Some drivers refuse to turn right on red

The in basket: It looks like turning right at a red light is the issue of the week. Three readers have suggested it for discussion in this column.

Jane Rebelowski writes, “Can you please clarify right on red laws? I am starting to see lots of bumper stickers stating that they choose NOT to turn right on red.

“In places with heavy ped or bike traffic, I do not always take the option,” she added.

Jim Oas asks, “In a right-turn lane, you may come up to a red arrow, stop, and proceed, correct?

“If the right-turn arrow is green, you simply proceed without stopping, yes?

“I get soooo many elderly folks or slow pokies that are younger, that won’t turn on a red arrow,” Jim said. “Even when you honk at them, they look in the mirror at you in disgust and just sit there.”

And a commenter on the Road Warrior blog at who goes by Maseace topped a list of driving behaviors he thinks should be the subject of a public awareness campaign by saying, “A lot of drivers in this state don’t turn right on red lights. The red arrow only means that right is the only direction for that lane. The only time you can’t turn right on red is when there’s a ‘No right turn on red’ sign,” he concluded, correctly.

He or she also nominated keeping right except to pass, using turn signals, using the zipper tactic to take turns at a merge, use of headlights in darkness and rain, checking tire pressure and tread depth and (for pedestrians) not wearing dark clothing at night as requirements or good advice worthy of broadcast.

The out basket: I hadn’t seen any bumper stickers notifying others that the driver won’t turn right on red. Such turns can be a hazard to pedestrians and bicyclists, but shouldn’t be if the turn is done legally, with a complete stop that provides time to look around for them – and for other cars.

I guess some drivers must assume red arrow lights impose some further restriction than do red ball lights, or why bother with the arrow? I haven’t been able to get an official answer to that last question, but they don’t.

State Trooper Russ Winger says, “You can make the turn after stopping and yielding on either a red arrow or red ball light. UNLESS there is additional signage prohibiting turning on red.”

The wording of the state law governing this, RCW 46.61.055 (3) a) and c), is identical for red ball and red arrow signals, so where you can turn at one, you can turn at the other.

Yes, Jim, a green arrow turn signal gives a driver the right-of-way to proceed without stopping as much as does a green ball signal.

And finally, Coleen Smidt, another blog commenter, noted just Thursday that “The most ignored ‘No Turn on Red’ sign in the city of Bremerton is just a couple of blocks from my house at the corner of 11th and Naval. Very few drivers pay any attention to it. These are the same drivers that pay very little attention to the school zone in that area.”



9 thoughts on “Some drivers refuse to turn right on red

  1. Just an FYI. Some folks have been written tickets under RCW 46.37.380 for honking their horn behind somebody who would not go. The horn is only supposed to be used as a warning for safe operation of your vehicle.

  2. I haven’t seen any bumper stickers saying they won’t turn right on red, but this is the only place I have lived where I’ve noticed some people won’t. They don’t have any problem running red lights here, so why the problem making a legal turn? It’s been a law since what, the early 70s?
    One of my biggest gripes would be the people who refuse to turn on their headlights until it’s almost pitch black out. Yes, sometimes when it’s gray and raining out I can still see the road ahead of me clearly, the problem is I can’t see YOU (the car coming towards me without lights on.) Very dangerous and just plain stupid. Do they think they’re saving on electricity or battery power? I drive a 1998 Olds where the lights come on automatically, and have yet to replace one single headlight.

  3. I do most of my driving in King County. My guess is the bike community and pedestrian advocates are the ones passing out the bumper stickers. I rarely see drivers coming to a complete stop before turning red so if I wait an additional 90 seconds to turn right, who cares. I get it with the headlight thing, my guess the “turn off your (house) lights when not in use” got a bit too ingrained. Wish I had your 98 Olds, seems like we replace headlights every other year.

