Ya gotta signal that turn, even in a turn lane

The in basket: Glen Ring of Poulsbo says he and his wife have a minor dispute going over whether a driver has to activate his turn signal when in a left-turn lane. He contended that it’s not required because you have no option but to turn, and she disagreed.

The out basket: Yes, the law requires a signal in a turn lane, even though it’s clear what you plan to do. RCW 46.61.305 says “no person shall turn a vehicle or move right or left upon a roadway unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided.”   It further says, “A signal of intention to turn or move right or left when required shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”

State Trooper Russ Winger says, “There are several different situations that a motorist  encounters when using a left turn lane. For example, the intersection of Burwell and Callow Avenue (in Bremerton). This is a signal-controlled two-way left turn lane where the right lane can turn left, go straight or turn right. The left lane has no other option than to turn left. You certainly need to be signaling your intent here so motorists to the rear are aware of your intent. A motorist that has driven up from the rear on another vehicle in this right lane needs to know the leading vehicle’s intent.

“Another situation occurs when a vehicle is in the left-turn lane of a controlled intersection utilizing flashing yellow turn arrows. This motorist needs to signal his intent to oncoming motorists that may have the right of way, even though this vehicle has ‘no option’ but to turn left – legally speaking.

“Failing to signal or failing to properly signal are accident- causing and -contributing violations” Russ continued. “Law enforcement can and does stop for these violations on a regular basis. “For the most part officers will use this as an educational situation and not issue a citation unless there is a pattern of continued violation of the law and/or the driver exhibits lack of regard for the merits of using turn indicators.

“Many a DUI or unlicensed driver has found themselves in a jail cell or with a criminal ticket in hand after getting stopped for failing to or improperly signaling  turns and lane changes.

“The bottom line is that motorists should always signal turns and any lane changes (including exiting and merging) to freeways. Not just because it’s required by law but because it decreases the potential for collisions and makes driving much safer for all motorists.”

2 thoughts on “Ya gotta signal that turn, even in a turn lane

  1. I really have a hard time with ALL those drivers that flat refuse to signal or even look when accessing the freeways. Half of them either cover their left eye or are on the cell phone and quite frankly, refuse to look to see if any traffic is on the freeway when they access it. I usually take the stand that if you refuse to signal or even look to see if their are cars already on the freeway, you must want to drive down the shoulder. And I won’t give. Aren’t their YIELD signs on the on-ramps?

  2. The law about turn signals is doubly brain-dead. Firstly, it encourages useless or misleading signaling. I was taught that a measure of the information content of a message is the surprise that the recipient feels when it arrives. By that measure, a flashing left blinker on a car in a single left turn lane conveys no information. But a signaling car in the right lane of a dual-lane left turn (e.g. the left turn from 11th St to Warren Ave) presents an ambiguous message. It may mean “I’m going to turn left when I get down to Warren Ave.” or it may mean “I want to move further left before getting to the intersection to get by the slowpoke in front of me.” If you’re in the leftmost lane, moving adjacent to the signaling car may or may not be safe.

    I suggest that it would be better to say that no signal is needed if one is in a lane marked with traffic flow arrows. A flashing signal in such a situation would say “I’m intending something a bit out of the ordinary.” If there are lots of possibilities marked, as at Burwell & Callow, then that is a prima-facie warning to expect the unexpected.

    Secondly, the use of one hundred feet as the minimum duration of the signaling is convenient for enforcement, but useless for ensuring communication of intent. For example, a driver is irretrievably in violation of the law if he or she comes up to a stop sign while uncertain which way to turn. (I presume it would be illegal to back up 100 ft to come forward signaling, once one knows which way to turn.) Also, at 60 mph it takes less than 1.2 seconds to travel 100 ft; a single flash would be all that is required to be legal for a lane change on the freeway. Simply replacing the distance requirement with a duration (say 3 seconds) that takes into account normal human reaction times, would be much better.

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