You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

The Michigan law on right turns on red can be a little murky

By Rich Kinsey

In December 2009, I wrote a piece about legally permitted turns on red traffic signals. At the time, several commenters reported being ticketed for making turns on red traffic signals from lanes that were designated with signs indicating “right” or “left.” If those intersections didn't have signs specifically indicating “NO TURN ON RED,” those tickets were improper based on my research.

The entire law for making turns on red traffic signals is contained in the Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.612 (1)(C )(ii).

Drivers in Michigan can make certain turns on a red traffic signal, but only after coming to a complete stop before entering a crosswalk, intersection or crossing a limit line (also known as a “stop bar”). Obviously, drivers must also yield to any oncoming traffic or pedestrians prior to making any turn on red.


When can you turn right on red?

Drivers can make a right turn on a red traffic signal from a one-way or two-way street onto a one-way or two-way street. Drivers also can make a left turn on a red traffic signal from a one-way or two-way street onto a one-way street only. Those left turns onto one-way streets may include expressway on ramps and boulevard left turns (also known as Michigan lefts). However, when making a boulevard left turn — like westbound Jackson Road west of Zeeb Road in front of the Meijer store — drivers are prohibited from driving straight across the roadway into a driveway (FAQ 5 and 7 at,1607,7-123-1586_27094-73839--,00.html#rules).

I contacted the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division with the question about traffic signals marked with “right” or “left,” and I was told those are lane designations only. Once in that specific lane, a driver must make the turn indicated by that “right” or “left” sign. Those lane designations have nothing to do with whether a turn can be made at a red signal there. I was also informed that this question is often asked of the MSP Traffic Safety Division.

According to the MSP Traffic Safety Division, only signs, signals, marking, light, or other traffic control device prohibiting turns on red can prohibit legal turns on a red signal. Those signs are the ones that usually read “NO TURN ON RED.” Furthermore, those signs have to be placed in front of the stop bar or crosswalk.

Prior to doing the research, I had heard from several officers that they believe those lane designators had the effect of prohibiting the turn on red. Of the officers I spoke to, none had written such a ticket, believing the law was a bit murky so it would be a rather weak violation. Hopefully, this article will clear up any confusion on that particular aspect of legally permitted turns on red. Remember — if ever in doubt whether a turn on red is legal or not, just wait for the light to turn green.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for our neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Thanks for a helpful article! I (and probably many more who wouldn't admit it) am guilty of not realizing I could turn left on a solid red light from a 2-way street ONTO a freeway ramp. I am thinking of the westbound I-94 on-ramp from northbound AA-Saline Road in particular. That is always such a long red for left turners. Am I understanding it correctly that I can LEGALLY turn onto the freeway on-ramp if the left-turn lane light is red, but traffic is clear?


Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

Yes you can.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:02 p.m.

Perhaps a class is needed for some, but I think all that have a drivers license should know the laws, lanes, lights, stop signs ect.. I have to sometimes look back for the sign that says (no turn on red) if I can't see it I just wait for the light to turn. Thanks Rich for clearing this up for many.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Maybe Det. Kinsey can put his authority to good use and get these sidewalks safe

Seasoned Cit

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.

Rich, Question: I'm in a left turn lane (with signal) , going west on Madison and waiting to turn left (South) onto Main Street. The light is red, but there is no traffic coming east on Madison on their green light. Can I legally turn left against my red left turn light assuming no pedestrian traffic crossing etc. ? It's been my understanding that I need a blinking red light to be permitted to turn. If that's correct.. why aren't there more blinking left turn lights ?

John B.

Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 2:10 a.m.

By 'red' I mean 'solid red' of course (in my first sentence above...).

John B.

Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 2:07 a.m.

'No' to your question, because you can't turn left on red from a two-way road to another two-way road. Rich's article explained that. To your second issue, there are very few blinking red left-turn lights in A2 precisely to protect pedestrians. I don't fully agree with this idea, but I understand the reasoning for it.

Gregory Fox

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 5:26 p.m.

