Right Turn on Red

red lightHere is another request from a correspondent: If you have not commented on making a right turn at a red light you might want to consider it. I see so many people that fail to stop at a red light when turning right. They seem to feel that all they have to do is yield. Unless the rules have changed, it requires a full stop before turning.

Why is it Allowed?

Right turn on red was implemented to save time and fuel for drivers. As part of Vision Zero, the emphasis on moving motor vehicles at the cost of other road users is being reconsidered for urban areas.

Making a Right Turn on at a Red Traffic Signal

Unless you are facing a no right turn on red sign, making a right turn at a red traffic light is legal in British Columbia.

No Right Turn on Red sign

No Right Turn on Red

Drivers & Cyclists:


  • Cessation of vehicle movement is mandatory!
  • Stop behind the stop line or crosswalk
  • A pedestrian who is authorized to enter the intersection has the right of way


  • Are allowed to make a right turn on a red light?
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists that have entered or are about to enter the intersection
  • Shoulder check to make sure no pedestrians or cyclists are present.


  • You are not required to turn right at a red light. You are allowed to wait for the green light.
  • Having done all of this, you may then turn right, if it is safe to do so.


  • You must always be careful at intersections where  vehicles turn right at a red light


  • Stop on the sidewalk or side of the road if there is no sidewalk


  • Look left, ahead, right and over your left shoulder to make sure no vehicles or cyclists are about to turn right


  • Once you are certain the way is clear and the walk signal is on, you can cross


Beware, while this is allowed in British Columbia, it may not be the case in other states and provinces. Check the local rules before you attempt this elsewhere!

Danger! Danger!

Where are most drivers likely to be looking before they turn right on red, especially if they don't intend to stop? To their left of course! This puts pedestrians and cyclists at risk.

According to RoadSafetyBC, 23% of fatalities, 46% of injuries and 35% of all crashes occur at intersections.

Is it worth the couple of seconds saved if the action results in a collision? I don't know about you, but my driver's door doesn't seem anywhere near strong enough to prevent another vehicle from intruding into the passenger compartment and causing significant injury to me.

The Law

Red Light at Intersection - Section 129 MVA

Associated Information

Left Turn on Red

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I believe only Quebec prohibits right turns on red.

To be candid, I don't really worry about people who fail to come to a full stop at stop signs, or before turning right on a red.

Here's why: when visiting the Netherlands 10 years ago, I discovered that stop signs are *only* used at intersections with sight line problems - where motorists have difficulty seeing clearly without coming to a full stop first. Otherwise, at non-signalized intersections, "yield" signs are used at least 95% of the time. There is no mayhem as a result.

I have concluded that, the law notwithstanding, failing to come to a full stop at a stop sign rarely constitutes an actual safety hazard. Additionally, I believe that 95% of stop signs are unnecessary to traffic safety and could reasonably be replaced with yield signs. This would save fuel, reduce emissions, and reduce tire and brake wear.

On edit - traffic circles or roundabouts are the ideal substitutes for stop signs and traffic lights, especially because they seem to greatly diminish the potential for severe collisions.

Further to that, do realize that rolling slowly across a stop line without coming to a complete stop allows you to do so with your foot on the brake. This means you can stop nearly instantaneously, and any accidental movement is unlike to cause you to suddenly lurch into the intersection if you're still edging out to ensure that it's safe to proceed.

I have to disagree about roundabouts, solely because most of the traffic engineering of that sort I've seen in BC has been so poorly thought-out in terms of sight lines, maneuverability, etc., that allowing more of these ill-informed projects is a recipe for disaster. Having yield signs in place of stop signs, however, is an excellent suggestion, although it's likely to be taken as some sort of affront to pedestrians' rights by some reactionary individuals out there.

Hi there,

On the North Shore, when driving south on Capilano Road and approaching Marine Drive, the two rightmost lanes have "right turn only" arrows and there are no signs visible forbidding right turns on a red light. I've noticed that at a red light, poeple in the curb lane will proceed to make a right turn when it is safe to do so, but can people in the other right turn only lane also turn on a red? There seems to be a lot of confusion here with some cars going and some not. Myself, I'll be honest and say that I am not sure what the rule is. Thanks very much.


Here's the intersection under discussion:

Section 165 MVA governs the turning position:

Turning at intersections

165   (1) If the driver of a vehicle intends to turn it to the right at an intersection, the driver must cause it to approach the intersection and then make the turn as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.

(4) If at an intersection there is a traffic control device indicating the course to be travelled by vehicles turning at the intersection, a driver must turn a vehicle at the intersection in the manner directed by the traffic control device.

Normally you would have to be in the curb lane, but because the signage requires a right turn from both lanes subsection 4 removes that onus.

The ability to turn right on a red light comes from section 129 MVA:

Red light

129   (1) Subject to subsection (2), when a red light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal, the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection and facing the red light must cause it to stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before entering the intersection, and subject to the provisions of subsection (3), must not cause the vehicle to proceed until a traffic control signal instructs the driver that he or she is permitted to do so.

(3) Despite subsection (1), and except when a right turn permitted by this subsection is prohibited by a sign at an intersection, the driver of a vehicle facing the red light, and which in obedience to it is stopped as closely as practicable to a marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, as closely as practicable to the intersection, may cause the vehicle to make a right turn, but the driver must yield the right of way to all pedestrians and vehicles lawfully proceeding as directed by the signal at the intersection.

It says that if you stop as required and yield as necessary, you can turn right. So, with caution, drivers in both of those right turn lanes could turn on the red signal.

