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North Carolina General Statute Chapter 20 - Motor Vehicles mentions a U-Turn only once. In § 20-140.3 (page 401):

On those sections of highways which are or become a part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and other controlled-access highways, it shall be unlawful for any person:
[...]
(2) To make a left turn or a semicircular or U-turn except through an opening provided for that purpose in the dividing curb, separation section, or line on said highways

Obviously though there are other laws regarding U-Turns, I just don't know where they are written.

I have a few questions about general state roadway laws, all of which are asked in context of the United States.

  1. Are state's General Statutes the only written text regarding roadway laws for that state?
  2. Is there a written text of federal roadway laws which all states inherit?
  3. If a topic is not mentioned in a state's General Statute, is it found somewhere else, such as another piece of state text, the aforementioned federal text, or is it then up to the counties, cities, and local lawmakers to create law for?

I may have to use these answers for a co-worker who is very picky and very much likes to say, "Okay that sounds logical, but where is it actually written as law", so any citation to the written laws are very much appreciated.

  • Can you explain why it's obvious that there are other relevant laws? It probably is because of a general description that implicitly does not include u-turns (in specifying legal acts) or implicitly does (specifying illegal acts). Or possibly municipal code (cities often have their own traffic laws). – user6726 Apr 8 at 14:26
  • @user6726 Specifically, the reason why I am asking is because the coworker believes it to be legal to make a U-Turn at a solid red arrow so long as he comes to a complete stop, which led to a search through the GS. A U-Turn is only mentioned once, and § 20-158 does not mention a solid red arrow or a green arrow, only a "steady yellow arrow light," which leads me to believe that there must be somewhere else that traffic laws are written. I am still interested in the answers to my general questions, even if the U-Turn aspect can be answered otherwise. – Tyler N Apr 8 at 14:38
  • Welcome to Law.SE! Please note the preferred format for block quoting. – A. K. Apr 8 at 14:39
  • @A. K. Thank you for the edit, I quickly browsed other questions before posting for format reference but I didn't see any examples in my quick search. – Tyler N Apr 8 at 14:40
  • I think you should remember that under our system of laws, you are allowed to do what is not prohibited. Unless you are looking for an exception, you don't look for law that says you can do something, you look for law that says you can't do something. – A. K. Apr 8 at 14:45
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In dealing with the law it's hard to prove a positive, but this attorney says u-turns are legal in NC where not prohibited. This conclusion follows from the general principle that unless there is a law against an action, you can do it. The federal government constitutionally has no power to prescribe traffic laws (they do have power to distribute federal wealth, and formerly used that to coerce states into passing traffic laws). At the state level, a law has to be rooted in the statutes enacted by the legislature, so if u-turns were illegal, it would have to be traceable to the statutes. The statutes (§20-39) authorize the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to issue rules to enforce these statutes, but only to the extent that there is an underlying statute. The regulations pertaining to motor vehicles are in 19A NCAC 3A, but there are none that pertain to rules of the road.

There is the law against freeway u-turns that you cite. §20-153 governs turning at intersections, and paragraph (c) says that

Local authorities and the Department of Transportation, in their respective jurisdictions, may modify the foregoing method of turning at intersections by clearly indicating by buttons, markers, or other direction signs within an intersection the course to be followed by vehicles turning thereat, and it shall be unlawful for any driver to fail to turn in a manner as so directed.

That means that a no u-turn exception would have to be explicitly indicated, not just written somewhere and imposed on whoever drives through that town. In some states, left and u-turn is explicitly marked with two kinds of curved arrows and left-only is via the usual left turn arrow, not the 180 arrow. The problem for a driver in NC is that they have to know whether a left arrow without a 180 arrow means "no u-turn". In Washington state, u-turns used to be illegal, but they were generally legalized in 1997, and yet intersections do distinctively have left arrows vs. left-and-180 arrows (there are also explicit no u-turn signs). We generally understand this to be a safety indicator, but it is possible that a zealous officer could interpret a single-arrow sign as meaning no u-turn.

The NC left turn at intersection law para (b) says

The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at any intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of that vehicle, and, after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction upon the roadway being entered.

Nothing here says that u-turns are illegal: therefore they are legal. That does not guarantee that you won't be ticketed for making a u-turn, because there may be a general law against unsafe driving and a particular u-turn might be unsafe. It is also possible that you will get a ticket for a u-turn that is safe and legal, in case the arresting officer has his own understanding of the law. You could contest the ticket in the latter case, on the premise that police have to follow the law and the officer did not in that case. It is possible that the magistrate hearing the case will have a different interpretation of the law and impose the penalty – you can then appeal that ruling to the highest court.

  • Well, it may be prohibited in certain locations, but you would have to address safety, even where it is allowed. – Putvi Apr 8 at 16:42
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Are state's General Statutes the only written text regarding roadway laws for that state?

There will also be criminal laws regarding roadways, if you count DUI, reckless driving, and similar criminal offenses. The vehicle code will be the main source of civil laws regarding roadways.

Is there a written text of federal roadway laws which all states inherit?

