What should you do when you see a red arrow pointing to the right?
- A. Stop and proceed only when the way is clear.
- B. Stop and wait for a green light.
- C. Proceed slowly and carefully if the way is clear.
You may be surprised to learn that the answer differs depending on where you drive in the United States.
Solid Red Light
The standard rule in the United States is that you must come to a full stop when you reach a traffic signal with a solid red light. You must stop at the marked limit line, or before moving into the crosswalk or intersection. After stopping, you may turn right against the solid red light if the way is clear and no sign prohibits the turn. The same usually applies when turning left from a one-way street onto another one-way street.
California has the same rule.
The California Vehicle Code (V.C. 21453) states:
(a) A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision (b).
(b) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver, after stopping as required by subdivision (a), facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.
Many states don’t have different rules for the red arrow and the solid red light. When turns are allowed with the solid red light, they are also allowed when the red arrow appears.
Other states prohibit all turns against a red arrow. In these states, you must stop at a marked limit line or before entering the crosswalk. If there isn’t a stop line or crosswalk, you must stop before entering the intersection.
You must then remain stopped until the light turns green or a flashing yellow arrow is displayed.
California is one state that prohibits all turns against the red arrow. The California Vehicle Code (V.C. 21453):
(c) A driver facing a steady red arrow signal shall not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow and, unless entering the intersection to make a movement permitted by another signal, shall stop at a clearly marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication permitting movement is shown.
Red Arrow with a Green Light
You see a traffic signal with a green signal and a red arrow simultaneously. It means you may proceed in the direction permitted by the green signal. You may go straight ahead or turn in a direction not prohibited by the red arrow.
In California, you cannot turn in the direction of the red arrow.