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Turning right on red has shades of grey

Published February 22, 2013
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Q: My son failed his “G” driving test for turning right on red while opposing traffic was turning left on an advanced green. There were two lanes on the intersecting roadway, so no conflict should arise if everyone completes their turn in their proper lane.

The test centre supervisor claims it’s illegal, but police officers I’ve spoken to disagree.

A: Section 144(19) HTA allows that at a red light “a driver, after stopping his or her vehicle and yielding the right of way to traffic lawfully approaching so closely that to proceed would constitute an immediate hazard, may, turn to the right, or turn to the left from a one-way street to a one-way street, without a green indication being shown.”

Ministry of Transportation officials confirm that it is not illegal to turn right on red, regardless of what signal light opposing traffic may be facing, provided there is no sign prohibiting such movement (“no right turn on red”), and proceeding would not constitute a hazard, as noted above.

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The last stipulation, I imagine, is the crux of the driving examiner’s argument that the turn was unsafe.

It would be a steep uphill battle to dispute “grey areas” subject to a judgment call with a driving examiner after the fact, particularly since you only know of the event from hearsay. That is, there may have been other factors involved, such as a left-turning big rig, for example, which would make the examiner’s interpretation correct.

Yes, if all drivers turned into their designated lane on the intersecting roadway, then no conflict should occur. However, if an opposing left-turning driver was improperly straying into the other lane when completing their turn, it may indeed have been hazardous for your son to make that right-turn on red. (Large trucks may lawfully utilize additional lanes when turning if necessary due to sheer size.)

I suspect that might be the point being made by the examiner: that whether or not it was legal to proceed, it might not have been safe to do so. Frankly, if that was the case, it seems a valid lesson for any driver to learn.

In general, S. 144(7,8) HTA requires all drivers permitted to proceed into a traffic light controlled intersection to yield the right of way to pedestrians and traffic (already) lawfully using the intersection.

If contact occurs between turning vehicles, one or both drivers might be charged.

A student driver on a road test would be wise to err on the side of caution whenever a “grey area” situation presents itself. Police don’t always get it right either when ticketing drivers, and that’s what we have traffic courts for.

Incidentally, as a point of law, a driver isn’t accountable for knowing what the opposing traffic light indication is, since he/she can’t see it.

Information above is of a general nature only and shouldn’t be taken as legal advice or opinion.

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