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Which driver has the right of way while turning at a traffic signal?

Brian Freskos

If the light is green for both sides, the driver turning right has the right-of-way over a driver across the intersection turning left. Staff photo by Si Cantwell.

Q. Which driver has the right of way while turning at a traffic signal?

I live on Greenville Loop Rd and often have to go to the intersection with Oleander Drive and Greenville Avenue. When I have to turn right at the intersection (heading east towards Bradley Creek) there are drivers who are turning left from Greenville Avenue at the same time. I thought they should be yielding to me but they turn in front of me like they have the right of way. Which driver should yield to the other in this instance? And how do we get this enforced?

A. Right of way is dependent upon the light configuration at any given intersection.

The person who submitted this question asked specifically about which driver has the right of way when two cars each approach opposite sides of an intersection and one is turning left while the other is turning right.

According to Sgt. Mike Donelson, supervisor of the Wilmington Police Department’s traffic unit, the driver turning right has the right of way if both sides have a solid green light. However, the person turning left has the right of way in the event they have a green left arrow and the person turning right has a red light.

To better visualize this scenario, imagine that a pickup truck is turning right onto Oleander Drive from Greenville Avenue. At the same time, an SUV is turning left onto Oleander Drive from Greenville Loop Road. The pickup truck and the SUV would be facing each other at the intersection and each would have a solid green light. In this case, the SUV would have to yield to the pickup truck. However, if one day traffic officials decide to reconfigure the traffic light to include a green left turn arrow, then the pickup would have to yield to the SUV.

If you want to lodge a complaint about possible traffic law violations, call Donelson at 910-341-1607.


Has Wilmington’s red-light program reduced accidents at intersections?

What is the longest red light in Wilmington? How many stop lights are in service in the city?

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9 Responses to “ Which driver has the right of way while turning at a traffic signal?”

  1. On April 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm Jay wrote:

    At this particular location, the cars turning right from Greenville Loop Rd turn into the right-most lane on Oleander Dr, while cars turning left from Greenville Ave turn into the left-most lane. It works quite well, unlike most locations in Wilmington where everyone is lazy and turns into the farthest lane.

  2. On April 24, 2012 at 7:59 am anonymous wrote:

    If the other person turning has the green arrow, then my light should be red to indicate that I need to stop and make sure it is clear before I turn right. This same scenerio is at the Torchwood light in the Bayshore area. When I am taking a right (my light is green) onto market coming from West Bay Estates, the people turning left onto market from Bayshore pull out as if they have the right of way (though they must only have a green light – not arrow- since my light is green). Hard to enforce, but eventually will end in an accident.

  3. On April 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm Nathan wrote:

    Scary that people even have to ask this question. Isnt this part of the driving test?

  4. On April 26, 2012 at 9:49 am Jeff Cook wrote:

    Good question. I live near the exact intersection and have had the same situation occur. There is a constant stream of traffic turning right onto Oleander and I agree they have right of way. But shouldn’t they only have right of way into the first, right hand lane??? The poor guys turning left can easily make that turn and stay in the immediate left lane and everyone is happy! But so many cars take that right turn and swing wide immediately into the left lane (usually for no reason other than laziness or rudeness) that it is dangerous for the car attempting a left turn. Is there a law that the car with the right of way has right of way over BOTH lanes when turning onto a two-lane road?

  5. On April 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm Chas wrote:

    in response to Jay, yes, that pattern works well but is not legal. It also creates problems when someone is trying to go straight and the parade of left turning cars feels it is “their right” to continue to break the law.

  6. On May 19, 2016 at 9:25 am Michael Lynch wrote:

    True, if the road both are turning onto is one-lane. If two lanes, the left turning vehicle should turn onto the inner lane and the right turning vehicle into the right lane.

  7. On January 25, 2017 at 3:30 am Mona wrote:

    If I am turning right at a red light and there is incoming traffic from the front, then does the rule of driver turning right has right of way still apply?

  8. On May 27, 2017 at 4:30 am B wrote:

    ^Did you really just ask if you have the right-of-way if you have a RED light?

  9. On July 1, 2017 at 9:41 pm Richard wrote:

    Go and take a drivers ed refresher course.

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