Right turn etiquette a hot topic

Well, my column last week about leaving the right lane open for turns on red lights elicited far more response than I expected, both pro and con.

It’s the biggest response I’ve had to any column in nearly two years, since I wrote about the state’s “keep right except to pass” law as applied to people who creep along in the left lanes of the freeway. It turns out that this law comes into play in the right turn issue as well.

One reader suggested that moving to the left could violate the law (RCW 46.61.100) requiring drivers to stay to the right. The law lists many exceptions, including passing and preparing for left turns, but moving left to allow others to turn right isn’t one of them. So, technically, it could be illegal.
(Interestingly, one of the exceptions listed is “when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow.”)

Still, the point of the column was to encourage drivers who have no special reason to travel in the right lane to think about moving over in light traffic and leaving the right lane open for those who wish to turn on red.

If there are few or no other cars present, and a driver moves into the left lane while approaching a red light, my guess is very few police officers would write a ticket for this. In the next Street Smarts, we’ll hear from Trooper Keith Leary of the State Patrol on the subject. Trooper Leary is currently on leave.

As a couple of readers strenuously pointed out, some drivers stay in the right lane at a red light to turn at a driveway on the next block, or to prepare to make the next right. Others drive slowly and don’t feel comfortable traveling in the left lanes. They are in the right lane, where they should be.

Points acknowledged. Still, these aren’t the people I’m addressing. It’s those who aren’t thinking about what they’re doing. And it’s also those who are going straight and move into an open right lane when there’s only one car in the left lane, just to get that tiny advantage when the light turns green. I’ll admit I’ll still go into the right lane if there are three or more cars in the left lane — I think that’s a reasonable demarcation point.

Brad Bolmes of Mill Creek writes: I drive, as do many others, on 35th Avenue SE. While heading either south or north there are no warning signs of curves ahead with a suggested speed. I have seen a few cars drive off and into the trees.

Owen Carter, engineer for Snohomish County, responds: Snohomish County Public Works has performed an engineering study for this segment of 35th Avenue SE to determine the safe operating speed. The study indicated that the 35 mph posted speed limit is a safe speed for both northbound and southbound directions.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the national standard, recommends not using a warning and advisory speed sign on a curve with these conditions. However, I agree that placing additional guide post along the outside radius of the curve (on the east side of the road) is an excellent idea and I have submitted a work request to the county road maintenance division to install the additional guide post. Thank you for your question.

E-mail us at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

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