There are federal laws regarding roadways, but a lot of those are about the building and maintence of roadways. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/resources/legsregs/

If a topic is not mentioned in a state's General Statute, is it found somewhere else, such as another piece of state text, the aforementioned federal text, or is it then up to the counties, cities, and local lawmakers to create law for?

Typically, the exact instances of arrests and tickets are in case law. The actual law may say "it is illegal to do such and such" then the court cases will show when, exactly, it should be enforced.

In regard to where a U-Turn is legal, you are right that the state defers to localities. Chapter 20 § 20-153 (c) states:

(c) Local authorities and the Department of Transportation, in their respective jurisdictions, may modify the foregoing method of turning at intersections by clearly indicating by buttons, markers, or other direction signs within an intersection the course to be followed by vehicles turning thereat, and it shall be unlawful for any driver to fail to turn in a manner as so directed. (1937, c. 407, s. 115; 1955, c. 913, s. 5; 1973, c. 1330, s. 18; 1977, c. 464, s. 34; 1997-405, s. 1.)

If something is prohibited, the state, county, or town, (whichever owns that road) is responsible for putting up sings stating such.

The Winston Salem Journal also has a good article on this. https://www.journalnow.com/news/ask_sam/ask-sam-who-yields-on-a-u-turn/article_d5c2a372-a63a-11e2-a229-0019bb30f31a.html

Really, unless a U-Turn is prohibited in a certain location, you need to assess the situation and drive safely, based on the situation.

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To take your questions out of order:

Question 2, there is no federal traffic code -- at all. Traffic regulations are strictly a state-level matter.

What there is are the Uniform Vehicle Code (for traffic laws) and the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (for road signs and markings). These are privately-developed model regulations that most states have adopted to a large degree, either by reference or by incorporating their wording into law.

Question 1, I can find no evidence that North Carolina has adopted any part of the UVC by reference rather than by explicit incorporation. On the other hand, §136-30 adopts the entire MUTCD by reference.

Question 3, the state can delegate rule-making authority to cities, counties, or other entities. North Carolina has done so in parts of their traffic code.

And in response to your question in the comments, the meaning of a solid red arrow is unclear. Section 4D.04(C)(2) of the MUTCD states the following:

Vehicular traffic facing a steady RED ARROW signal indication shall not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow and, unless entering the intersection to make another movement permitted by another signal indication, shall stop at a clearly marked stop line; but if there is no stop line, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection; or if there is no crosswalk, then before entering the intersection; and shall remain stopped until a signal indication or other traffic control device permitting the movement indicated by such RED ARROW is displayed.

This would seem to prohibit a U-turn on a left-pointing red arrow (a U-turn to the left necessarily involves leftward movement), except that §136-30 (the law that adopts the MUTCD) isn't about driving. It's about specifying which signs and signals municipalities and the state Department of Transportation should use.

The section about what drivers should do at lights, §20-158, makes no reference to arrow-shaped steady traffic lights, only circular ones. I think that a driver is required to follow the MUTCD on this by the following chain of laws:

§20-158(b)(5) describing what a driver should do upon encountering an authorized traffic-control device:

When a stop sign, traffic signal, flashing light, or other traffic-control device authorized by subsection (a) of this section requires a vehicle to stop at an intersection, the driver shall stop [at an appropriate spot]

§20-158(a) in turn authorizes the DoT to install traffic signals:

The Department of Transportation, with reference to State highways, and local authorities, with reference to highways under their jurisdiction, are hereby authorized to control vehicles [...] At intersections and other appropriate places, by erecting or installing steady-beam traffic signals and other traffic control devices, signs, or signals.

which leads back to §136-30 specifying that the traffic signals used are those found in the MUTCD.

  • Thank you for your answer, the references to UVC and MUTCD are very helpful and in fact led me to find the 2009 NC Supplement to the MUTCD adopted January 2012, which references §136-30 of the GS does indeed state that State Highways must conform to the MUTCD (§136-30(a) & (d)). From that, the MUTCD section 4D.04 addresses steady circular red and steady red arrow and states that traffic facing the signal may not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow. – Tyler N Apr 9 at 15:11
  • Also, to address your answer to my second question, this page of the Federal Highway Administration challenges your view, I believe: In Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603 states that the MUTCD is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel. – Tyler N Apr 9 at 16:06
  • The history of the MUTCD is complicated. It was developed by the AASHO which, while government-funded, has no governmental authority. It was adopted wholesale by the federal Department of Transportation, but they don't modify it: that's done by the non-governmental NCUTCD. And making the MUTCD the national standard doesn't mean that states need to adopt it; rather, federal funding of certain state highway projects is tied to adoption of the manual. States are free to say "no" to both the manual and the money. – Mark Apr 9 at 19:55
  • Ah, I see. The same website has a map of all the states and if they've adopted it - It looks like as of January 15, 2012 if a state does not adopt the FHWA MUTCD they must incorporate a state MUTCD which is in substantial conformance with the National Manual. – Tyler N Apr 9 at 20:47

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