Thank you for the clarification on turning on a red light. I am unsure in situations where there are two stop bars because of railroad tracks. This is the case on eastbound W. Liberty just west of S. First St. and southbound Barton Dr. where it ends at Plymouth Rd. There is a sign at the first stop bar that says "Stop here on red." Does that mean that after coming to a stop one may not proceed across that stop bar in order to turn on red?

John B.

Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 2:16 a.m.

I think the main issue in that case (I know where you mean) is that you can't block the tracks or the RR crossing signals. I'm not 100% sure, but imo if you can A) come to a full stop at the first sign, and then determine that B) it is safe to pull up to the second one (without blocking the tracks or RR signals), then you may do so. Then (if safe to proceed) you could turn right on red at that second location. Anyone know for sure?


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

Yeah, I wonder about that too. I always assumed that you should stop where the "stop here" sign is and NOT turn on red, but I'd love to hear otherwise.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

@Kristin Judge: that's an easy one to answer. There are times when you can have the right turn signal be green when the signal for the traffic going straight is red (e.g. when the cross traffic's dedicated left-turn signal is green), and in that case, even the person who won't turn on red has a clear signal that they need to turn. It helps keep the right turn traffic moving.

Kristin Judge

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

This is a great topic. I have always wondered about the right turn lanes that have their own dedicated signal. Are you allowed to turn on red there as long as there is not a sign posted? If yes, what is the need for a separate signal just for the right lane? Thanks for helping with this issue.

Kent Jocque

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

Turning right on red saves fuel wasted while the car idles. If the first car in a line of ten cars does not take advantage of the right turn on red option then the fuel wasted is ten times as much. According to wikipedia, <a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> &quot;Right turn on red has been practiced in the western United States for more than 50 years, with the eastern states adopting the law in the 1970s to save fuel.&quot;

Barb's Mom

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

But just because you are turning right doesn't mean the first person in line is turning right.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

This is probably the most useful article ever posted on And that isn't meant as a slam on The only thing that would make this better would be if Ed Vielmetti would go FOIA the stats on how many tickets AAPD has issued for this. A friend got one last year.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Another thing to be careful of in making a right on red - if the flow of traffic you're turning into has left and/or right turn lanes, watch out for drivers in those lanes shifting to the straight lane at the last minute. I see it all the time with southbound traffic on S State Street at the corner of Ellsworth Rd. At this corner, southbound drivers in the right turn lane often proceed straight (and then of course lay on their horn because a driver made a right on red assuming the southbound driver in the right turn lane was turning right).

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

So, is that my left or your left? ;-)


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

The turn on red option is just that, an option. The most important rule of driving is to be safe and only turn when you're comfortable. You don't know if the driver in front of you is a new driver, or somebody who has been in an accident recently or just doesn't feel comfortable using the turn on red option. Nobody has the right to get mad at somebody who is stopped at a red light, if you're in that much of a hurry you should have left earlier.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:17 p.m.

Oh please. No one decides to just waste their time and fuel and that of everyone behind them sitting in a car for no reason because they don't want to exercise their &quot;option&quot;. They do it because they are ignorant of the law, which hopefully articles like this will clear up. And yes, I have *every* right to get mad at having my time and fuel needlessly wasted. It has nothing to do with being in a hurry.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Rich, aren't these right turns on red optional for the drivers? If so, then as painful as it is when we are behind someone who doesn't turn we have no &quot;right&quot; to get upset?


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

I also have researched the right turn on red and when is it prohibited. Unless the laws have changed, there must be a sign that prohibits the right turn on red. If there is only a red light with a right pointing arrow, the turn should be legal to make since no prohibitive sign is posted. I have approached many an intersection where the individual in front of me sits and waits at the red arrow until the light changes believing they are not allowed to turn. Rich: How about a tutorial on traffic circles? The number of individuals that sit waiting for the entire circle to empty is absurd. Maybe a 1 hour training class on how to properly merge into the circle.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

