Left Turn on Red: A Guide for the United States and Its Territories

Updated on September 30, 2018
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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 12 March 2018.

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 Turn on a Red Light by Blackfoot

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-Kansas City is an exception. See the chart below, "Left on Red Law According to State/Territory".
  • 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 on Red, Unless You See Something Like This


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

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 (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, 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 am on a one-way street and 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 (Except Kansas City), 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
X (Kansas City-Legal to turn left on red from one way onto one way if not marked otherwise. See comment below by Ben Ross for local ordinance link
New Hampshire
New Jersey
x (Law as written is confusing. It is legal to turn right on red, but not left on red)
New Mexico
New York(State)
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
x (Unless permitted by local ordinance)
West Virginia
District of Columbia
Puerto Rico
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?

See results

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.

Another Type of Left on Red Law: Entering an Intersection on a Green Light and Waiting to Turn Left

This section of the article is an ongoing work in progress. I will add information as I continue to research the laws in each state.

Here is the scenario. You approach an intersection controlled by traffic lights. You have a green light and you want to turn left. You enter the intersection while the light is green. You yield to traffic coming from the opposite direction and to pedestrians in the crosswalk. You may turn at any time there is an adequate opening in the traffic coming from the opposite direction. If the traffic signal turns yellow and then red before you turn, you are NOT guilty of running a red light if you turn. Once you enter the intersection, you have the right and responsibility to leave the intersection when the way is clear even if the light turns red.

In which U.S. states is this maneuver legal? I will continue to research the question and add to the following list the names of states where this is legal. If you believe I have made an error, please leave a comment telling me where I can go online for clarification. When the information is inconclusive, I will refer to it as "Law unclear".

New York-Legal




Alaska-NOT legal

Washington (State)-Law unclear

Arizona-Law unclear, but generally considered illegal by law enforcement


Colorado-NOT legal

Connecticut-NOT legal

Questions & Answers

  • Is left on red while in an intersection legal in Ohio?

    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.


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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      Well, it seems that at least in New York State, it was legal to perform this maneuver in 1984.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      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!

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 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.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      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.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      So what is the next step?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 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.

    • profile image

      Jack Hines 

      5 months ago

      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.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 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.

    • profile image

      Ben Ross 

      7 months ago

      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...


    • profile image

      Cynthia Lord 

      7 months ago

      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.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      10 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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.

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      Darn, I live in New Hampshire! :( I would have taken advantage of this 100%

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      19 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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 Weithers 

      19 months 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      21 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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."

    • profile image


      21 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      22 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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


      22 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      23 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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.

    • profile image


      23 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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.

    • profile image


      2 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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.

    • profile image

      R Murty K 

      3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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 

      5 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 imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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


      6 years ago from Chicago

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

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      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 

      6 years ago from 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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