We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Use caution when turning on a red light

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, January 20, 2012

Most drivers will make a right turn on a red traffic light when they have an opportunity to do so, except in Quebec, where it’s illegal.

Drivers who wish to turn right on a solid red traffic light must first come to a complete stop before making such a turn. They must be aware of any vehicular, cycle, or pedestrian traffic approaching from the left or right side of the street. All such traffic has the right of way to proceed prior to any driver being able to make a right turn on the red light.

When considering a right turn on a red light, drivers must also be aware of any cyclists or other vehicles that may creep into their blind spot.

Whenever there is a crash involving a driver who executes a right turn on a red light, the driver turning right will very likely be assessed total blame or at least partial blame. The law states that such a turn may only be made if it is safe to do so.

Every time a driver makes a right turn on a red light, the driver is susceptible to increased liability exposure. It is best to avoid the right on red move unless the visibility is clear, pedestrians are few and far between and the red light is in its initial phase. A red traffic light, which is well into the cycle, is bound to change at a most inopportune time, often leaving the driver red-faced and stranded, as pedestrians gain the right of way.

Drivers who make a right turn on red must always be conscious of the approaching drivers who have a left turn advance arrow. Many of these oncoming drivers making a left turn on the green advance arrow will turn wide into the lane, which a driver making a right turn must use to do a proper and legal turn. The hazards are numerous when any driver considers doing a legal right turn on a solid red traffic light.

In a recent survey of a relatively busy signalized intersection, not a single driver, when unobstructed by traffic, made the complete stop required by law, before proceeding to make the right turn on a solid red traffic light.

This behaviour is common in all jurisdictions that permit the right turn on a solid red. Sadly, pedestrians are the ones who are most at risk when drivers do not stop for a proper look for hazards before making the right turn.

The legal stop is one in which the driver stops completely.

The complete stop must be made before the natural path of the pedestrians across the driver’s path, if no road markings are present.

Where road markings exist, whether painted crosswalks or otherwise indicated, the driver must completely stop before the crosswalk when turning right on a solid red traffic light. Where no road crosswalk markings are in evidence, the imaginary extension of a sidewalk across the road is a legal crosswalk.

Most drivers think they must stop even with the stop sign.

This is a popular misconception. The stop sign tells a driver what to do, not necessarily where to do it.

It is advisable to make two stops before making a right turn on a red traffic light.

The first stop will satisfy the legal responsibility and the second will allow the driver to get a better look at all traffic, before proceeding safely around the turn.

Red is a colour often associated with emergency situations. We should all try our best to observe the meaning and intent of the red traffic lights, for our own good and that of others.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.


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