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:
- New York City (also no Right on Red)
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- 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?See results without voting
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:
- 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.
- Is the street I want to turn onto, a one way street with traffic traveling left? If so, proceed to question three.
- 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?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.