The Legal Left Turn on Red

About This Article

When driving, most of us take advantage of the "Right turn on red" law, but do you know that in most U.S. states, it is legal to turn left on red under certain conditions? This article describes when, where and in what states it is legal to turn left at a red traffic light. Updated on 29 May 2016.

Traffic Signals in the United States


Legal in Most States

America is in a Hurry. We are on our way to work, on our way home from work, running errands, picking the kids up from school, soccer, dance class, band. The number of places we need to be quickly is exhausting just to think about, let alone carry out. To get the job done means driving on city streets, county roads, state highways and federal interstate highways.

There are laws, still technically enforceable, which are antiquated and ignored by civilians and law enforcement alike. Many articles have been written about some humorous and ridiculously trivial road laws. In this hub however, I will focus on two, closely related, obscure road laws. If followed, these two laws will get you where you need to be, safely and more quickly.

Left on Red, Unless You See Something Like This


Left Turn at a Red Light

We all know about the Right on Red law, allowing motorists in all fifty states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, to turn right at a red traffic light. This applies when the way is clear or unless otherwise posted.

But not everyone is as familiar with the Left on Red law. The following states and one city do not permit a left turn at a red light:

  • Connecticut
  • Missouri
  • New York City (also no Right on Red)
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Kansas
  • New Jersey (There is some misinformation online regarding NJ and left on red. NJ state law S39:4-115(b) makes an allowance for right on red, but not for left on red). Update added 29 May 2016.

In all other States, this maneuver is legal unless otherwise posted. There are two types of left turns at red traffic signals.

Left Turn Using a Median U-Turn

The first involves two parallel streets running in opposite directions with a median between them. This is commonly referred to as a boulevard. A person wanting to turn left onto the boulevard is forced to first turn right, then drive to a nearby crossover lane in the median and turn left. At this point the driver is waiting to make another left onto the boulevard. If the way is clear and no sign prohibits it, the driver may proceed to turn left on a red light.

This is known as a Michigan Left Turn because it has been used in Michigan since the 1960s. The Michigan Department of Transportation used the design at a Detroit intersection, and the results were increased traffic flow and fewer accidents. Since then, Michigan has used this system in over seven hundred intersections.

The Michigan Left Turn on Red


Have you ever used the Left on Red maneuver?

  • Yes, I use it all the time
  • No, I have never heard of it
  • No, I have known about it, but have been too unsure about how to use it
  • I run red lights all the time
See results without voting
The first diagram is a normal intersection involving two, two-way streets.   The second is two, one-way streets.  The third involves a car on a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street.  All three are legal in the States mentioned earlier.
The first diagram is a normal intersection involving two, two-way streets. The second is two, one-way streets. The third involves a car on a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street. All three are legal in the States mentioned earlier. | Source

A Simple Left Turn Onto A One Way Street Going Left

The second kind of left turn on a red light is similar to the first one mentioned in this hub, except it does not necessarily involve a boulevard. In fact, it is really very simple. Next time you are sitting in the left turn lane at a red light, consider the following questions:

  1. Where do I live? If you live in Connecticut, Missouri, New York City (but not the rest of the State), North Carolina, Rhode Island, New Jersey or Kansas just stay at the red light and wait for green and a clear way through traffic. In all other States, proceed to question two.
  2. Is the street I want to turn onto, a one way street with traffic traveling left? If so, proceed to question three.
  3. Is there a sign posted prohibiting a left turn on red? If there is, stay put. If not, proceed with the left on red maneuver.

Poll: Has This Article Prepared You to Turn Left on Red at the Appropriate Times?

Has this article adequately described the left turn on red laws? i.e. Do you feel more confident about taking advantage of this traffic law?

  • Yes, I have a better understanding of this law and plan on taking advantage of it.
  • No, I am still confused about when and where I can turn left on red.
  • I understand, but probably won't take advantage of this traffic law.
See results without voting

It Is Legal, But Not Always Understood By Other Drivers

I live in Michigan, the home of the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Lions, the Red Wings, Motown, and a struggling auto industry. It is also the State which first used the Left on Red concept. Even so, when I use this technique in my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, I still get honks and angry looks. Some people think I am running a red light. If you try this maneuver, you will get the same, but you can feel comfortable that you have the law on your side.

It is my hope that these suggestions will make your busy life run a little more smoothly and be a little more safe. Happy commuting.

Comments 10 comments

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 4 months ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016. Author

Matt, thank you for the clarification of New Jersey law regarding the left turn on red. I read S39:4-115 and it explicitly states that a driver may turn right on red, but no such allowance given to turning left on red. I will make this change in my article. Thank you for helping make this article more helpful to readers.

Matt 4 months ago

Left Turn on Red is actually illegal in New Jersey, even when driving from a one-way street to another one-way street.

There was an AAA manual a few years back that did not include New Jersey as a prohibited state, and some other web sites used it as a reference.

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 15 months ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016. Author

R Murty K, Thanks for reading the article. Your story reveals the downside to taking advantage of this driving opportunity, which is that many motorists don't know about it. They think we are breaking the law by using it. One of these days, that driver is going to hear about this law and will think about his hasty reaction.

R Murty K 15 months ago

I live in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I just made a left turn on red light from one way street (Bridge Plaza North) to one way street (Lynwood Avenue). I was on the left lane of the departing street, and I entered left lane of destination street. I didn't interfere with the oncoming traffic. There was no "No Left Turn on Red" sign at the intersection. Unfortunately, the motorist ahead of me slowed down, rolled down the window, and waved a question mark with his hand, and gave me an angry look. Now that I checked at this website, I am glad I didn't break the law!

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 3 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016. Author

Tinsky, very funny:) about your mother in-law. When I get to OLD Australia, I will not be driving. We will all be safer that way. Thanks for stopping in and it is very nice to meet you.

Tinsky profile image

Tinsky 3 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

I live in QLD Australia and obviously we drive on the left side of the road (which is the "right" side yes?), same as the UK. We do not have this rule in Queensland but I have been a very scared passenger in the USA while my mother in-law 'ran the red'. We generally either have a green arrow to turn or a special turning lane with a give-way sign. If its red in Australia you have to stop until the light is green.

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 4 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016. Author

cavedweller, I think a lot of people feel that way. That's why it took me so long to begin taking advantage of the law. Thanks for reading and commenting.

cavedweller profile image

cavedweller 4 years ago from Chicago

Wow, thats crazy...I'm confused just thinking about it.

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 4 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016. Author

Thank you for reading my hub MarleneB. I actually learned it from a female friend who, like your husband, is an impatient driver. I'm not an impatient driver. I just like to be different.

MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

I live in California and I have turned left at a red light. Although I knew it was legal, it still felt wrong. I guess that's because I have never seen anyone do it except my husband who is an impatient driver and he uses all the rules to his advantage. He's the reason I learned about the rule in the first place. Nice hub.

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