  4. Yes, one could turn right on a red light. I suspect that with the increase amount of daytime drunk drivers, other drivers may exercise more caution, and drive more defensively. Some places in this area, like Bremerton , have all sorts of pedestrian crossing, lighting, signage, and substandard infrastructure conditions, that should make people pause at any red light opportunity. Several people have been struck by a drunk drivers, or the regularly inattentive drivers from Bremerton. If anything, there should be increased traffic patrols in places like Bremerton. The road conditions in Bremerton are so poor, that I don’t turn on red lights. Because, in my opinion, they’re not safe. It is very stupid and dangerous, to think that the roads in Bremerton are acceptable, or safe.

  5. “I guess some drivers must assume red arrow lights impose some further restriction than do red ball lights, or why bother with the arrow? I haven’t been able to get an official answer to that last question, but they don’t.”

    I have always been under the impression that the arrow lights mean you can only proceed in the direction of the arrow. Left turn lanes have left arrows, and right turn only lanes have right arrows. The arrow lights always seem to be paired with the arrows painted on the ground in the turn lane. Some places have lanes with “up” arrow lights where you are not allowed to turn at all.

  6. Although I found your write up on rt turn on red interesting and informative, I felt there was a significant element omitted…. left turn on red. Driving in downtown Seattle poses this situation alot and people are completely oblivious to the rule of law. From a one way to a one way… it is legal to make a left turn on red. If people would think about this just a bit, it is the flipside of a rt turn on red and makes complete sense.

  7. At first, I though Steve Conolly’s comment echoed that of Petra Hellthaler, who e-mailed hers a day earlier saying she was disappointed that I hadn’t addressed left turns on red onto a one-way street from EITHER a one-way or two-way street.
    “Very few people and not all police are aware that in this state, it is permissible to make a left from a one-way and a two-way onto a one-way street on a steady red ball or arrow,” she said. “It is most frustrating in Seattle at the left arrows under the viaduct by the fire station where one turns left to return south to the ferry terminal (basically, a light-controlled U-turn). These lights aren’t ‘smart’ and are interminable (pun intended).”
    I told Petra that I intermittently write about this peculiar law, which is applicable in very few places in Kitsap County – signallzed accesses to freeway on-ramps and at Burwell and Pacific in downtown Bremerton, for example.
    So few people know that it’s legal, that someone who does almost has to be first in line for the left turn to take advantage of it. Those ahead of you in line rarely know of – or, at least use – this exemption to commonly understood red light law.
    Note, as I always do, that it’s legal only after one comes to a complete stop at the red light, and yields to any vehicle or pedestrians with the right of way.
    So, yes, Steve is correct about left turns on red from one-way to one-way but could have included lefts from two-way to one-way under these very limited circumstances.
    If you think Petra and I are crazy, you can read the law at RCW 46.61.050 (3 (a) and (c). It would be good to be able to cite that law if you try this and are stopped by an officer. I’ve interceded twice for readers who were stopped by officers unaware of the law.

  8. Maseace is correct. I was discussing only the permission to stop or go at red right turn lights, not the direction of travel.

  9. It’s not legal to turn on red arrows in all states, but apparently it may be in WA.

    (c) Vehicle operators facing a steady red arrow indication may not enter the intersection control area to make the movement indicated by such arrow, and unless entering the intersection control area to make such other movement as is permitted by other indications shown at the same time, shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering a crosswalk on the near side of the intersection control area, or if none, then before entering the intersection control area and shall remain standing until an indication to make the movement indicated by such arrow is shown. However, the vehicle operators facing a steady red arrow indication may, after stopping proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn; or a left turn from a one-way street or two-way street into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the left turn; unless a sign posted by competent authority prohibits such movement. Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall remain stopped to allow other vehicles lawfully within or approaching the intersection control area to complete their movements. Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall also remain stopped for pedestrians who or personal delivery devices that are lawfully within the intersection control area as required by RCW 46.61.235(1).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Enter the word yellow here: