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The Legal Left Turn on Red

Updated on March 03, 2017
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Chris describes and reviews books, music, merchandise, even laws as a result of personal experience.

About This Article

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. Updated on 18 December 2016.

Traffic Signals in the United States

Source

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

Source

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 as well as one city and two territories do not permit a left turn at a red light:

  • Connecticut
  • Missouri
  • 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.
  • South Dakota (Unless allowed by local ordinance)
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • District of Columbia
  • Guam

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

Source

Have you ever used the Left on Red maneuver?

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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, South Dakota (Unless local ordinance allows it), Maine, New Hampshire, 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? Check the states mentioned in number one, above. The remaining forty-two states permit this kind of left turn on red. Proceed to question three.
  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.

Another Important Restriction for Left turn on Red

Thirty-seven states allow drivers to turn left 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 as well as 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. The five lucky states are Michigan, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon.

The remaining eight states, South Dakota, Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Rhode Island, prohibit left on red.


U.S. Territories and Left on Red

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

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

Explanation of the Chart Below

The following chart breaks all this information down according to state and U.S. territory. Here are definitions of the headings.

  • 1 Way to 1 Way-You are traveling on a one way street and come to an intersection with another one way street on which the traffic is traveling left. Where legal, you must first come to a complete stop, then you may proceed to turn left onto the one way street at the red light.
  • 2 Way to 1 Way-You are traveling on a two way street and come to an intersection with a one way street on which the traffic is traveling left. Where legal, you must come to a complete stop, then you may proceed to turn left at a red light.
  • Banned-It is illegal to turn left at a red light under any circumstances.

Chart: Left on Red Law According to State/Territory

U.S. State/Territory
1 Way onto 1 Way
2 Way onto 1 Way
Banned
Alabama
x
 
 
Alaska
x
x
 
Arizona
x
 
 
Arkansas
x
 
 
California
x
 
 
Colorado
x
 
 
Connecticut
 
 
x
Delaware
x
 
 
Florida
x
 
 
Georgia
x
 
 
Hawaii
x
 
 
Idaho
x
x
 
Illinois
x
 
 
Indiana
x
 
 
Iowa
x
 
 
Kansas
x
 
 
Kuntucky
x
 
 
Louisiana
x
 
 
Maine
 
 
x
Maryland
x
 
 
Massachusetts
x
 
 
Michigan
x
x
 
Minnesota
x
 
 
Mississippi
x
 
 
Missouri
 
 
x
Montana
x
 
 
Nebraska
x
 
 
Nevada
x
 
 
New Hampshire
 
 
x
New Jersey
 
 
x (Law as written is confusing. It is legal to turn right on red, but not left on red)
New Mexico
x
 
 
New York(State)
x
 
 
North Carolina
 
 
x
North Dakota
x
 
 
Ohio
x
 
 
Oklahoma
x
 
 
Oregon
x
x
 
Pennsylvania
x
 
 
Rhode Island
 
 
x
South Carolina
x
 
 
South Dakota
 
 
x (Unless permitted by local ordinance)
Tennessee
x
 
 
Texas
x
 
 
Utah
x
 
 
Vermont
x
 
 
Virginia
x
 
 
Washington
x
x
 
West Virginia
x
 
 
Wisconsin
 
 
x
Wyoming
x
 
 
District of Columbia
 
 
x
Guam
 
 
x
Puerto Rico
 
x
 
The first diagram is a normal intersection involving 2, two-way streets.   The second is 2, one-way streets.  The third involves a car on a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street.  Check the chart above to see which are legal for you.
The first diagram is a normal intersection involving 2, two-way streets. The second is 2, one-way streets. The third involves a car on a two-way street turning left onto a one-way street. Check the chart above to see which are legal for you. | Source

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?

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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.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 3 weeks ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      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.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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."

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      diane 3 months ago

      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.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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.

    • profile image

      Sandie 4 months ago

      What if you are turning left from the right lane on a one way street onto the right lane if another one way street

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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.

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      lorraine 4 months ago

      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.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 10 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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.

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      Matt 10 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
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      Chris Mills 20 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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.

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      R Murty K 20 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
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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

      Tina Dubinsky 4 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
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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

      Matt 4 years ago from Chicago

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

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      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

      Marlene Bertrand 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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