Entering a left turn lane before the lines say you can

The in basket: I came across a four-year-old inquiry from Linda G, that read, “This afternoon, I entered onto Caldart in Poulsbo behind a North Kitsap school bus. The bus signaled an intention to turn left at Lincoln, and moved across the double yellow line before the left turn pocket.

“I wanted to turn left onto Lincoln  also, but waited to move left until the pocket entrance was accessible. Was the bus driver OK to move left before the left turn pocket opening?

“There is a space shaped by the double yellow lines that I have always believed was not for drivers, but was a safety barrier of sorts. What’s the law?”

I dredge up this old question, which I didn’t answer then, because it meshes somewhat with this recent one from Tom Baker of Bremerton about the eastbound left turn lane on Werner Road at National Avenue:

“The striped turn pocket is not long enough to hold the vehicles that can stack up,” he said. “The choices are to sit in the center area ahead of the turn pocket, or to extend out into the through lane, Since the center area ahead of the turn pocket is wide enough, that is the most popular choice.

“What’s legal here and had Kitsap County considered extending the turn pocket?”

The out basket: Since the old inquiry came from Poulsbo, I went to that city’s police chief, Al Townsend, for an answer.

I made a distinction between whether this driver behavior does or doesn’t result in a collision.

“It technically is illegal to cross the double yellow line,” Al said. “However, like all traffic issues, officers need to use discretion and good judgment, much like drivers.

“If the driver’s intent is just to line up into the turn lane early, either because it’s too short to hold all of the cars that will turn, or that the vehicle is too large to negotiate the small lane opening after the double yellows, or the traffic going straight is backed up past the open turn lane, and the driver can safely enter the turn lane early (as long as they don’t cross over the second double yellow that protects the traffic lane of the opposite direction), then they should be fine.

“When a driver can mitigate his/her intent for this turn lane and do so in a safe and prudent manner, I don’t see any problem with it, keeping in mind that the letter of the law is that you can’t cross over the double yellow line.

“What would likely determine whether someone was ticketed for that would be whether they did so safely (i.e. not when other cars are coming at them in the opposite direction, did so slowly, etc.)

“On the collision portion, if someone does it within the lines, the person who goes outside of that would likely be listed as the major contributing factor to the crash. Hence the reason they should do so slowly and with caution for other drivers.”

State Trooper Russ Winger agreed with Al.

As regards the Werner Road site Tom asks about, Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson says, “We recognize that, in many instances, the left turn pocket is not long enough to hold all vehicles where the driver wishes to make a left turn onto a perpendicular roadway. This is especially noticeable during work commute periods and there are many intersections in the county with this same situation. The demand has exceeded the engineering design.

“Pulling into the center lane and then waiting in the area before the turn pocket opening is not a violation that I can find in the RCW,” Scott concluded.

Lastly county Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea said about National and Werner (actually it may have become Loxie Eagans Boulevard at that point), “We will take a look at lengthening the turn lane. This is a difficult location to lengthen the lane because we are restricted from widening the road by curb, gutter, and sidewalk on both sides of the roadway; our pavement width is not adjustable.

“We will have to ensure that we have enough taper length for the speed and enough lane width for two cars to pass without sideswiping. These two parameters may limit or restrict how much lengthening of the turn lane we can do.”

4 thoughts on “Entering a left turn lane before the lines say you can

  1. I don’t see the conflict. The column of last February dealt with use of a two-way turn lane, and a ticket written for proceeding in the one on Trigger Avenue too far This column deals with early entry into a left turn pocket. The Trigger Avenue ticket struck me as of dubious merit, but it was upheld in court.

  2. But the use of the two-way turn lane on Trigger was for early entry into a left turn pocket. Unless I’m missing something it seems like exactly this scenario quoted above: “…the traffic going straight is backed up past the open turn lane, and the driver can safely enter the turn lane early (as long as they don’t cross over the second double yellow that protects the traffic lane of the opposite direction), then they should be fine.”

    I’m definitely with you on the dubious merit of the Trigger Ave ticket. Actually, it makes me angry because I have to drive that road all the time and I’ve made that exact maneuver on several occasions. Forcing left turners to wait while base traffic clears security is absurd.

  3. This is the exact same thing as you turn left off Warren onto 6th street towards the waterfront. The turn lane there will hold maybe two cars, so turning cars back up in the two way lane. I don’t have a problem with this. What I have a problem with is when a car is approaching the turn lane with no one already there, they still go into the two way lane and travel for a couple car lengths to get into that turn lane. If you mean to turn at the same place but are NOT turning into the turn lane until you actually reach it, a collision is sure to occur. I tend to wait until Warren opens into a turn lane before I get over, but I make sure to have my blinkers on ahead of time and I always look over my left shoulder before getting over. I can’t tell you how many collisions I’ve avoided when I’ve seen someone else, sans blinkers, driving up on my left side in the two way lane trying to get to the turn lane that way. I’d say if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, but with my luck, I’d get ticketed.

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