A traffic issue has vexed me for years, and we finally got to the bottom of it.
There are two signs in Pennsylvania that have always made me nervous to turn right at a red light: “stop here on red” and “right turn signal”.
Here they both are at the corner of East Branch Road and South Atherton street near my house:
This is the Google Streetview view from the right-turn only lane. The sign on the right is pretty clear: on a red light you stop there, at that line. BUT… is there an implication that you must stay stopped until the light turns green? I always assumed no, but couldn’t be sure. Is the sign merely telling motorists where they must stop when they do for a red light, or is it an imperative to remain stopped? A case could be made either way, and presumably traffic law settled the question long ago.
Then there’s the second sign by the lights. Here’s a better view of it:
This one also seems pretty clear: the two lights on the right of this five-light signal are for people turning right. Indeed, in states where lights are shaped like arrows instead of circles, there is no need for such a sign.
BUT…does that mean that if I want to make a right turn, I have to obey that signal, thus negating the usual right-on-red rule? After all, in states with arrow-shaped lights for right turners, there is also a red arrow. If this sign thus turns circles into arrows, then right turners must remain stopped until the right green light is activated. Or does the sign only refer to the yellow and green light, not the shared red? In that case, there is no red light for right turners! The case for no right on red here is actually pretty strong, but still ambiguous.
Either sign alone, and I would take the right turn without too much worry. But together, these two signs always made me worry that a police car would catch me turning right on red and ticket me. Friends had told stories about how other friends had gotten tickets for rights on red when one of these signs was present, but I assumed that was somehow from some more complex or distinguished case.
Well, a discussion with friends finally got me to do some research online, while my wife Julia just did the right thing, calling the police to ask.
I found this, which reads authoritatively on the subject:
Also, the PA drivers’ manual says nothing about such a sign that would prohibit right on red:
Less authoritatively, every forum I can find online agrees that right on red with the “right turn signal” sign is allowed. For instance:
To top it off, Julia reports that the State College police department gets these questions all the time. The bottom line:
Neither sign implies that you cannot turn right on red. The only sign that prohibits otherwise legal rights on red is this one:
Next time on AstroWright: Traffic Detective: at how many intersections will one person have the opportunity to legally execute a left-on-red in a lifetime?