When left turners and right turners conflict

The in basket: Edgar Ahiers of Port Orchard called to say that one day in March he was sitting at a green light at the Bremerton National Airport, wanting to turn right onto Highway 3 to go toward Gorst, when a steady stream of vehicles turning left from the Olympic View Industrial Park across the intersection kept him from making his turn.

Finally, he said, he saw an opening and made his turn, only to have one more vehicle coming out of the industrial park pull into the oncoming left turn lane, which had no other cars in it, to pass him and follow the others toward Gorst.

There was no collision, “but a very close call,” he said, and wondered who had the right of way.

The out basket: I told him that the right turner has right of way over left turners in such conflicts, and had there been a collision, the left turner would have been at fault. Further, I said, the driver who used the left turn lane to pass committed a lane violation as well as the right-of-way infraction.

Not so fast, State Trooper Russ Winger told me when I ran my advice to Edgar past hims. It’s a little more complicated than that.

It depends on the nature of the traffic signal, he said. As it happens, I was right in this instance. The signal at that intersection has no specific left turn phase, just a pair of round ball lamps, so is comparable to an intersection with stop signs. In those cases, left turners must yield to right turners as well as oncoming vehicles.

BUT, had it been a more sophisticated signal, with turn lanes and a left-turn phase protected by a green arrow light, the left turners have the right of way, he said. The right turner would have a red light on his side, telling him that the oncoming left turner is making a protected turn.

Though it didn’t apply in this case, yellow flashing arrow turn lights require the left turner to yield to conflicting traffic, right turners included. Russ cautioned, however, that in any such conflict, should the left turner be well into his turn when the right turner arrives, the right turner must wait until the left turner is out of his way.

Back to Edgar’s incident, the driver who used the oncoming left-turn lane to pass him did commit an infraction, Russ said. But at an intersection with a green arrow left-turn signal, fault would depend on whether Edgar was found to have cut off the other driver and forced him into the turn lane.

 

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