Turning Left On Red? Is New Ohio Law A Mistake?

What an odd thing to do. Was this a mistake or did the state really mean to do this?

In a little-noticed change to Ohio law, drivers on one-way streets can now turn left on red.

Previously, Ohio Revised Code 4511.13 permitted a left turn on red only when the driver was on a one-way street and turning onto another one-way street on which traffic moves to the left. This made sense because you were essentially turning into traffic without actually crossing a lane of oncoming traffic. In fact, the vast majority of states permit such a maneuver.

However, House Bill 349, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich on Jan. 20 and went into effect on April 20, quietly amended the law.  The only two representatives to vote against the change happen to be from this region. They were state Reps. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, and Jim Buchy, R-Greenville.

Under the new law, drivers can now turn left on red from a one-way street regardless of whether the destination street is one-way or two-way. Under this change, vehicles turning left on red from a one-way street onto a two-way street will have to cross oncoming traffic that is moving to the right on the destination street. (I’ve included the text of the old and new law below.)

While this seems to me to be somewhat dangerous, I don’t really have a strong opinion about the change (I’ll defer that to traffic safety experts).

Two things, however, bother me.

First, I am not sure if this was even intentional. This could easily have been a mistake when the amended law was drafted. I can easily see how that mistake could have been made.

Second, I am disappointed that it was made so quietly. I could not find a single news story reporting this change. Whether it was by design or a mistake, this change in the traffic laws should have been covered.

Either way, I suspect someone turning left on red will eventually be cited by the police.

In a related change that received a little more press, but not much, the federal government is now mandating that left turn lanes with traffic lights use the red arrow instead of the solid red light.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, a red light in a left-turn lane sometimes confuses nearby drivers who have green lights in straightaway lanes.

The feds made this change in 2009 and Ohio adopted the change last month.

Of course, the change is unfunded. Fortunately, no deadline was given so states and cities can make the change whenever they happen to replace broken traffic signals. This is good news for Ohio, which has 643 lights it will have to change at a cost of $26 per light.

Here is the old Ohio Revised Code 4511.13:

(3) Unless a sign is in place prohibiting a left turn as provided in division (C)(5) of this section, vehicular traffic, streetcars, and trackless trolleys facing a steady red signal on a one-way street that intersects another one-way street on which traffic moves to the left may cautiously enter the intersection to make a left turn into the one-way street after stopping as required by division (C)(1) of this section, and yielding the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.

In English, that means you can turn left on red from a one-way street onto another one-way street.

Here is the revised version of the law that went into effect April 20:

(b) Except when a traffic control device is in place prohibiting a turn on red or a steady red arrow signal indication is displayed, vehicular traffic facing a steady circular red signal indication is permitted to enter the intersection to turn right, or to turn left from a one-way street, after stopping. The right to proceed with the turn shall be subject to the provisions that are applicable after making a stop at a stop sign.

It says you can turn left on red from a one-way street. However, it does not specify you have to be turning onto a one-way street. Did the General Assembly really want traffic turning left from a one-way street onto a two-way street and thereby crossing a lane of oncoming traffic? Am I reading this wrong?

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