Over the past few weeks, a number of readers have seen motorists make U-turns and have e-mailed The Drive to ask whether the move is legal, and under what circumstances.
The maneuver is legal in most cases, said Roseville Police Chief Rick Mathwig. But state law prohibits U-turns on hilltops or curves when the turning vehicle can’t be seen by other motorists from a minimum of 1,000 feet. They also cannot be made on freeways, at intersections where a “No U Turn” sign is posted or when a motorist would cross over a double yellow line.
Finally, a “U-ey” is not allowed when it cannot be made safely without interfering with oncoming traffic.
Outside of those restrictions, motorists can legally make a U-turn, said John Elder, spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department.
When making a U-turn, a driver should start from the far left lane on their side. After signaling a left turn, the motorist should stop and check for oncoming traffic as well as bicyclists and pedestrians. If things are clear, the U-turning motorist can proceed and head back in the opposite direction.
Who has right of way?
Simple enough, but here is where things get tricky: Jan from Ramsey has seen drivers making U-turns from a signalized left turn lane nearly collide with motorists making a right turn on a red light into the same lane. She asked who has the right of way.
Because U-turns are permitted with a green signal, the driver making the right turn on red yields to the U-turning motorist, said Sgt. Ryan Schultz of the Edina Police Department.
Mary from Prior Lake asked who has the right of way when drivers coming from opposite directions, one making a U-turn and one making a right turn, meet at an intersection such as Fox Tail Trail and County Road 82. The law allows a U-turning motorist to temporarily enter the lane closest to the right curb (and even use the shoulder), which is the same lane that a driver making a right turn would also enter. In this case, Mathwig says whichever vehicle enters the lane first has the right of way.
The same rule applies at intersections such as Hwy. 36 and Rice Street where a U-turning motorist and a right-turning motorist might have a green arrow at the same time, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson, a spokeswoman for the State Patrol.
When drivers simultaneously attempt U-turns at an intersection or meet at a reduced conflict intersection such as those on Hwy. 52 south of the metro and on Hwy. 212 west of the metro, Nielson said the driver who arrives second should slow to allow the first driver room to safely maneuver in the intersection. That is especially true if the gap is overly narrow for two vehicles to be in simultaneously.
If both arrive at the exact same time, “both drivers should be cautious and appropriately hand signal for the exchange of who will proceed first.”
A big problem with U-turns is that other drivers don’t expect them and aren’t likely to be looking for them. So even though U-turns are legal, the best rule of thumb is to be a defensive driver and use caution, Elder said: “Don’t rest on the fact that you have the right of way.”