Fine can be steep for using cross-median emergency U-turns

The in basket: The Judybaker, my wife, saw an old vehicle, almost certainly not an official emergency vehicle, using that through-median paved patch on Highway 3 north of Chico Way to turn around recently. It and similar cut-throughs are intended for police, fire or other emergency vehicles going to an emergency and have No U-Turn signs. She wondered what the penalty is for a private citizen doing that.

The out basket: State Trooper Todd Bartolac, filling in for Kristra Hedstrom while she’s on leave, says the penalty can go up to $411.

That’s if the citing officer chooses to use that strange law (RCW 46.61.150) that reads, “Whenever any highway has been divided into two or more roadways by leaving an intervening space or by a physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section or by a median island not less than eighteen inches wide formed either by solid yellow pavement markings or by a yellow crosshatching between two solid yellow lines so installed as to control vehicular traffic, every vehicle shall be driven only upon the right-hand roadway unless directed or permitted to use another roadway by official traffic-control devices or police officers. No vehicle shall be driven over, across or within any such dividing space, barrier or section, or median island, except through an opening in such physical barrier or dividing section or space or median island, or at a crossover or intersection established by public authority.”

If you can’t spot the wording in that law that forbids turning across those through-median areas, you’re not alone. I can’t either. But that’s the same law that is interpreted to allow left turns across garden-variety double yellow lines, and to impose a $411 fine for crossing the gore points on freeways, those merging white lines at on- and off-ramps.

It seems that it can be interpreted to permit or forbid almost anything.

Todd also cited another law that seems more on point. It reads, “No person shall drive a vehicle onto or from any limited access roadway except at such entrances and exits as are established by public authority.” That one carries a $216 fine and seems better to describe what was done illegally.

Todd says an officer can choose either law. My guess is a officer also could choose to write a ticket for making an illegal turn or disregarding a regulatory sign (each with a $124 fine) or even negligent driving. Getting up to speed once the U-turn is complete, entering 60-mile-per-hour traffic while bouncing  over the inner rumble strip certainly could be called negligent, especially if it leads to an accident. The fine for negligent driving is $550.

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