Road Rules 101: Center turn lanes

April 28, 2019 by PEMCO Insurance

GettyImages-1040217088.jpgWhen turning left from a side street onto a busy roadway, can you pull into the roadway's center turn lane and stop, waiting for traffic to clear before merging right to complete the turn? (Customer question from Linette J.)

While Oregon's law is written more clearly than Washington's, this left-turn maneuver does appear to be legal in both states (see excerpts below). But perhaps the bigger question is, "Should you do it?"

On that point, safety experts are clear. Left turns are 10 times more likely to end in an accident than right turns. The difference is so dramatic that United Parcel Service (UPS) trains drivers to avoid left turns whenever reasonable and estimates that, at least in busy commercial areas, UPS trucks turn right 90% of the time. (It's a different story in sleepier residential areas with meandering streets that give few options to turning left.)

You might think looping the block (making only right turns) might waste time and gas, but the big brown delivery giant seems to think that's offset by eliminating long periods of idling as drivers wait for busy traffic to clear so they can turn left.

Here's how the law spells it out (the bold emphasis is ours):

Washington RCW 46.61.290:
(3) Two-way left turn lanes.

  1. The department of transportation and local authorities in their respective jurisdictions may designate a two-way left turn lane on a roadway. A two-way left turn lane is near the center of the roadway set aside for use by vehicles making left turns in either direction from or into the roadway

Oregon ORS 811.346:

A person who turns into a special left turn lane from an alley, driveway or other entrance to the highway that has the special left turn lane is in violation of this section if the person does anything other than stop in the lane and merge into traffic in the lane immediately to the right of the person's vehicle.

In both states, it's illegal to drive in the lane to match speed with the cars in the lane you're trying to enter.  ‚Äč

NOTE: While we're experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don't consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.

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