In defence of hook turns

Hook turn road sign with tree in background.

Sue Hewitt

Posted August 07, 2019

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan calls out ‘stupid’ Melbourne driving rules.

Are intersection hook turns just a “stupid” Melbourne thing? Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan thinks so. The Queenslander huffs that hook turns are so “confusing” – going left to turn right – that no one except Melburnians, with their strange southern ways, use them. But this is a case of ‘no’ rather than ‘yes’ minister when put to the test.

Leading traffic experts point out the minister is, ahem, wrong. They say hook turns and their derivations improve road safety, minimise delays to traffic including trams, and are used worldwide. 

Believed to have first been mentioned in the 1939 Victorian road traffic regulations, today the hook turn is a global phenomenon, says international transport academic Graham Currie. 

As traffic increased, Melbourne’s CBD hook turns were formalised in the 1950s. More recently, they were added for cars turning right out of Clarendon Street in South Melbourne.  

Designed to prevent delays to trams caused by drivers turning right from the centre lane, they are now a leading safety measure at intersections around the world. 

The traffic manoeuvre exists for buses in Beijing, Illinois, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands, says Graham, a professor at Monash University’s Institute of Transport Studies. 

RACV senior engineer Emily McLean says in Melbourne signs clearly mark those 20 or so intersections where hook turns are required, and some have electronic signs to let you know when it’s time to turn.  

She concedes that hook turns can be daunting, but says the main thing to remember is not to make your turn until the lights on the road you are entering turn green. 

“Don’t turn when the lights on the road you are coming from are yellow or red,” she says. “You risk a crash with someone travelling through the intersection.” 

She says cyclists are allowed to make hook turns at any intersection unless signs specifically prohibit it.  

The resources minister invoked the hook turn earlier this week as an example of “busybody” politics where people from other states meddle in the affairs of neighbouring states, in particular, Greens in the southern states sending anti-coalmine protesters to Queensland during the federal election.

“I may think that hook turns are a stupid way to manage urban traffic flows (demonstrated by the evolutionary evidence that no other city, to my knowledge, has adopted this confusing practice), but then I do not travel to Melbourne condemning hook turns and telling locals to repent their ways,” he said. “Melbourne can decide how to manage its traffic the way Melbourne wishes.”

If you’re confused about how to do a hook turn, here are four simple steps to follow:

  1. Approach and enter the intersection from the far-left side of the road you’re leaving.
  2. If there’s line marking, then follow the lines, otherwise move forward, keeping as far to the left of the intersection as possible and clear of any marked foot crossing, until you’re at the far side of the intersection.
  3. Wait until the lights on the road you are entering turn green. 
  4. Turn right into that road.

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