Don't Know Which Way To Hook

This post discusses the unique 'hook turn' traffic rule in Melbourne, designed to facilitate tram movement by allowing vehicles to turn right from the leftmost lane at certain intersections, and provides a detailed guide on how to execute it.

5 min. read

I’ve been living in Melbourne for a while now and I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of locals I’ve got to know who avidly avoid Melbourne’s 49 hook turn intersections like the plague.  

These hook turns certainly make trying to overtake a tram a piece of cake.

Melbourne’s infamous hook turns came into being sometime in the 1930s and more or less became official ‘rules’ some 20 years later.  Their purpose was to make things easier for trams to move quickly through the centre of the city streets without waiting for right-turning traffic. 

And no, we’re not the only city in the world with hook turns – others in Europe, Asia and the Americas have them too, but they’re there for bicycles as a safer way for cyclists to turn into a street without having to cross multiple lanes of motor vehicles to do so.  Melbourne is the only city in the world where a hook turn is purely for the benefit of trams. 

So, what exactly is a Hook Turn?

It’s terrifying, that’s what it is.  

Okay seriously.  A hook turn is when vehicles turn right from the outermost left lane on the road, rather than turn right more logically from the innermost right lane.  

This strange rule is in place at busy intersections where tram lines run alongside traffic: the hook turns are there to make the traffic flow better and trams more efficient as they can continue straight ahead without being delayed by vehicles turning right.  Hook turns also make for safer traffic as turning right and avoiding oncoming traffic - and pedestrians crossing the street - can be a tricky manoeuvre. 

So, alright, it’s a good thing. But how in the name of sweet heaven do we do it? 

Before I tell you how, you need to know where.  This way you too can be like the aforementioned locals and do 13 left-hand turns over 17 city blocks to avoid these intersections.

Which Intersections have Hook Turns?

  • Bourke Street (where William, Queen, Russell and Exhibition Streets intersect)
  • Collins Street (where Spencer, King, William, Queen, Elizabeth, Russell and Exhibition Streets intersect)
  • Elizabeth Street (where Franklin, La Trobe, Lonsdale and Collins Streets intersect)
  • La Trobe Street (where William, Queen, Elizabeth, Swanston, Russell and Exhibition Streets intersect)
  • William Street (where La Trobe, Lonsdale, Bourke and Collins Streets intersect)
  • Clarendon Street, South Melbourne (where York, Coventry, Dorcas and Park Streets intersect)

As you can see, that pretty much takes up all of Melbourne and South Melbourne.  

(See what I mean about needing to travel halfway around the CBD to avoid just one hook turn?)

How do I know if it’s a Hook Turn intersection?

These intersections will be (I hesitate to use the word “clearly” because they aren’t often) signposted with large ‘Right Turn from Left Only’ signs usually hanging on traffic lights or placed on the left-hand side of the road. It’s very likely that most new visitors to Melbourne when seeing the sign will think “what the?” and slow down to a crawl in a highly indecisive manner before deciding to look for another right-hand turn which they will eventually find somewhere in Docklands.

Sometimes these intersections have illuminated signs, with very helpful instructions like “WAIT” which you do (in the left lane please) until the sign disappears and you’re allowed to turn right from your position perpendicular to the direction in which you want to go (this in itself makes you feel very, very stupid).

So let’s show you how to make a Hook Turn.  It is quite simple really (hides evil smile.)

How to Make a Hook Turn:

  • Get into the left lane
  • Turn on your right indicator (yes you’re in the left lane but you must do this, sorry)
  • Keeping left, move forward into the intersection till you hit a white line on the far side of the road; this tells you where to temporarily halt your car.
  • Try not to hit any pedestrians while you’re doing this (hint: don’t drive so far over to the left that you’re in the actual pedestrian crossing lane)  
  • Watch the traffic lights of the street you’re turning right into closely.  
  • Ignore the idiot behind you who beeps loudly because the light facing you has turned amber.  
  • Move only when the traffic lights on the street you’re heading into turns green
  • When it turns green, turn right and proceed straight ahead
  • Reach for the towel which you have conveniently placed on the passenger seat beside you and wipe away the sweat that is now pouring down your entire body

You may like to watch this very helpful animated video from VicRoads which shows you very clearly how to perform a hook turn in Melbourne. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to these turns and use them like a pro, I promise you will!