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Driving Concerns

Do I have to turn right on a red? Add to ...

I was recently waiting for a light to turn green before I turned right – and a person behind me honked repeatedly. I wasn't familiar with that intersection so I wanted to stay put. Am I legally obliged to make the right turn on a red light in this situation? – Cole

It’s your right to not turn right when the light’s red, no matter how many honks you get, say Toronto Police.

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“There’s nothing that says you have to make that right hand turn when it’s red,” says Traffic Services Const. Clinton Stibbe. “It’s up to you to decide whether it’s safe to make that turn – you’re the one putting yourself in jeopardy if it’s not.”

Section 144.19 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act says you may make a right turn at a red light if there are no sign forbidding it, as long as you come to a complete stop and wait until the way is clear.

The important word here is may.

“This gives that driver the option of making the right turn when they feel fully comfortable and safe making the manoeuvre,” says Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichols, in an e-mail. “The HTA does not require you to make your right turn when the path is clear of traffic; however, not doing so may irritate drivers behind you waiting to make a similar right turn.”

That same law says you can turn left from a one-way to another one-way on a red light (again, unless there’s a sign telling you not to).

There are reasons to wait at that red, Stibbe says. What may appear to be a safe path to the guy honking behind you isn’t necessarily safe.

“That driver can’t see what you see, and he’s not the one making the turn,” says Stibbe. “There might be a dog or a child who look like they might cross – or there could be a car that’s going way too fast and will hit you if you make the turn.”

Once you make that turn and enter traffic, you’re at fault for collisions, Stibbe says.

“There might be a car signalling to turn who doesn’t actually make the turn, maybe he forgot his signal light was on, and you go ahead because you think he’s turning,” he says. “Who’s responsible if he goes straight through and hits you? You are.”

Stibbe says there’s no law that punishes caution. And he says it’s not worth it to rush to make that turn because the driver behind you is annoyed.

“It’s the same thing, there’s nothing that says you can’t go below the speed limit,” he says. “It has to be what you think is safe.”

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