These days, Capilano & Marine has been amended, with an addional lane for buses on the right, and as a consequence of the increased pedestrian conflict, No Right On Red now applies. 

Oddly, there have been two recent fatalities there.

The Capilano & Marine turn is a good example of a challenging right turn on red (when you're in the outer lane), particularly these days when there's an initial bus lane at the curb on Marine which most drivers can't enter. So determining the proper arc to complete the turn in without interfering with adjacent turning vehicles is essential.

But meanwhile, what about left turns on red? They're allowed here in BC, when you're turning into a one way street (and no, it doesn't matter whether you're turning from a one way street). Fact is, potential conflicts are reduced when turning left on a red.

The best 'equivalent' left turn on a red would be from southbound Thurlow into eastbound Nelson. And that one is much simpler, in terms of figuring out potential conflicts.

A block over, where one can turn left from Burrard into Nelson (apart from a sign prohibiting this at certain times of day) requires accute comprehension of the potential hazards of turning left, be it on a green arrow, a solid green, or a red light. It's worth noting where the 'staggered' stop lines are painted there also; but as noted by our site host in a separate item recently, there's nothing in law that mandates you have to remain behind the stop line, so long as you don't get into a conflict with vehicles or pedestrians.

A common ticket I heard was the second of 2 vehicles stopped together at a stop sign (or less seldom at a red light). The first vehicle makes a right turn and the second follows right behind without stopping.

The other observation I made about right turns at a stop sign is that many unconsciously do not come to a complete stop. The driver approaches, slows or brakes as he / she approaches and looking left sees there is no vehicle approaching and slides around the corner. A block down the road, an officer stops the vehicle, advises the driver of the reason and the driver thinks back and is adamant they did stop. Same response of the driver in court. There were even times when the officer had a video and when shown in court, the driver has to admit they did roll through (although one driver was sure the video was altered).

The first time the driver has had to think about the accusation is when the officer has told the driver at roadside. So it is a recollection. I concluded after awhile that the recollection is based on their intention to stop: braking and when close enough to the intersection to observe traffic to the left, sees no vehicles close enough to be at risk and unconsciously makes the turn. In other words, I concluded the driver was not purposely not telling the truth but was mistaken about what they did (not a defence of course).

Left turns on red-lights Yes you can and love it when I make my students do it.. That look of panic on the first one. BUT prior to it I explain that it is legal. Now in Kelowna several intersections have lights for cyclists and motor-vehicals.. Thats the LOOK and understand what you looking at lights.. Ill try to find a few pics, and even seasoned drivers are a bit confused.. 

Why we teach the right way to drive after that BE FREE.. 

After more than half a century behind the wheel, I'm old enough to recall the days when traffic lights were rare.  And I don't think they had even created pedestrian signals at intersections in BC.

And while the rationale provided ...

Right turn on red was implemented to save time and fuel for drivers

... is probably partially correct, I don't think it's the whole story. The thing is, when you create a new traffic control device like a traffic signal, it appears (appropriately) to control and move traffic flow at the busiest intersections and seems like a worthwhile inconvenience. But at 2:00 am, expecting drivers to stop and stay stopped when there's really nobody around (and they're only planning a turn if it's safe and won't affect anyone) is absurd. And that's how it was, back then! Why? Because all of the lights ran on timers, which could be awfully arbitrary as they ignored actual vehicle movement and demand.

If traffic law is absurd, drivers will ignore it, so long as they don't think they'll get caught. Thus, the right-on-red allowance, plus the left-on-red allowance, and the proceed straight allowance (mid-block) in BC. In each case you have to stop completely and give utter right of way to everything in the universe, which is fine; after all it's your red light.

The thing is, these days, traffic light control has changed radically from being run by some arbitrary timer system, to a much more refined age of traffic technology, and this is a system that is undergoing ongoing upgrading. 

But it's my belief that in fact, in many cases, allowing drivers to turn on a red has become redundant. Modern systems react to demand from all road users, from pedestrians to cyclists to buses to emergency vehicles, whilst also at times moving traffic in 'waves' according to the typical vehicle movement. Solutions are as varied as conditions.

So theoretically, here in BC, we could introduce a law that prohibits the maneuver. However, and this is important, this has become a habitual and logical ingrained behaviour for most drivers in Canada and the US. So why not refine things further?

How could traffic engineers improve flow, whilst making traffic lights more efficient, and driver's actual movements more rational and safe, while also legal (you may ask)?

Simple! Create a demand in the motor vehicle act that at any intersection that already exists, or may be created, in each case, where there is a 'green arrow' protected left turn phase, there must also be a reciprocal 'green arrow' protected right turn phase going the opposite way! 

This is not rocket science. And obviously, the 'protectedness' of the turn is the drivers is the same - zero conflicts with drivers or pedestrians or cyclists etc. And, significantly, it would enable all those drivers about to make that right turn on the red to obey that green arrow, instead of stopping completely pointlessly for the red light.

This would encourage drivers to pay better attention to the phase of the light, and pending changes to pedestrian / cyclist movements, whilst making them more efficient, so less fuel wastage, also. Supposedly one of the original goals of allowing turns on a red.

I think the article should have also addressed turning right at stop signs as well.

My experience here in Kelowna at red lights and stops signs differs from your comment about where drivers are looking. Here they give a cursory glance left and turn right. 90 percent of the time there is no traffic or pedestrians but when there is it usually results in a collision.

A lot of it has to do with Human Factors, the most common example of a Human Factors incident is called Pilot Error.