as a dangerous but also a selfish manoeuvre. Do not correct your own mistake on the road by endangering the life and limb of other road users!

Remember to be considerate to other drivers, be careful and obey the rules of the road! If you must do a U-Turn - Do it carefully. Drive safely and Arrive Alive!

[Recognition to input from Gavin Hoole Learner's & Driving Licence Test Info]

Also view:

Traffic Signs and Road Safety

Safe Driving Techniques and Road Safety


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