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Left Turn on Red: When and Where This Maneuver Is Legal in the US

Chris describes and reviews books, music, merchandise, even laws as a result of personal experience.

Where and when can you turn left on a red light?

Where and when can you turn left on a red light?

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

Left Turn at a Red Light?

When driving, most of us take advantage of the "right turn on red" law which is in place in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. But do you know that in most U.S. states and territories, it is legal to turn left on red under certain conditions? This article describes when and where it is legal to turn left at a red traffic light.

Where Can I Turn Left on a Red?

Five states permit left turns at red lights from a one- or two-way street onto a one-way street (but only when there is no sign posted to prohibit the turn):

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Michigan
  • Oregon
  • Washington

So in these states, unless you see a sign posted warning against it, you might make the turn but only after coming to a complete stop at the red light and giving the right of way to any vehicle in or nearing the intersection.

Places a Left Turn Is Never Permitted at a Red Light

  • Connecticut
  • Missouri (although Kansas City is an exception)
  • New York City (also no turning right on red)
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey (NJ state law S39:4-115(b) makes an allowance for right on red, but not for left on red).
  • South Dakota (unless allowed by local ordinance)
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • District of Columbia
  • Guam

In all other states, this maneuver is sometimes legal unless otherwise posted.

You can never turn left on a red where a sign like this is posted.

You can never turn left on a red where a sign like this is posted.

Turning Left or Making a U-Turn at a Median

One type of left turn happens when two parallel streets run in opposite directions with a median between (commonly referred to as a boulevard). Because the median blocks passage, a person wanting to turn left to join the boulevard is forced to first turn right, then drive to the next break in the median to make a left U-turn. The driver waiting to make that left may do so, even at a red light, if the way is clear and no sign prohibits it.

Different states, regions, and territories have their own traffic rules about medians, but if you are on a divided highway and come to a gap where drivers in both directions can turn left, the proper way to proceed is to pull forward to the rightmost side of the median's gap and wait for your turn, leaving space on your left for a car coming in the opposite direction to do the same. This allows the drivers of both cars to see traffic in both directions.

What is a "Michigan left turn"?

This left turn around the median separating traffic on a boulevard is also known as a "Michigan left turn" because it has been allowed in Michigan since the 1960s, when the Department of Transportation tested the design at a Detroit intersection. The results were increased traffic flow and fewer accidents so, since then, Michigan has used this system in over 700 intersections.

Can I Turn Left Onto a One-Way Street at a Red Light?

If you are sitting in the left turn lane, you might proceed through a red light, but you should first ask yourself all of the following questions:

  1. Where do I live? You may not turn left on a red onto a one-way street if you live in Connecticut, Missouri (except Kansas City where it is legal), New York City (but not the rest of the state), North Carolina, Rhode Island, New Jersey, South Dakota (unless local ordinance allows it), Maine, or New Hampshire. Just wait for green and a clear way through traffic. In all other states, proceed to question 2.
  2. I am on a one-way street, and is the street I want to turn on to a one-way street with traffic traveling left? Except for the exceptions noted above, the remaining 42 states permit this kind of left turn on red. Proceed to question 3.
  3. Is the street I am on a two-way street and the one I want to turn onto a one-way street? The lucky drivers in Michigan, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska are permitted to turn left on red from either a one-way or a two-way street onto a one-way street going left.
  4. 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 according to the law of the state in which you are driving.
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Read More from AxleAddict

Can I Turn Left at a Red Light From a One-Way Street Onto a One-Way Street?

Thirty-seven states allow drivers to turn left on a red only if both streets involved are one-way streets. Pay attention: This could save you a ticket and win you an argument.

Five states permit left on red when both streets are one-way AND when only the destination street (the one you are turning onto) is one-way. In these five states, if you are on a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street (with traffic traveling to the left), you may turn on red unless there is a sign that prohibits the maneuver. These five lucky states are Michigan, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon.

States' Rules About Left Turns at Red Lights

At any red light, you must first come to a complete stop. Only then, if allowed and if there are no cars coming, may you turn left onto a one way street at a red light.

U.S. State/TerritoryCan you turn onto a one-way street from a one-way street?Can you turn from a two-way street onto a one-way street?

Alabama

yes

 

Alaska

yes

yes

Arizona

yes

 

Arkansas

yes

 

California

yes

 

Colorado

yes

 

Connecticut

NO

 

Delaware

yes

 

Florida

yes

 

Georgia

yes

 

Hawaii

yes

 

Idaho

yes

yes

Illinois

yes

 

Indiana

yes

 

Iowa

yes

 

Kansas

yes

 

Kuntucky

yes

 

Louisiana

yes

 

Maine

NO

 

Maryland

yes

 

Massachusetts

yes

 

Michigan

yes

yes

Minnesota

yes

 

Mississippi

yes

 

Missouri

NO (except in Kansas City, if the intersection is not marked otherwise)

 

Montana

yes

 

Nebraska

yes

 

Nevada

yes

 

New Hampshire

NO

 

New Jersey

NO (the law as written is confusing—it is legal to turn right on red, but not left on red)

 

New Mexico

yes

 

New York

yes (but not in New York City)

 

North Carolina

NO

 

North Dakota

yes

 

Ohio

yes

 

Oklahoma

yes

 

Oregon

yes

yes

Pennsylvania

yes

 

Rhode Island

NO

 

South Carolina

yes

 

South Dakota

NO (unless permitted by local ordinance)

 

Tennessee

yes

 

Texas

yes

 

Utah

yes

 

Vermont

yes

 

Virginia

yes

 

Washington

yes

yes

West Virginia

yes

 

Wisconsin

Yes

 

Wyoming

yes

 

District of Columbia

NO

 

Guam

NO

 

Puerto Rico

NO

yes

The diagram on the left represents 2 two-way streets. The middle is 2 one-way streets. The right shows a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street. Check the chart above to see which are legal for you.

The diagram on the left represents 2 two-way streets. The middle is 2 one-way streets. The right shows a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street. Check the chart above to see which are legal for you.

U.S. Territories' Rules About Turning Left on Red

Puerto Rico allows drivers to turn left on red when both the street they are turning from and the street they are turning onto are both one-way streets.

Guam and the District of Columbia prohibit left turns on red.

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 that 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 may get the same response, 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 safer. Happy commuting.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What does a red light and white left turn arrow with a line mean?

Answer: As I understand your question, you are talking about a red traffic light and a separate sign that shows a white left turn arrow that has a white line running through it. The red light, of course, means stop. The left turn arrow with a line through it means "No left turn allowed." I hope I have understood your description correctly.

Question: Regarding "Entering an Intersection on a Green Light and Waiting to Turn Left", if that's illegal, what is the driver supposed to do? The car is probably blocking the intersection.

Answer: Based on my reading, in states where this maneuver is illegal, the driver should not proceed into the intersection until the way is clear to turn left.

Question: Are there any laws about making a U-turn at a red light, particularly in South Carolina?

Answer: In South Carolina, U-turns are legal at intersections where there is not a sign prohibiting them. Here is a link to some rules of the road for SC. https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/rules-of-the-...

Question: Is left on red while in an intersection legal in Ohio?

Answer: Check back in the article at the section titled, "Chart: Left on Red Law According to State/Territory." Follow the column with State names down to "Ohio." An "x" marks the column which answers your question. Yes, it is legal to turn left on red in Ohio when you are turning from a one-way street onto a one-way street.

Question: Is it legal to turn left on red if you are at a dead end street?

Answer: If it was a dead end, there would be no option to turn.

© 2012 Chris Mills

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