When you get a driver’s license, in most states, you’ll need to demonstrate that you know how to make a three-point turn. And with good reason: when you need to reverse direction on a two-lane road, there may not be enough room to make a U-turn.
But several things make mastering the three-point turn difficult. For starters, you must engage the accelerator and brakes in rapid succession. At the same time, you must alternate between forward and reverse gears.
A slow, steady speed is necessary to complete a three-point turn smoothly. You’ll need to monitor traffic in both directions. That can require gymnastic turning in place and even disengaging your seat belt to peer over seat tops into blind spots.
Plus, you must master the hand-over-hand steering technique. No wonder most states include a three-point turn as part of their final exam to obtain your driver’s license.
“The three-point turn exercise, along with other maneuvers, helps examiners evaluate how well and how safely drivers can control and maneuver their vehicle,” says Alexis Bakofsky, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “Results do vary. Some drivers perform the maneuver quite well. But some disqualify and have points assessed against their total score based on their performance.”
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How to Master a Three-Point Turn
Want to ace the all-important three-point turn on your driving test? Here’s a practice plan that will help you get a driver’s license and stay safe.
1. Stage your turn.
A three-point turn is best thought of as an emergency maneuver. You should only use it when you need to reverse course on a two-lane road with no driveways or parking lots to utilize.
Make sure that you are at least 200 feet from the nearest intersection and have 500 feet of visibility on a straight (not curved) street with no cars parked on either side.
To set up your turn, take the following actions:
- Signal for a right turn.
- Pull over to the right as far as possible.
- Leave your signal on to allow traffic behind you to pass.
- Wait for traffic to clear both ways.
Once both sides of the road are clear, signal a left turn. Then turn your steering wheel as far left as possible. Keep glancing over your left shoulder and monitor your rear-view mirrors for sudden movements or approaching traffic.
2. Move from point to point.
Once the coast is clear, slowly accelerate across both lanes until your front bumper meets the curb or end of the lane. After completing a full stop, keep your foot on the brake. You’ve now completed the first point of your turn.
Now, quickly scan activity on the street in both directions. Once clear, turn your steering wheel to the right and do the following:
- Shift into reverse gear.
- Carefully back your vehicle across the street until your left rear bumper nears the curb or end of the lane where you started. The goal is to maneuver your vehicle into a 45-degree angle to the curb.
- Brake to a stop.
You’ve now completed the second point of your turn.
3. Reverse your course.
After one last quick scan of traffic and pedestrian activity both ways, shift your foot from brake to accelerator. Then turn your wheel to the left and slowly drive into what was previously the oncoming lane. You have just completed the third point of your three-point turn!
Throughout all parts of a three-point turn maneuver, keep your foot on or above the brake pedal. Also keep searching for sudden movement, unforeseen obstacles, or oncoming traffic.
Practicing these simple steps on quiet street locations is the best way to make sure you’ll successfully complete a three-point turn for a driving test or when you really need to reverse course.