USA and Canada Holiday Hints
Because of this, I would very strongly advise against making a U-turn in any urban area, or at any intersection controlled by traffic lights.
I would also advise drivers to be very wary of making a U-turn anywhere else.
I once made a U-turn at an intersection controlled by traffic lights on a divided highway in the town of Prince George, British Columbia and was immediately stopped by a traffic cop for doing so. He was of the definite opinion that U-turns were illegal in urban areas, even at intersections, throughout Canada and the USA. I avoided incurring any penalty because I was from England and therefore ignorant of the law (not an excuse which is guaranteed to work on other occasions, I should point out). As the cop was letting me off I decided against debating the issue with him.
I have received messages from several people claiming that the cop was wrong - that U-turns are permitted at intersections in urban areas unless there is a sign indicating otherwise.
In fact, the cop was half right and half wrong. In British Columbia U-turns are prohibited at intersections controlled by traffic lights, and in urban areas except at intersections not controlled by traffic lights. Therefore the cop was totally correct to pull me up. However, he was wrong in thinking that U-turns in urban areas are prohibited throughout Canada and the USA. U-turns are definitely permitted at intersections controlled by traffic lights in urban areas in some, but only some, US states and Canadian provinces.
You may make a U-turn at an intersection on a green light or green arrow unless a 'No U-Turn' sign is posted.
You may not make a U-turn in a business district, except at intersections or through openings in a concrete divider.
In some places, U-turns are not safe. Signs may be posted to let you know this. You may make safe U-turns on any roadway where there is two-way traffic except where you see these signs.
Care must be taken when making a U-turn. You must not turn around on curves and hills unless you can see for at least 500 feet in all directions. Municipalities may prohibit U-turns on some roadways.
Unless a NO U-TURN sign is posted, you are allowed to make a U-turn as long as your path is clear and it is safe to do so. You may only make a U-turn from the lane closest to the centre line. Make sure you have enough room to complete the turn and don't create a hazard for oncoming vehicles. Do not attempt a U-turn at the crest of a hill, near a curve or at any other point where you or other drivers are unable to see from 500 feet away.
You cannot make a U-turn unless you can do so without interfering with other traffic. U-turns are only allowed where your vehicle can be seen for a distance of 1000 feet in both directions. In many urban or metropolitan areas signs are posted to prevent U-turns in areas where they would be unusually dangerous or interfere with traffic. U-turns on interstate freeways are prohibited.
Reverse or U-turns are prohibited in these locations:
- In any intersection controlled by a traffic signal, unless a sign permits the turn.
- Between intersections in a city.
- At any other urban location where you cannot see traffic coming from both directions for 500 feet.
- In rural areas if you cannot see approaching traffic from either direction for 1000 feet.
- And at any location where U-turns are prohibited by official signs or markings.
If you find you are going in the wrong direction, you may be tempted to make a U-turn. U-turns are often risky. They are illegal:
- If they interfere with other traffic.
- On a curve.
- On or near the crest of a hill, where you cannot be seen by other traffic within 150 metres.
- Where a sign prohibits U-turns.
- At an intersection where there is a traffic light.
- In a business district, except at an intersection where there is no traffic light.
- Where a municipal by-law prohibits making a U-turn.
When you are deciding whether to make a U-turn, consider some alternatives, such as driving around the block or continuing on to a side road where you can turn more safely.
Before you make a U-turn, check to make sure there is no sign saying not to. To make a U-turn safely, you must be able to see well in both directions. It is illegal to make a U-turn on a curve in the road, on or near a railway crossing or hilltop, or near a bridge or tunnel that blocks your view. Never make a U-turn unless you can see at least 150 metres in both directions.
The Budget and Hertz car rental companies publish booklets about driving in the USA. These useful booklets are distributed to their customers in Britain. The booklets, which are very similar to each other, both state that it is illegal to perform U-turns in built-up areas and city centres in the USA. Although this is a very wise general principle to follow, and easy to remember, it isn't actually the full story.
Alternatively it may be easier to turn left so as to fully enter a parking area outside a shop, restaurant, motel, petrol station or similar business, so as to make the turn. In many cases these parking areas have multiple entrances and exits, allowing you to exit from them onto a side-road which re-enters the main road at an intersection controlled by traffic lights, making a left turn easier. This approach can sometimes be helpful on divided highways (dual carriageways) which have gaps in the median barrier for left turns.
If the road has a two-way left turn centre lane, then U-turns must be started from that lane.
However, the Ontario Driver's Handbook (external link verified Jun-04) offers differing instructions:
To make a U-turn, signal for a right turn, check your mirror and over your shoulder and pull over to the right side of the road. Stop. Signal a left turn and when traffic is clear in both directions, move forward and turn quickly and sharply into the opposite lane. Check for traffic as you turn.
However, the California Driver Handbook 2002 (external link verified Jul-02), in the Laws And Rules Of The Road - Turns - Legal U-Turns section, reads as follows (as at Jul-02):
You may make a U-turn across a double yellow line, if the turn can be made safely and legally.The law in other states and provinces may well differ, so this manoeuvre is best avoided.
As stated on your webpage, U-turns are generally permitted unless signs are posted. However, many towns have "No U-turn" laws, prohibiting the act anywhere in town.
An example of this is Chicago. I live in a suburb, but sometimes have to drive in the city. At the Interstate-290 exit for Union Station, it is necessary to make a U-turn once off the highway. Since Chicago has a "No U-turn" law, there is a sign posted which says they are allowed at that particular intersection.
There is another occurrence of "U-turn permitted" signage here as well. Often (especially in suburban areas) main roads have raised medians, which prevents traffic from making left turns into business parking lots. So, at major intersections with dual left-turn lanes, the signage indicates that the leftmost lane may make a U-turn or simple left turn, while the lane next to leftmost may make a simple left turn only. It's a lot simpler with arrows than with words, I assure you.Kyle is absolutely right, signs with arrows do indeed make it perfectly clear which routes traffic in each lane is permitted to take.
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Most recently modified 27-Jun-06