There is now traffic circle guidance in the &quot;what every driver needs to know&quot; book. I thought I had them down, but evidently, you're supposed to signal your exit with a right turn signal, which helps other traffic know when they can enter safely.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Rich, thanks for the research and clarification. It might also be helpful to remind pedestrians that most intersections allow right hand turns on red. There's a particular one (Fuller and Maiden Lane) where I am making a legal turn to the right from Maiden Lane on to Fuller, when folks decide to cross in front of me. When I point out that the crossing signal shows the red/orange hand, they are slightly less anrgy at me. Most, obviously don't even bother to look before crossing.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

I wish more people understood that a left turn on red from a two-way to a one-way is legal. It's frustating to sit behind someone who won't turn on red when the intersection is clear and there isn't any traffic approaching.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

@Jessie: I grew up here, and I used to think that one way to one way was the only legal left turn on red. I forget when I learned that it was legal to turn left from a two way street to one way. But that's why I said I get frustrated rather than getting angry, because I know a lot of people don't know this particular Michigan law.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Well, being from Illinois, I may be one of those drivers who has frustrated you. In Illinois you are only permitted to turn left on red from a one-way street onto another one-way street. I didn't know it was permitted from a two-way street here until I read this article. I promise not to frustrate you any more :-)


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

@Craig: Of course it's not required. It's equally &quot;legal&quot; for me to get frustrated when that happens and to express my opinion. (And my opinion as expressed above takes into acount that they may be ignorant of the law.) I don't like wasting gas or time, and if a turn is legal and safe to do, then doing so keeps everyone moving.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

Agreed -- I think it would be nice for them to put up a few reminder signs that go something like &quot;left turn legal when traffic is clear&quot; or &quot;complete left turn when traffic clear&quot;. I grew up in suburbs north of Detroit, and we had some of those signs. I think it helped move traffic smoothly.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

Lots of people don't understand that a left turn on red from a two-way to a one-way is legal because Michigan is one of only ~8 states that allow it. It's illegal in the other 42 states. ... This is also something that Michigan drivers should remember when they're driving in other states.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

Its legal, its not required. So who's to say whether they are ignorant of the law or just choose not to take advantage?


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

If you know you are going to turn right at that light, and not sure about right turn on red... Please do not turn on your blinker until ready too turn.... You will hear from the impatient driver behind you ready to go no where. Been there, done it, heard it, in a hurry to the next red light.......


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 3:19 p.m.

Say what? It sounds like you're not quite aware of the reason we're supposed to use a turn signal. You turn it on so other people know your intent. Maybe you need to ignore the person behind you better. People are impatient all over.

Tom Joad

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

It's especially dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross when the over-eager right-on-red driver is only looking to his/her left to see if the traffic is clear oblivious to the walker on his right. The obtrusively pull into the crosswalk until the traffic clears. Can't tell you how many times I've had to 'politely' wrap on someone's right fender to alert them.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

At least they're starting from a stopped position -- I almost got taken out crossing a street in Dexter when someone flying down Main (evidently late to drop his son off at a party at laser tag) didn't bother to slow down or even consider the possibilities of pedestrians or the fact that he needed to yield. Even better, despite the fact that he almost killed me and we were both entering the same building at the same time, he didn't bother to apologize or anything. I think he thought that it was my job to stay out of the path of his car. Inconsiderate drivers.... gotta love 'em. I'd love to see more police tackle those issues than speeders.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

This is why it is so important that pedestrians actually look before they cross the street.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

There is even a better alternative. Rather than trying to understand and follow the law, just carry a badge or F.O.P. card ( Fraternal Order of Police ). Then you never have to worry about getting a ticket!

Boo Radley

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

That's a great idea ... If you believe that everything one must go through to become a police officer, and everything one must endure to stay one is worth getting out of a ticket, then Go For It.


Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

The trouble with &quot;Right on red&quot; is that folks do not stop! They roll right on through. If I have a left turn arrow there are cars cutting me off since they come to a rolling stop and keep on going.

Matt Cooper

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 11:17 a.m.

Thanks for the clarification, Det. Kinsey. I still cannot believe how many people I see every day make right and/or left turns without coming close to a complete stop.