Chris describes and reviews books, music, merchandise, even laws as a result of personal experience.
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 fifty 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):
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:
- 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)
- New Hampshire
- District of Columbia
In all other states, this maneuver is sometimes legal unless otherwise 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.
What is the legal way to turn at a median?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Can I Turn Left at a Red Light From a One-Way Street Onto a One-Way Street?
37 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
|U.S. State/Territory||Can 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?|
NO (except in Kansas City, if the intersection is not marked otherwise)
NO (the law as written is confusing—it is legal to turn right on red, but not left on red)
yes (but not in New York City)
NO (unless permitted by local ordinance)
District of Columbia
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.
It May Be Legal, but It Confuses 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 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 more safe. 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: 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: 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: 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
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 07, 2020:
andrewwynn, You are correct and I thank you for helping me to make this a site where people can find trustworthy answers. I have made the change in the chart.
andrewwynn on March 07, 2020:
Your data is wrong for Wisconsin:.
Left turn on red
Traffic facing a red signal at an intersection may, after stopping, cautiously enter the intersection to make a left turn from a one-way highway into the nearest lane of a one-way highway on which traffic travels to the left.
(From Wisconsin DOT website).
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on January 09, 2019:
Gloria, If you come back, would you mind letting me know what state you are from? I'd like to use your information to make sure I'm up to date. Thanks
Gloria Stanton on January 09, 2019:
I have gotten tickets on both of these occasions where I was in the intersection and the light changed to red before I completed the turn. I wish I had this information back then.
space on October 30, 2018:
Does the Michigan left on red mean you can make a u-turn on red when there is a median. I searched for that and most people say it's illegal.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 22, 2018:
Well, it seems that at least in New York State, it was legal to perform this maneuver in 1984.
Joe on July 25, 2018:
In regard to entering an intersection while waiting to turn left... I can't say that I have any knowledge of where the laws sit on this issue, but I do have a personal experience that dates back 30 years. I was confronted with this exact issue when taking my road test for my driver's license (in upstate New York, circa 1984). Not knowing what the law required, and obviously wanting to be on my best behavior, I waited at the stop line before the cross walk at a green light with my left turn signal on. The person from the DMV evaluating my performance then instructed me to pull into the intersection to wait for an opportunity to turn, explaining that this way, I will be able to complete the turn should the light turn red before an opportunity arose. So, I don't know if it's legal, but I had to do it to pass my road test!
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 19, 2018:
T.R.Barrow, It is my practice to do my own research on whatever I am writing about. I will do the same with this issue. I have already looked into it a bit and am satisfied that it is legal in many states.
T.R.Barrow on June 19, 2018:
Be careful with following the advice of Jack Hines, below. I do not think it is safe, or legal in most states, when making a left turn at a red light, in heavy traffic, to pull up in the middle of the intersection, assuming you will squeeze between cars, and assuming you will not be vulnerable to an accident. This causes many traffic problems and jams, not to mention the wrecks and injuries.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 19, 2018:
So what is the next step?
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 15, 2018:
Jack, thanks for bringing this up. I know the kind of turn you are talking about. It is a kind of left on red. I never considered it when I put this article together.I will do some research and see if It fits this article. If not, I will probably write another article. This whole idea of entering an intersection and waiting for a red light needs to be researched well before encouraging people to do it.
Jack Hines on April 15, 2018:
Nice article, but you still didn't get it completely right. In most states, certainly Illinois, and (I believe) in at least another thirty plus or so states you can turn left on RED from either a one way or a two way street onto a one way or a two-way street. If you couldn't, there would be many intersections in Chicago that allow left turns but you would never get through them unless you could turn when the light changes to red. In encourage you to check with the Chicago police department, When the traffic is heavy, typically, two cars enter the intersection on green and then complete their turn on red.
Green arrows are great, but the city and the states are not going to rebuild every intersection (and they can't) in order to have a dedicated left turn lane.
This is how you should turn left when there is no law against a left turn on green:
You are approaching the intersection and you have a steady green light.
1. You enter the intersection and KEEP your wheels pointed straight ahead until you turn.
2. You yield the right of way to all oncoming traffic.
3. The light turns yellow, then red. The oncoming traffic does not clear the intersection until the light turns totally red.
4. Insuring that no oncoming traffic is still trying to beat the light, you now complete your left turn. If a vehicle or vehicles behind you had also entered the intersection LEGALLY they also could complete the left turn.
The key, Chris, and the law you must remember is that the cross traffic MUST YIELD TO VEHICLES IN THE INTERSECTION.
The reason why this is the law in most states is because traffic flow is really hindered if people fear entering an intersection when oncoming traffic is heavy or fairly heavy. On a long light there could be several opportunities for vehicle to complete their turn IF they are sitting patiently in the intersection. Also, the last thing we want to do is cause people to try to beat oncoming traffic in order to turn before the light turns red.
You told the woman from New Mexico you couldn't find a law that specifically permits this. Conversely, I can find no law that says you must gauge the oncoming traffic and predict whether or not you will be able to turn before the light turns red.
If you read Illinois "Rules of the Road", for example, note that it states when you have a green light you must still YIELD TO CARS IN THE INTERSECTION.
I've been driving for 64 years. I always enter an intersection to turn left and I never try to beat an oncoming car in order to avoid a red light. I have never been stopped by the police for this.
My wife, back in the seventies did not know the law. She was in Arlington Heights, IL waiting to turn left. Her light turned yellow and was yellow for a brief time when she decided she had to clear the intersection before the red light. An oncoming car broadsided her. Luckily, no one was hurt. The other guy was clearly wrong in trying to beat the light, but my wife got the ticket and was told by the police that her FIRST obligation is to yield right-of-way to oncoming traffic.
I KNOW many people will argue about this, but they will be wrong. If you really think about it, this makes sense and most states accept that. New York city doesn't permit it any more, because people were entering intersections when the cross streets were badly backed up and this exacerbated gridlock. New York state, however, does allow the left turn on red as I described.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2018:
Ben, thank you for that important information. I will add it to my article and will try to give you credit for providing the information.
Ben Ross on February 26, 2018:
Interestingly, Kansas City, Missouri, city ordinances allow left turns on red despite the fact that it is against state law:
Kansas City Ordinance Sec. 70-954 (a)(3)c.
c. Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, vehicular traffic facing any steady red signal may cautiously enter the intersection to turn right, or to turn left from a one-way street into a one-way street, after stopping...
Cynthia Lord on February 23, 2018:
I got a $140.50 ticket for turning on left. I did wait for the arrow, when the traffic started moving and I didn't get my arrow, I waited and when there was NO traffic coming, I turned and I got a ticket. The officer told me it was illegal. There was no sign prohibiting the turn and there was no oncoming traffic, but, I still got a ticket. SUCKS!!!! Going to look into how the new law affects this situation.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 21, 2017:
Jacob, some states/cities don't allow this because traffic is so heavy e.g. NYC. If that isn't the case in your city, see if you can get some discussion going. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.
Jacob on November 21, 2017:
Darn, I live in New Hampshire! :( I would have taken advantage of this 100%
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 03, 2017:
Dora, I'm from Michigan. I'm not there now because I travel for my work. I hope the weather is good for you. I'd enjoy hearing what part of the state you will be visiting.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 03, 2017:
Interesting information. Paid special attention to instructions for Michigan, because I'm planning to be there in a few weeks. Thanks for making us aware.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 17, 2016:
Diane, thank you for reading my article and for your question. This is interesting. I have never heard of a left on red with two way traffic on both involved streets. If this is legal, it is unique to New Mexico, I believe. I have searched for such a law, but have been unable to find one. I believe you were right to wait for the light to change. Check that intersection closely for any signs that indicate what a person turning left is to do. One such sign might read, "Left turn on green arrow only." Another sign might say "Left turn yield to oncoming traffic."
diane on December 17, 2016:
ok, I am familiar with a right turn on red from a one way onto a one way, which I learned in California back in the 80's. What about a 4 way intersection moving in 4 directions where each direction has a turning lane that proceeds on an arrow before the round light? I got into a "disagreement" with another woman who was impatient for me to turn and began honking here in New Mexico. Seems dangerous to me, turning left on red when someone else has a right turn green arrow. And New Mexico has higher insurance rates than NYC, where I have also lived, because, as the Geico agent said, "there are so many claims made in New Mexico". My rate has gone up three times in 5 years because of that, even though I have made none, and no traffic infractions.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 15, 2016:
Sandie, Thanks for reading my article and for your question. As I have studied the language of the laws in various states, I have not seen the maneuver you have suggested even mentioned. I can see your thinking though. If you were in a right lane and wanted to remain in the right lane of the one way street going left, you would not cut off the lane to your left. But the laws are written with very specific language. I have only seen a right on red from a right lane and a left on red from a left lane. I would not attempt this because I believe any law enforcement officer would view it as a violation. This is just my opinion. If you discover something different, I would appreciate you coming back to let me know.
Sandie on November 15, 2016:
What if you are turning left from the right lane on a one way street onto the right lane if another one way street
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 29, 2016:
Lorraine, that is correct wherever left on red is legal. You can only turn left onto a one way street going left. Thanks for reading my article and for the comment.
lorraine on October 29, 2016:
Turns on Red (from Massachusetts Driver's Manual online)
You must come to a complete stop at a red traffic light. You may then turn right unless a NO TURN ON RED sign is posted. You must first give the right-of-way to pedestrians and other vehicles.
You may turn left on red only if you are turning from a one-way street
onto another one-way street.
The same rules that apply to right turns apply to left turns.
** It does not appear that you can turn left on red when you are coming and doing on 2 direction roads.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on May 29, 2016:
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 on May 28, 2016:
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.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 13, 2015:
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 on July 13, 2015:
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!
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 05, 2012:
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.
Tina Dubinsky from Brisbane, Australia on December 05, 2012:
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.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2012:
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.
Matt from Chicago on August 17, 2012:
Wow, thats crazy...I'm confused just thinking about it.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2012:
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.
Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 17, 2012:
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.