Tennessee Traffic Rule Update: Understanding the Right Turn on Red Rule in 2024

Traffic congestion is a growing concern in cities across the United States, and Tennessee is no exception. The right turn on red (RTOR) rule is a widely used traffic regulation that allows drivers to turn right at a red light after coming to a complete stop, under specific circumstances. This seemingly simple rule can significantly improve traffic flow and reduce wait times at intersections. However, it’s crucial for drivers to understand the proper application of the RTOR rule to ensure safety and avoid potential violations.

This blog post provides a comprehensive overview of the right turn on red rule in Tennessee as of 2024. We’ll discuss the conditions under which a right turn on red is permitted, exceptions to the rule, and safe practices to follow. Additionally, we’ll explore how the RTOR rule applies in major Tennessee cities like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

Importance of Right Turn on Red Rule

The right turn on red rule offers several benefits for drivers and overall traffic flow. Here’s a breakdown of its significance:

  • Reduced Traffic Congestion: By allowing right turns during red lights when it’s safe, the RTOR rule helps to keep traffic moving, especially during peak hours. This can lead to shorter commutes and less frustration for drivers.
  • Improved Efficiency: The ability to turn right on red eliminates unnecessary idling at intersections, which translates to reduced fuel consumption and emissions.
  • Increased Road Capacity: By optimizing traffic flow, the RTOR rule effectively increases the capacity of existing roads without the need for expensive construction projects.

Recent Updates (if any) to the Law in Tennessee

It’s important to note that traffic laws can be subject to change. While there is no record of significant updates to the RTOR rule in Tennessee in recent years, it’s always a good practice to check for any revisions with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (https://www.tn.gov/safety.html).

Understanding the Right Turn on Red Rule in Tennessee

Now that we’ve established the importance of the RTOR rule, let’s delve into its specifics in Tennessee.

Conditions for Making a Right Turn on Red

In Tennessee, drivers are permitted to turn right on a red light as long as the following conditions are met:

  • Complete Stop: The driver must come to a complete stop behind the marked stop line or before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.
  • Yielding the Right of Way: Before proceeding with the turn, the driver must yield the right of way to any pedestrians crossing the street in the direction of the intended turn and to any oncoming traffic that has the right of way.
  • No Posted Prohibition: There must be no signs specifically prohibiting right turns on red at the intersection.

Exceptions and Prohibitions

Even when the conditions listed above are met, there are situations where a right turn on red is not allowed. Here are some key exceptions:

  • No Turn on Red Signs: If a red octagonal sign with a white hand and arrow pointing straight ahead is present, turning right on red is strictly prohibited.
  • Double Red Lights: Some intersections have double red lights, which always signify a complete stop and no turn on red.
  • School Buses: Drivers must stop and remain stopped for any school bus with its red lights flashing, regardless of the direction the bus is travelling.
  • Hazardous Conditions: When weather or visibility conditions create a safety hazard, drivers should not attempt a right turn on red, even if the light permits it.

Safe Practices When Turning Right on Red

Following these safe practices will ensure you execute a right turn on red maneuver correctly:

  • Come to a Complete Stop: Don’t roll through the stop sign or inch forward before turning.
  • Activate Your Turn Signal: Before coming to a complete stop, engage your right turn signal to alert other drivers of your intention.
  • Check for Oncoming Traffic: After stopping, carefully scan the intersection for oncoming vehicles, including those turning left or going straight. Pay close attention to motorcycles and bicycles, which may be harder to spot.
  • Yield to Pedestrians: Ensure there are no pedestrians crossing the street in the direction of your turn before proceeding. Double-check for pedestrians who may be in blind spots, especially when turning from a wider lane onto a narrower sidewalk.
  • Proceed with Caution: Once it’s safe to turn, proceed slowly and cautiously, maintaining awareness of your surroundings.

Right Turn on Red in Major Tennessee Cities

While the general RTOR rule applies statewide, it’s wise to be aware of any potential variations in specific cities. Here’s a brief overview of how the rule is implemented in some of Tennessee’s major cities:

  • Nashville: Nashville generally follows the standard RTOR rule outlined above. However, drivers should be extra cautious in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, like tourist districts or near universities. Be mindful of additional signage or markings that may restrict right turns on red at specific intersections.
  • Memphis: Similar to Nashville, Memphis adheres to the standard RTOR rule. However, the city has a higher number of uncontrolled intersections, where traffic signals are not present. Drivers need to exercise extra caution at these intersections and yield the right of way to all oncoming traffic before making a right turn.
  • Knoxville: Knoxville enforces the standard RTOR rule. However, the city has implemented red-light cameras at some intersections. These cameras can capture violations of the RTOR rule, resulting in fines for drivers who fail to come to a complete stop before turning right.
  • Chattanooga: Chattanooga follows the standard RTOR rule. The city has a growing network of dedicated bicycle lanes. Drivers turning right on red should be particularly aware of cyclists and yield the right of way accordingly.

Penalties for Violating Right Turn on Red Rule

Failing to comply with the RTOR rule in Tennessee can result in a traffic citation. The specific penalty amount may vary depending on the county and the severity of the violation. Generally, a right turn on red violation can lead to:

  • Fines: Expect fines ranging from $25 to $50 for a first offense. Repeat offenses may incur higher fines.
  • Points: Points may be assessed on your driver’s license for a violation, which can increase insurance premiums.

Tips for Safe and Legal Right Turns on Red

Here are some additional tips to ensure you make safe and legal right turns on red:

  • Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions: Put down your phone and avoid distractions while driving, especially when approaching intersections.
  • Be Patient: Don’t rush your turn if the intersection is not clear. Wait for a safe opportunity to proceed.
  • Use Your Mirrors: Regularly check your rearview mirror and side mirrors to ensure there are no vehicles approaching from behind that you may need to yield to.
  • Anticipate Other Drivers’ Actions: Be aware of what other drivers around you are doing and anticipate their movements to avoid potential collisions.
  • When in Doubt, Don’t Turn: If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to turn right on red, err on the side of caution and come to a complete stop and wait for the light to turn green.


The right turn on red rule, when followed correctly, can significantly improve traffic flow and reduce congestion on Tennessee’s roads. By understanding the conditions, exceptions, and safe practices associated with the RTOR rule, drivers can navigate intersections efficiently and safely. Remember, prioritizing safety is paramount. Always be cautious, follow the traffic laws, and yield the right of way when necessary. Staying informed about any local variations in the RTOR rule within specific Tennessee cities can further ensure a smooth and safe driving experience.

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MBS Staff
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