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What's Driving You Crazy: Do you have to turn right on red, even if you feel unsafe?

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Posted at 4:45 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 09:01:37-04

Cassandra from Thornton writes, “What's driving you crazy? Do you have to turn right on red? I am constantly getting honked at by drivers for not turning right on the red light when it is seeming clear to go. Depending on the intersection, you can't always see who is coming through the green light or a larger vehicle is obstructing your line of sight. It was my impression that turning right on red is legal unless otherwise posted, but not necessarily required.”

The short answer Cassandra is no, you don’t have to turn right on red.

You are completely within your legal right to wait until the light turns green. Even though there is no law that says you must turn right on red, there will be drivers who will argue there is no reason not to turn on red unless it is unsafe.

According to the Colorado Driver Handbook, “After stopping and yielding to pedestrians and other traffic, and if not prohibited by a traffic sign, you may turn right while the light is red.” The key word in there is “may.” It does not say must, it says may. That makes the right turn on red optional.

No one can tell another driver when they feel it is safe to make any kind of maneuver, including to turn right on red. That said, other drivers who disagree with your decision will let you know the easiest way they know how — lay on the horn. I’m sure that is an uncomfortable feeling as the blaring horns could make you feel even more unsafe. In our fast-paced world, it is hard for other drivers to think someone wouldn’t want to turn right on red and keep going when they have the opportunity to do so.

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

I was talking to several people about this story, including a woman named Susanne.

“I was involved in a pretty bad accident several years ago because a 16-year-old girl turned right on a red light just as I was going through the intersection," she said. "My body and car took the brunt of the accident.”

Another woman told me even though you legally don’t have to go on red, it’s inconsiderate to other drivers and blocks the flow of traffic by waiting there and not turning especially when it is safe.

Conversely, a man named Sage I spoke with said, “I’ll just put my hands on the horn until I’m satisfied. When people honk at me, they can go around me.”

For the drivers who want to turn on red, the 911 Driving School says just because it is legal, that doesn’t mean this is a free pass to turn unless the conditions are right. Since you have a red light, that means someone else has a green light and they have the right of way and are probably not watching for people to pull out. It is also imperative when wanting to make a right turn on red to watch for pedestrians and bike riders. Some of the people on a bike will be in the crosswalk, but other riders choose to be on the road, riding with traffic.

On a separate note, in Colorado, drivers are allowed to make a left turn on red from a one-way street onto another one-way street. The move is legal after stopping at a red light, provided there’s no sign prohibiting such a turn. As with making a right on red, the driver must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic lawfully in the intersection before turn left at a red light.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.