When a right turner meets a U-turner

The in basket: Brenda Hamre writes, “”While waiting at the eastbound stop light at Fairgrounds Road and Highway 303. I had the red light and after checking for oncoming traffic I prepared to turn right onto southbound Highway 303.  Suddenly a car northbound on Highway 303 and in the left-hand turn lane pulled a U-turn to head southbound with a green turn light. Had I been actually turning, I may have been broad-sided by this car. 
“Who has the right-of-way in a situation like that?” 


The in basket: Brenda Hamre writes, “Having been born and raised in Washington where I thought up until recently that a U-turn was illegal, I was unnerved a couple of months ago while waiting at the eastbound stop light at Fairgrounds Road and Highway 303. 
“I had the red light and after checking for oncoming traffic I prepared to turn right onto southbound Highway 303.  Suddenly a car northbound on Highway 303 and in the left-hand turn lane pulled a U-turn to head southbound with a green turn light. Had I been actually turning, I may have been broad-sided by this car. 
“I’ve since seen a couple more signs in our area indicating that a U-turn is OK. 
“Who has the right-of-way in a situation like that?  Since the car that did the U-turn had a green light and I had a red, I would assume it was the other car.  But how can someone anticipate a move like that?  There wasn’t a “no turn on red” sign, but would that be appropriate there?  My mom thought it was a good question as she has been caught off guard like that recently also.”
The out basket: Yes, U-turns are legal in this state in places where visibility of approaching traffic is good. Specifically, the Highway 303 center barrier was installed with the intention that traffic that used to be able to turn left could do a U-turn at an intersection and double back. 
State Trooper Brian George says Brenda is right in her guess as to who has the right of way in such a conflict. “The driver who is stopped for the red light would have to yield to all other drivers, and pedestrians, before proceeding into the intersection to make a right turn on red,” he said. “This would include yielding to a driver making a legal U-turn on a green light. If the two vehicles collided the driver with the red light would be cited.” 
But, he adds, “a defensive driver is going to look in all directions prior to proceeding into or through an intersection.” 
Since the U-turning car of necessity can’t be moving very fast, and the right turning car is required to come to a complete stop before proceeding, I don’t know why the right turning driver wouldn’t have ample time to react and avoid a collision, as would the U-turner, for that matter. 
Nor do I see a lot of difference between this situation and the more common one in which a right turner with a red light meets a left turner coming in the opposite direction.

3 thoughts on “When a right turner meets a U-turner

  1. Is not Highway 303 two lanes at that point? The u-turner certainly had the right-of-way, but proper turns would have kept each vehicle in its own, separate lane.

  2. As I drive around Kitsap County I wonder if the law has changed regarding stop signs and red lights. I thought that when you came to a stop sign or a red light, you came to a complete stop at the line and then IF the traffic is clear you can make a right turn. What I have seen is a driver in a hurry slows down and goes through the red light or stop sign and then the next vehicle does the same, only the next vehicle doesn’t slow down or stop at the line and they keep going through the lights. I’ve also noticed some of our Law Enforcement Officers doing the same.
    IF the law states to come to a complete stop and then proceed, fine, let’s enforce it. If this is still the law and the fine is $112 and going up to $124, I’m sure that putting someone around these intersection would be very profitable for the county and maybe help keep our taxes down.
    If this is not a good idea, maybe just changing all the stop signs to Yield signs would solve the problem. The areas that I see this the most are Highway 3 northbound exit turning right onto Newberry Hill and Chico Way turning right on to Silverdale Way. Everyone is in a big hurry and can’t wait to turn right at these intersection.

  3. You are correct, Denis. There are two lanes in each direction of Highway 303 at that point.

    The problem arises when the car making the U-turn is expected to maintain the tight radius necessary to avoid the car making the right turn onto 303 from Fairgrounds. It is impossible to keep to the inside lane when initially making the U-turn from the left turn lane in the opposite direction, which is the technically legal manuever – especially with modern automobiles and their lack of a ‘0’ degree turning radius. With the construction of most vehicles, the result of a U-turn will always put the vehicle in the outside lane… which is the one that the right turner from Fairgrounds must legally be in when completing that maneuver.

    Even with three lanes in the resulting direction of travel, most larger cars performing the U-turn would have difficulty in staying completely in the middle lane while executing the U-turn. A larger vehicle making the right turn from Fairgrounds would also have difficulty in staying completely in their legal lane when initiating the turn.

    What it boils down to is defensive driving. Keeping your wits about you will prevent most accidents.

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