Dr. Traffic

Now everyone agrees: No right turn at a red arrow

When you see a red arrow pointing to the right, don’t turn on red. A square sign is posted here to reinforce that, but during certain hours the white letters may be turned off, adding to confusion about whether turning on red is permitted.
When you see a red arrow pointing to the right, don’t turn on red. A square sign is posted here to reinforce that, but during certain hours the white letters may be turned off, adding to confusion about whether turning on red is permitted. Karen Sullivan

Your calls and letters kept coming, asking for more clarity – is a right turn at a red arrow allowed?

It’s not. Don’t do it. Even the Charlotte Department of Transportation agrees, after initially saying it was OK.

There was a time when this maneuver was allowed in North Carolina. But the state, you might remember, adopted new rules in January 2012 to change that. Since then, a right turn at a right-pointing red arrow is not allowed in North Carolina.

CDOT didn’t get the memo about the change. In fact, nobody did, as you may recall. State officials decided not to send out a notice about the change in 2012 because fewer than 100 intersections in North Carolina had right-pointing red signals, an official from NCDOT told the Observer.

Well, Charlotte has several. At some intersections you’ll also see a no-turn-on-red sign posted alongside the right-pointing red arrow. At other intersections you might see the red arrow but no sign telling you not to turn on red. That’s still confusing, but wait for the green light.

After getting a few emails alerting me to the new rules adopted in 2012, I published a story explaining the change. But CDOT sometimes adopts its own rules, to fit the needs of an urban community, said Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman for CDOT.

“CDOT applies the (federal) standards for operations and traffic rules to follow,” Durrett wrote in an email. “However, the City occasionally departs from them to operate the unique Charlotte transportation system effectively and safely for all modes of transportation.”

Still, Durrett offered to dig deeper after learning of the state’s 2012 rule prohibiting a right at a red arrow.

“We’ve looked at this complex situation in light of your article and the need for motorists to have a common and clear understanding of the meaning of the signal and we want to help clarify and simplify,” Durrett wrote in an email.

After checking again, Durrett had new information to share: A right turn on a red arrow is not allowed in Charlotte, unless there is a traffic sign saying it’s OK. Wait until the light turns green or flashes yellow, she said.

But a right turn on red is still legal when the signal is a solid red circle.

That’s also what the state’s rules now say.

So why the change at CDOT, to say a right turn at a red arrow is no longer allowed? Durrett consulted with Debbie Smith, assistant engineering and operations division manager, to get that new information.

“After reading Karen’s articles on this matter, CDOT decided we needed to review the City’s use and explanation of right turn red arrows throughout the city to make sure we were consistent and in compliance with the laws.”

Just to be clear, CDOT has not adopted rules to allow a right at a red arrow, according to Smith, so state law applies.

Thanks to the staff at CDOT for taking a closer look. Now we know what to do: Let the other drivers honk if they choose to. Stay put until the light turns green when facing a right-pointing red arrow.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms, kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com

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