Can you turn left on red?

Many drivers know that it is legal to turn right while the traffic light is red, unless there is a sign expressly prohibiting it. The “turning right on red” rule is commonly practiced in Virginia, but can you turn left on red?

woman behind the wheel of her car

It turns out that you can make a left turn on red in Virginia, but only if: (1) the red traffic signal is a circular red; (2) you are currently stopped on a one-way street; and (3) you are about to turn left onto another one-way street. Under these circumstances, Virginia Code § 46.2-836 expressly permits a left turn on steady red on a one-way after you have brought your vehicle to a complete stop. The code specifically permits a left on red if the traffic light is a circular red, as opposed to a red, turn-only arrow. In the latter case, you would need to obey the red and only turn once the light changes to a green arrow.

In Virginia, the legal left turn on red can be distilled down to the image below.

traffic graphic

Figure 1. Depicting a legal left turn on red from a one-way street onto another one-way street.

Figure 1 above shows a white car that is currently stopped at the intersection of two one-way streets. There is no sign forbidding vehicles at that traffic light to turn left on red. Note that the traffic signal is an ordinary circular red, and not a red arrow signal. This is the only situation in which Virginia law permits the white-colored car to make the left turn while the stop light ahead of it is red. Contrast this with the figures below:

traffic graphic

Figure 2. Depicting a left turn from a two-way street onto a one-way street.

Figure 2 above shows a white car that is currently stopped on a two-lane street and about to turn left onto a one-way street. This is not allowed in Virginia because the white car would be pulling in front of oncoming traffic from the opposing lane.

traffic graphic

Figure 3. Depicting the intersection of two, two-lane streets.

In Figure 3, shown above, a white car is stopped at a red light governing the intersection of two two-lane streets. It is illegal for the white car to make a left turn while the light is red, because it risks pulling out in front of oncoming traffic and across adjacent traffic. This situation is the highest-risk of the three, and Virginia law is explicit about forbidding left turns on red at these types of intersections.

Keep in mind that no driver is ever required to make a left on red, nor a right on red. Adhering to traffic signs that either state in plain language “No Turn on Red” or forbid it via a symbol is important when you are at an intersection. Even if turning on red is permitted, remember that it is perfectly legal, and oftentimes safest, to wait until the light turns green and you can proceed safely. While following the law is key, safety is paramount.

If you have been injured due to the negligence of another driver failing to yield to a traffic signal, you may be eligible for compensation. Call the experienced attorneys at Allen & Allen today, at 866-388-1307.