Tag Archives: lane change

Freeway lane changes can be hazardous

The in basket: Jim Hazel writes, “Coming back from the airport, I was following a car that decided to move right to a slower lane at the same time as a person two lanes over tried to move left into the same spot. Fortunately, they both backed off before there was a problem, but my son and I got into a debate about who had the ‘right of way’ in that situation.

“My son suggested that the person moving right had precedence over the person moving left.  I said that they are both under a responsibility to avoid dangerous lane changes and that there is no ‘right of way’.  We both agreed that it is a moot point and perhaps would come down to the last person with a clear chance to avoid a collision.

“Do you know what the State Patrol’s position on this situation would be?”

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger of the local detachment replies, “Any time you are changing lanes you are required to yield to vehicles previously occupying the lane. In the case your writer describes, the decision and action to change lanes occurred simultaneously – apparently – and neither driver was aware of the other vehicle until the last second where both recognized the situation and took evasive action to avoid a collision. This probably happens countless times a day on the multiple lane freeway of the I-5 corridor.

“This could be because of blind spots, not checking mirrors, defective or missing mirrors, driver distraction in or out of the vehicle, and the all-important last-second head checks that may or may not have taken place.

“You have to sort through the possibilities in a collision investigation and the bold answer is not always staring at you,” Russ said. “In the event of a collision, absent any independent witnesses that could shed more light on the ‎event, and possible physical evidence on roadway that could suggest impact point in lane,  both drivers could be cited for improper lane change,” he said.

The rules on signalling


The in basket: Rod Gross of Poulsbo writes, “I so often see cars that fail to use their turn signals for not only

actual turns right or left, but also for simple lane changes, that I wonder what the laws dictate in that regard.

“Is it in fact illegal NOT to use your turn signal when turning or changing lanes, and how often do the local, and state police actually stop and ticket people for failure to signal?

Also, what are the penalties for failure to signal?  Arguably they are insufficient because the practice  of failing to signal is literally rampant.”

The out basket: Yes, the law requires signaling any turn or lane change, even while entering or leaving a freeway or entering a turn lane.

Signaling while entering or leaving a roundabout is recommended by the state, but it is my understanding that a Port Orchard court case that nullified a DUI arrest says otherwise at single-lane roundabouts. The initial reason for the stop was failure to signal a lane change at the Highway 166 roundabout, so the driver didn’t change lanes.

If that ruling has been overturned, I’m hoping someone will set me straight.

I added to Ross’s inquiry when I passed it along to State  Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for the patrol here. It admittedly was self-serving because 69-year-old me is a text-book example of an aged driver who regularly forgets to turn off his turn signal after a lane change.

I asked if that is a violation, if the signal must continue throughout the lane change or turn or can be stopped as the turn begins, when I’m more likely to remember.

Russ said, “The law states that you must signal for ‘not less than the last 100 feet traveled’ prior to turning or moving left or right. Could you turn the signal off after 100 feet and then move left or right ? According to the RCW, yes, as long as you immediately start the movement into the other lane. Any lengthy delay  -a second or two at most – would give another motorist reason to believe that the driver either mis-signaled or decided not to change lanes.

“The whole idea behind signaling a turn or lane change is to alert other drivers that SOMETHING is about to occur with a vehicles path or direction of travel.”

Bad news for me on the leaving-the-signal-on front. “Yes,” Russ said, “it is a violation to leave your signal on long after a lane change is complete. Again, driving down the roadway with your signal on with no intent to do anything is hazardous to other motorists due to the false expectations it creates.”

Signaling violations, including that one, carry a $124 fine. “Yes, we do stop motorists for failing to signal, improper signal, no signal, on a regular basis,” Russ said.

“To an officer, this is valid reason to stop and talk with this driver. It could mean several things. Possibly the driver just did not signal. Possibly the driver has an equipment problem, light out or signal indicator not functioning. Possibly the driver was impaired and did not realize the signal was left on or notice a lamp problem.

“Drivers that do not follow basic safe travel rules of the road create a hazard for everyone on the road,” Russ said.


Hey, your turn signal’s still on!

The in basket: I was involved in a quiet encounter on Highway 3 just west of Bremerton a couple weeks ago that has me wondering.

I’d just merged into the single lane that meets traffic coming out of Bremerton headed toward Gorst, when the driver ahead of me turned on her left turn signal for one blink, then the right signal for one blink and the left signal again for one blink.

