Are U-Turns Legal In Ohio?
This is a quick primer on the current legality of "U" turns in Ohio.
Current Laws Regarding U-TurnsThe state law on u-turns is found in ORC 4511.37. ORC 4511.37(A) states: "(A) Except as provided in section 4511.13 and division (B) of this section, no vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any curve, or upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade, if the vehicle cannot be seen within five hundred feet by the driver of any other vehicle approaching from either direction." However, local code varies. Cleveland's law is found in section 431.12 of the Code of Ordinances: "(a) Except as provided in division (b) of this section, no vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any curve, or upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade, if such vehicle cannot be seen within five hundred (500) feet by the driver of any other vehicle approaching from either direction." Essentially, this parrots state law. Now consider Columbus code section 2131.12(a): "No vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any street or highway. Turns commonly known as "U" turns are hereby prohibited."
The Constitution & Home RuleArticle XVIII, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution states: "Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws."
The Supreme Court's TakeWhen evaluating whether a conflict exists between the general law and a local ordinance, the court has used a three-part test. A state statute takes precedence over a local ordinance when (1) the ordinance is an exercise of the police power, rather than of local self-government, (2) the statute is a general law, and (3) the ordinance is in conflict with the statute. Mendenhall v. Akron, 117 Ohio St.3d 33, 2008-Ohio-270, 881 N.E.2d 255, ? 17. To constitute a general law for purposes of home-rule analysis, a statute must (1) be part of a statewide and comprehensive legislative enactment, (2) apply to all parts of the state alike and operate uniformly throughout the state, (3) set forth police, sanitary, or similar regulations, rather than purport only to grant or limit legislative power of a municipal corporation to set forth police, sanitary, or similar regulations, and (4) prescribe a rule of conduct upon citizens generally. Canton v. State, 95 Ohio St.3d 149, 2002-Ohio-2005, 766 N.E.2d963. Justice Pfeiffer's dissent in Cleveland v. State, states that in order for a conflict to arise, the state statute must positively permit what the ordinance prohibits, or vice versa, regardless of the extent of state regulation concerning the same object. Objectively, the test seems to weigh in favor of finding local traffic ordinances violating "U" turns in violation of state law and the Constitution. However, in Columbus v. Liddell, the court in dicta mentioned that Ohio is a home rule state and cities are allowed to enact their own ordinances as to safety matters. Columbus v. Liddell, 2015-Ohio-867 ? 11 (2015).
What Doea It All Mean?The court's dicta in Liddell seems to demonstrate a bias towards permitting local regulation of "U" turns. However, the court never made a dispositive ruling on whether local regulations are in violation because there was not a proper evidentiary record. The court affirmed the trial court's decision based upon procedural, rather than substantive, reasoning. As a result, though the current court appears biased towards upholding home rule regarding "U" turns, a good argument could still be made that the local laws must be overturned. The problem is that no one is willing to spend all of the time and money to get "legal" justice for a minor traffic violation. In the long run, a person could spend a hundred thousand dollars in legal fees to have a $175 ticket dismissed, or he or she could just pay the $175. We likely will not have a final answer on the legality of "U" turns until it is brought up as a secondary issue in a bigger case. So, my best advice? If you aren't sure whether it is legal to make a "U" turn in your locality, do not.