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Driving You Crazy: Is it legal to make a U-turn at a controlled traffic light intersection?

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Posted at 4:40 AM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 07:38:07-04

Debbie from Aurora writes, “What's driving you crazy? People making U-turns at controlled intersections. I was taught that it is not legal to make a U-turn at a traffic light controlled intersection. Unless there is a sign that says you CAN make a U-turn, is it legal at a controlled/traffic light intersection?  We recently saw a person making a U-turn on Iliff at a traffic light controlled intersection into a one-way highway exit (I-225) onto Iliff, there was also a red light runner that nearly hit them. Certainly, takes your breath away.”

Debbie, there is some confusion regarding U-turns in Colorado because the current law does not prohibit all U-turns, just some U-turns in certain situations.

“It is legal to make a U-turn at a traffic light as long as it is safe to do so and you do not interfere with or endanger other traffic,” said Officer Elizabeth McGregor with the Aurora Police Department. “There would have to be a sign posted to prevent a U-turn.”

I think some of the no U-turn confusion stems from some misinformation on the internet. In my research, I came across a webpage posted on the Cedaredge, Colorado website. Cedaredge is a little town in western Colorado on Highway 65 between Delta and Grand Mesa.

The city posted the “52 WEEKS OF TRAFFIC SAFETY TIPS” with tip #34 reading, “Colorado State law states that you may not make a U-Turn at any intersection controlled by a traffic light or police officer or any location where a U-Turn is prohibited by signs or markings. It is also illegal to make a U-Turn on an Interstate Highway, two lanes or four-lane road where there is no median. Emergency crossovers are for emergency vehicles and highway maintenance crews only.”

That information regarding U-turns is not correct.

The town cites Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-1010. That statue does not cover U-turns. Instead it covers driving on divided or controlled-access highways.

The current law is found in Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-902. That statute covers limitations on turning around. Nowhere in 42-4-902 does it read that a U-turn at a traffic light controlled intersection is illegal. The statute, instead, restricts U-turns at a blind curve or blind hill where a local authority deems the move to be hazardous and erecting a no U-turn sign or if the U-turn cannot be made in a safe way without endangering other traffic.

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

On page 12 of the most recent version of the Colorado Drivers Handbook, it states, “U-turns are forbidden unless they can be made without endangering other traffic and, in some locations marked by signs, are entirely prohibited. If you cannot safely make a U-turn, continue to the next street or turn around area. Never try to make a sudden U-turn in front of traffic traveling in either direction.”

Nowhere in there does it state that a U-turn is illegal at a controlled traffic light intersection.

As for East Iliff Avenue at I-225, I went out there to look at the traffic movements. There is a no U-turn sign posted for eastbound Iliff Avenue at South Abilene Street just under the light rail bridge. There is also a no U-turn sign posted on eastbound Iliff Avenue at Blackhawk Street just east of Abilene Street.

There is a no left turn sign on westbound Iliff Avenue at the exit from southbound I-225 to Iliff. McGregor tells me that all other directions and intersections at Iliff Avenue and I-225 are not specifically prohibited, however, all of the intersections dealing with I-225 would be impossible to legally make a U-turn.

I covered a story several years ago about illegal turns out of the King Soopers parking lot in Castle Rock. In that story, the Castle Rock Transportation Department told me the correct way to get back to Highway 85 is to make a U-turn at the Factory Shops Boulevard intersection — just one example where a U-turn is not only legal, but even encouraged.

The website shmoop.com tries to give some humorous suggestions about when not to make a U-Turn. One of their suggestions is, “In front of a fire station. If there’s a fire somewhere, and you’re in their way, they won’t hesitate to run you right over with their big truck. They might even sick their Dalmatian on you.”

Not so sure about that, but I am sure it is legal in most areas to make a U-turn in Colorado.

By the way, I tried and tried and tried to contact the Cedaredge Police Department who posted the incorrect U-turn information. After numerous calls and emails and voicemail messages and promises of callbacks, Chief Daniel Sanders never got back to me.

Update 03/24/2022: I checked the Cedaredge safety tips website again to find the reference to U-turns had been removed and replaced with this entry, "Tip#34 Improper Lane Changes Turning vehicles are required to merge into the proper lane of travel that is closest to their point of entry into the turn. Drivers should not maneuver their vehicle across multiple lanes of travel upon first entering a new roadway. Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-1007"

No reference to how to make a U-turn remains on the site nor have any of my emails or phone calls been returned.

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.