Dr. Traffic

Think again about that right turn on red

Here is the fine print on red arrows in the 2009 North Carolina Supplement to the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The state adopted the supplement in January 2012.
Here is the fine print on red arrows in the 2009 North Carolina Supplement to the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The state adopted the supplement in January 2012. NCDOT

When I wrote last week that a right turn at a red arrow was OK, that seemed like a good, straightforward topic. Oy, it’s been anything but.

As I write this, I’m still chasing new details to clearly say when or where this is permitted or not allowed. For now, a right turn at a red arrow seems more like rolling dice. Here’s why:

Until January 2012, it was fine to make a right turn on a red arrow in North Carolina, according to Kevin Lacy, N.C. Department of Transportation state traffic engineer. But that’s when North Carolina changed its rules, to align itself with most states.

That means no right at a red arrow, unless there’s a sign or other display saying you can.

My first contact at NCDOT, spokesman Steve Abbott, was unaware of the 2012 change when he explained the rules to me. And there’s a good reason.

Turns out nobody at NCDOT sent out a communication on the change, Lacy and Abbott said. And no word went out to North Carolina drivers, the two agreed.

A violation could get you a $25 fine plus court costs for making a right at a red arrow, Lacy said.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, mind you, but there was no notice.

Huh?

There’s more: At some point Charlotte decided to make a right at a red arrow OK in its domain, Charlotte Department of Transportation spokeswoman Linda Durrett wrote in a July 28 email to me.

“According to General Statutes, it does not address a red arrow indication,” Durrett wrote in the email. “So CDOT has been given direction from our attorneys that a vehicle can make a right turn on red (ball or arrow) after coming to a complete stop and yielding the right of way to all other traffic/pedestrians unless a sign prohibits that movement.”

I told you it was anything but straightforward. I’m still checking on this business from CDOT, by the way. Stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, I’m sure you’d like to know the reason that no notice went out when the state changed its statutes and administrative code to prohibit a right at a red arrow. The official document is the 2009 North Carolina Supplement to the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The state adopted the supplement in January 2012, Lacy said.

But the new rule for making a right on a red arrow was considered to have limited impact.

“We only implement special public information campaigns when we have widespread changes,” Lacy wrote in an email. “Since this change had such a small impact, less (than) 100 intersections statewide, we did not implement any special public notification.”

Here’s one more problem with this: At some intersections you’ll see signs saying no right on red displayed alongside the red right-pointing arrow. OK, we know not to turn on red there. But at other intersections you might see only the red right arrow and no sign.

And you can’t rule out seeing a sign that says a right at a red arrow is permitted. That sign exists, too.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

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