I looked at my dash and, sure enough, I’d left my turn signal on after merging, an all too common failing in my 60s.

I wrote a few years ago about whether there is a recognized means to tell another driver that he’s committing this gaffe regularly attributed to the elderly by humor writers.

Some possibilities:

– Make a repeated pinching motion with finger and thumb as you draw abreast of the car and get the driver’s attention. That puts you both at risk of rear ending a car ahead.

– Alternate your own signals once you get ahead of the other vehicle, as the woman on Highway 3 did with me.

-Yelling out your open window.

– Beeping TS for “turn signal” in Morse Code, or Dah-Dit-Dit-Dit. That was an invention of mine that, not surprisingly, hasn’t caught on. It stands a good chance of being misinterpreted as an aggressive action and an even better one of mystifying the other driver.

I have never had any success in communicating this message to any other driver by any of those means.

Did the woman in the gray Dodge Stratus who blinked it to me actually intend it to be the message I received? Was this one small victory for roadway cooperation?

The out basket: Probably not. I beeped while still behind her and gave her a thumbs up. I couldn’t see though her back window if there was any reaction.

When I got beside her, I tried another thumbs up but she didn’t even look my way.

As I pulled away from her, I saw in my rear-view mirror that she had her right turn signal blinking, but wasn’t slowing down as if to turn into one of the few places one can turn right along there.

She would have had to merge right moments earlier. Had she become just one more driver who had forgotten to turn off her turn signal after changing lanes?

I have no answer. Maybe she’ll recognize herself from this narrative and fill me in.



Official merging advice surprises Road Warrior

The in basket: Don Payne, in an e-mail on another subject, happened to point out a section of the state Driver’s Guide on page 75 in the current version headed “Space to Merge.”

It reads, in part, “You need a four-second

gap whenever you change lanes, enter a roadway, or when

your lane merges with another travel lane.

“• Do not try to merge into a gap that is too small. A small

gap can quickly become even smaller. Enter a gap that

gives you enough space cushion to be safe.

“• If you want to move over several lanes, take them one at

a time. Like going up or down stairs one step at a time,

it is safest and easiest to merge one lane at a time.”

I was surprised and alarmed by those bullet points. 

The first seems to advocate stopping or slowing sharply on a freeway on-ramp if you don’t think you see a four-second gap in traffic. That’s an invitation to getting rear-ended, I think.

The second runs counter to my experience, which is that you often are closely following a car after your first lane change, while you look back for traffic in the next lane, another set-up for a rear-ender if the car ahead stops or slows. 

In places like the move across two lanes in Gorst to get into the lane to Port Orchard, and the I-5 weave to reach Highway 16 going toward the Narrows Bridge (now being eliminated by a major construction job), I have found it much safer to check both lanes for traffic and move across both in one motion if traffic allows.

I asked the Department of Licensing, State Patrol and State Traffic Safety office if that is really their position.

The out basket: They let Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton WSP detachment reply for all of them.

“Our state’s traffic safety agencies all stand behind the advice you inquired about from the Washington State Driver’s Guide,” Krista wrote.

 “As a law enforcement officer, I do agree with the advice given regarding space to merge. 

“Yes, if a driver stops on a ramp while trying to merge there is always a hazard of being involved in a rear-end collision.  Fortunately, this does not happen often as most drivers who are merging – as well as those already on the highway – typically speed up or slow down accordingly to allow others to merge in.  The majority of drivers are courteous and I regularly see drivers already on the highway moving over to the left to allow the others space to merge in. 

 “Yes, each lane change should be done as the guide refers to as stair steps.  Moving across more than one lane of traffic is considered a lane travel violation (or unsafe lane change) and carries a penalty of $124.  

“The key is to move into a lane, establish yourself in that lane, and then safely move over to the desired lane.  I have seen more collisions caused by drivers quickly moving across more than one lane at a time.”    

State law requires signaling for 100 feet before changing lanes, so I guess that would constitute “establishing yourself in a lane.”

I asked about multiple lane changes years ago, long before Krista became WSP spokeswoman, and the local office wasn’t able to decide whether my way was legal or not. 

It’s good to have a definitive answer, even though it’s not what I have been doing and I will feel more in peril doing it their way.