Illegal U-Turn Laws and Penalties

Making an illegal U-turn can mean a traffic ticket or even worse consequences if there’s a car accident.

It can be tempting to make a U-turn if you see a great parking spot on the other side of the road or realize you just missed a turn. But making an illegal U-turn could result in a traffic ticket—or, even worse, an accident.

U-turns often aren't illegal. State traffic laws limit when and where drivers can make U-turns. Whether a U-turn is legal or not can depend on many factors, including the type of road.

What Is a U-Turn?

A U-turn is a turn across the center line of a road that causes a vehicle to move in the opposite direction on the same road. A properly executed U-turn is made in one continuous motion that's in the shape of the letter U.

But a turn doesn't necessarily have to be one continuous motion to be considered a U-turn. For instance, California defines a U-turn as "the turning of a vehicle upon a highway so as to proceed in the opposite direction whether accomplished by one continuous movement or not." (Cal. Veh. Code § 665.5 (2024).)

When Are U-Turns Allowed?

U-turns often are legal. But laws vary, so it might not always be clear what is a legal U-turn. Below are some common situations when it's legal to make a U-turn.

  • There's a sign stating "U-turn only."
  • There are no signs or laws (more on this below) prohibiting U-turns.
  • You're in a left turn lane with a green light, and you won't impede oncoming traffic.
  • There's an opening in a divided highway that isn't reserved for emergency, law enforcement, or other government vehicles.
  • It's safe to make a U-turn, and you won't impede oncoming traffic.

Don't assume that it's okay to make a U-turn in the above situations. Remember that your state, county, or city might have laws that make U-turns illegal under different circumstances. And most laws that allow drivers to make a U-turn require that the driver makes sure it's safe before attempting a U-turn.

When Are U-Turns Illegal?

As mentioned above, state and local U-turn laws vary. What's completely legal where you live can be illegal in another state or town. It can be illegal to make a U-turn under the following circumstances.

  • There's a "No U-turn" sign posted.
  • You're driving in a business district or residential district, and your state or local laws prohibit U-turns in these districts.
  • You're on a one-way street.
  • You're in front of a fire station.
  • You're at a railroad crossing.
  • You're on a divided highway—unless there's a specific lane or opening for U-turns.
  • You're view is obstructed, or a turn would be otherwise unsafe.

Your state or local laws could have additional U-turn rules. Even if you're driving on a road where U-turns are legal, always use extreme caution.

How Much Is an Illegal U-Turn Ticket?

If a law enforcement officer observes you making what looks like an illegal U-turn, you'll get a traffic ticket and will face a fine. A fine could cost you anywhere between $100 and $300. A U-turn violation also could lead to points on your driving record and an increase in your car insurance rates.

Consequences can be more serious if your prohibited U-turn resulted in a car accident or caused damage to another person's property. You might be on the financial hook for the other person's damages (including their medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering) resulting from the accident.

Fighting an Illegal U-Turn Ticket

If you can prove that your U-turn wasn't illegal, or raise enough evidence to place that determination in doubt, you might be able to get your ticket dismissed.

Each case is different, but some possible ways to fight a U-turn ticket are:

  • proving that the location of the turn isn't a business or residence district under the statute—if you were cited for a U-turn in one of those districts
  • showing that your view wasn't obstructed—by using photographs of the road or bringing a witness to court who saw the turn, or
  • using photographs or witnesses to show that a "No U-turn" sign wasn't posted on the day you were pulled over.

You can fight the citation yourself, if you're comfortable and confident doing so. However, if the U-turn ticket was part of a more complicated scenario—like it resulted in an accident—a lawyer might be your best chance to get the ticket dismissed.

Learn More and Find a Lawyer

For in depth information about how to fight your ticket, check out our section on Fighting Your Ticket. If you want to fight the ticket and don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, talk to an attorney licensed in your state who routinely handles traffic matters.

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