When is a one-way street a one-way street?

The in basket: Elaine Henderson sent a typed letter (it’s been a long time since the Road Warrior has gotten one of those) to ask “Is it ever permissible to make a LEFT TURN on a RED LIGHT after making sure the cross street is clear of traffic?

“Yesterday I was driving east on Burwell Street approaching Washington Avenue (in Bremerton) ” she wrote on May 16. “‘The traffic light was red and there was one vehicle waiting at the light. As I stopped behind the vehicle, it made a left turn onto Washington Avenue while the light was still red.

“I drive this route at least once a week, the light at that intersection is usually red. I’ve always waited until the light changes to green before making my left turn.

“Is there perhaps an exception at this intersection regarding no left turn on red because two-way traffic ends at Burwell Street?”

The out basket: It sounds like Elaine may be aware of the little known law permitting lefts against a red light, but only  onto a one-way street going in the direction of the turn.

This could be a thorny legal issue were someone to be stopped and cited for what Elaine saw that driver do, but I’d have to guess that law doesn’t extend to a street that’s one-way SOMEWHERE along its length.

The wording of the state law (RCW 46.61.055) says “vehicle operators facing a steady circular red signal may, after stopping, proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn; or a left turn from a one-way or two-way street into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the left turn; unless a sign posted by competent authority prohibits such movement.”

The same thing is permitted at a red arrow light.

Just a block west of Washington, going the other way on Burwell, such a turn is legal onto one-way Pacific Avenue, providing one comes to a complete stop and yields to any traffic with a green light or pedestrian in the way.

I suppose a driver could argue that he WAS turning onto a one-way street, even though the one-way portion of Washington ends before the portion of the street he’s entering. But I wouldn’t expect the arguement  to prevail in court, unless he gets a judge who delights in splitting hairs. And I’d advise Elaine to continue waiting for the green light there.

One thought on “When is a one-way street a one-way street?

  1. I have made plenty of left turns on a red light that was turning onto a one way street and have never gotten stopped for it. And yes I have done it in front of Law Enforcement. Heck I have even had a BPD make the same turn right behind me.

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