The Impact of General Permissive Right and Left Turn on Red Legislation in Virginia

Report No: 79-R7

Published in 1978

About the report:

Right turn on red (RTOR) maneuvers have been permitted at signalized intersections in Virginia since 1972. However, until January 1, 1977, following a study requested by the General Assembly, the maneuver was restricted to intersections at which a sign was posted to inform the motorist that RTOR was permitted. Under the pre-1977 legislation RTOR was allowed at only 8% of the state's intersection approaches. Under the legislation that became effective in 1977, motorists are allowed to make right turns on red and left turns on red from a one-way street onto a one-way street, unless the maneuvers are specifically prohibited by a sign. The purpose of the investigation reported here was to examine the benefits and problems resulting from the new legislation. The scope of the study included questionnaire surveys of the state's law enforcement and traffic officials; a telephone survey of public opinion; an accident analysis at 18 intersections; and field investigations at 48 sites to examine time and energy savings, operational problems, and driver acceptance of and compliance with the laws. The analysis of the study data revealed that the new legislation was working very well and was being enthusiastically supported by the vast majority of Virginia officials and the public. RTOR was permitted at 84% of the state's signalized intersection approaches and LTOR at 73% of the approaches where one-way streets intersected. Driver utilization of turn on red opportunities was found to be higher than had been reported in other states. Benefits in terms of energy savings during 1977 were estimated to be 3.6 million gallons of fuel for RTOR and 2,370 gallons for LTOR. A statewide surveillance indicated that 75 accidents involving RTOR motorists and 3 crashes related to LTOR had occurred in 1977. The majority of collisions had involved only minor property damage. It was found that to encourage uniform implementation of the new legislation there was a need for traffic officials to review all approaches at which turns on red were being prohibited to determine if the prohibition was necessary based on the standards promulgated by the Federal Highway Administration. Selective enforcement, supplemented with local media publicity, was recommended to encourage drivers to come to a full stop before turning on red. Because the benefits of the legislation far outweighed its disadvantages, no changes in the law were recommended.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Martin R. Parker

Last updated: January 26, 2024

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