Illegal U-Turn

The Warning

On Wednesday, I was driving around Minocqua/Woodruff area looking for a bowling alley. Linda’s car has OnStar, so we asked for the nearest bowling alley and received directions to the Woodruff Lanes. I began driving according to the directions that OnStar gave us, when suddenly, I realized we had passed the turn required. So at the next intersection, I pulled into the left-turn lane and made a U-turn to try again.

I got to where the road should have been and noticed no road, so I pulled into a parking lot. Behind me were flashing lights. I pulled over in the parking lot. So did the state trooper car.

Well, the trooper, Officer Bedish, immediately explained that “it’s illegal to make a U-turn at a controlled intersection.” He asked for my license and asked me to confirm that everything on there was current. I didn’t tell him that I don’t weight 150 pounds anymore; other than that, everything is indeed current.

After about ten minutes, he came back to the window and gave me my license and a sheet of paper. He explained: “This is a copy of your traffic warning.”

Violation: 346.33(1)(a): Unlawful U/Y Turn – Control.Intersection

The Research

This shocked me. I was certain that in Texas, no such law existed. In fact, it seemed to me that I had seen “No U-Turn” signs often enough to know that when it wasn’t allowed, a sign would be posted. I consulted with others from other states, and all agreed that such a law seemed ridiculous.

So I got online and did some research. Sure enough, it is illegal to make a U-turn at an intersection controlled by light or officer in the state of Wisconsin. But is this true in other states? I decided to check it out, and after consulting the traffic laws of all fifty states, here’s what I’ve found:

  • An overwhelming 47 states allow U-turns at traffic lights, except when otherwise signed.
  • Only three states declare this illegal: Wisconsin, Missouri, and Oregon, although Oregon’s statutes allow such turns when otherwise signed. [There is a sign that allows a U-turn.]
  • In Virginia towns, cities, and business districts of counties, it is illegal to make a U-turn at any place except an intersection.
  • U-turns are so common in Texas that the U-turn lane found under freeways before the traffic light is called the “Texas turnaround” even when it’s found in other states.

Clearly, Wisconsin is ridiculous. Not allowing U-turns at intersections, when nearly every other state does (and when Virginia doesn’t allow an alternative!) is ludicrous. Nonetheless, I now have a traffic warning. Thank you, Wisconsin.

  • Paul

    Hi Nathan,
    The same thing happened to me about an hour ago.

    I live in Stoughton and was heading north on highway 51 to pick up my sister at the airport in Madison. On the way, she called and said that her flight was delayed. I continued north on 51 until I came to the next set of lights. It had a left run lane. I made the turn and got a $175 ticket. This is the first time in over 25 years that I got a ticket.

    What is weird is that a couple of miles away on 151 there are lots of no u-turn signs. I just figured if it wasn't posted it was legal.

    I am going to appear in court and contest this.

    • Ryan

      Good luck Paul… however no judge will drop it if you plan on using ignorance as an excuse. Telling him that you have a clean record or "this is my first ticket in 25 years" won't work. If you plan on bringing up the "No U-turn" sign in the area… sorry that also won't work.

      I live in Wisconsin and unfortunately… the law is the law. I have to deal with it.

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  • Lia

    I was introduced to your "Texas turnaround" when I was in Dallas a few weeks ago. I have to admit, it was pretty convenient and a lot of fun.

    I'm not sure what the rule is in Illinois on U-turns because I thought they were always illegal, but you didn't list it as one of the illegal U-turn states. But I know that in my area I occasionally see signs that say "U-turn Permitted," meaning that they are only legal right there. When I pass those, I often want to make a U-turn just because I can, but I don't, because then I would be turning the opposite direction from where I need to be and I'm not sure there's another U-turn to turn me around the right way. But I always have that little desire at the bottom of my heart to make that permissible U-turn.

    • In Illinois, it's legal. But in Chicago, illegal. Each city or municipality can make their own decisions.


  • Amy

    Nathan, I'm loving your blog. I just read this one with Belinda (she goes to school in Missouri and thanks you for the useful tidbit). It sounds like your days off are adventurous as usual.