Green light doesn’t confer unlimited right to proceed

The in basket: A Road Warrior blog commenter in December, who signed as Lonna, is upset with the yellow flashing left-turn signals Kitsap County uses. She said she got into an accident at one, but didn’t say where.

“I approached an extremely busy intersection with four lights for the left turning lane,” she said. Her signal was green. “As I was crossing over the crosswalk, it turned to a flashing yellow arrow. I proceeded to yield to oncoming traffic then it turned a solid yellow arrow. The oncoming traffic was still thick and there were no gaps for me to complete my left turn.

“When I finally got my chance to turn, my light turned red. The person to the left of me was at a red stop light waiting to make her turn when her light turned green and she took off right away and gunned it. As I was completing my left turn, she smashed into me.

“Now it’s a big mess. My car was totaled and my son and I have serious neck injuries. Her insurance company is trying to say that we are both at fault 50/50.

“I know that the rules of the road are that just because your light turned green doesn’t mean you can go. You must make sure the intersection is clear of any traffic, pedestrians, emergency vehicles or hazards.

“I think these lights are ridiculous and maybe set that way intentionally to cause these accidents so the city can make money. There has gotta be a better way!”

I recall in my youth hearing of something called the “last clear chance” rule, meaning a driver can be deemed at fault in an accident if he or she was clearly able to avoid an accident set up by the illegal actions of another driver, but proceeded anyway.

I asked State Trooper Russ Winger about that and how he views the situation Lonna describes.

The out basket: Russ said he is not familiar with the ‘last clear chance’ law.

But “the situation your reader found herself in is fairly simple,” he said. “She is correct IF she was in the intersection legally waiting to make the left turn. She would have the right of way to complete her turn. The driver that was stopped at a red light and proceeding on green when the light changed … must yield to vehicles already legally transiting the intersection.

“If your reader’s scenario is factual, then I do not agree that (she is) 50 percent at fault or even at fault. I would, in fact, write the other driver an infraction for fail to yield right of way.”

The county has begun adding signs to signals with the yellow flashing left turn indicators, making it clear that those turning must yield, and recently decided the Kitsap Mall Boulevard-Randall Way intersection in Silverdale is too complex to keep them there.

And the state doesn’t use them at its intersections.

But they are very popular with most drivers, me included. They reduce time spent waiting and pollution discharged from idling vehicles, and reduce the length of holding area needed in left turn lanes. I’d hate to see them go.


2 thoughts on “Green light doesn’t confer unlimited right to proceed

  1. If I read this story right and I think I did, then isnt it against the law to be sitting in the middle of the intersection waiting to make a turn legal or not. That is one thing I see all the time, cars parked in the middle of the intersection waiting to make a turn and when the traffic is heavy and the oncoming traffic light turns red then they go and usually when the other light turns read then the their light turns red also, then it becomes a running a red light. I think that is a problem that most drivers around here have is they want to guarantee themselves a turn at a light and they will in turn block an intersection so that when their light does turn red and they are sitting in the intersection, then they think that the cross traffic should have to wait until they go. And another thing is I believe it is illegal to block a crosswalk and this story says she drove over it to make her turn. Well unless she had a green arrow which she did at first but then it turned blinking yellow but yet she went across anyways. I mean this story seems to be missing some things. Did she have a green light or green arrow. If it was a green arrow when she hit the intersection, then why did she stop to wait, just finish the turn. And if it is a solid green light (which I dont think it was, since she had a yellow arrow), then she should know that you have to yield to oncoming traffic till it is safe to turn and sitting in the crosswalk or intersection is not yielding, but yet everyone does it and sooner or later someone gets hit just like this lady did. And claiming in other words stupidity to what the law may or may not state does not fix life long injuries or even dead.

    I really think that anytime someone gets caught doing something stupid in a car or even gets a ticket should have a suspension on their license and make them take a refresher course at their expense to ensure that they know what they rules of the road and what traffic law states. It would bring in revenue and makes sure that drivers dont lose their common sense. Unfortunately when people get their license to drive, they think it is a license to do whatever they want to do behind the wheel.

  2. I lived in New York City in the 60’s when the concept of gridlock was first named. After that problem became a major concern, the law made it illegal to enter an intersection, green light or no, if you could not be sure that you could exit the intersection. From watching driver behavior in rush-hour Seattle, I believe they must enforce such a rule there as well.

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