What's up with that? Left turn on red OK from two-way to one-way street

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Have driving rules changed, allowing for a left turn against a red light when turning from a two-way road to a one-way? The last I read the driver’s manual, the only left turn allowed on a red light is from a one-way to a one-way. My husband and I have recently seen C-Tran buses turning left on a red light at the intersection of Evergreen and Washington downtown. They were all heading west on Evergreen and turning South onto Washington from the left turn lane. The light was most definitely red! We have seen it happen three times at different times of day within the last few weeks. They approach the intersection, stop, and then proceed left. I am concerned.

— Sherry Rusunen, Felida

It does appear to be legal, Sherry. And not just for C-Tran. You could make that same left on red, too, and it doesn’t matter if the street you’re turning from is one-way or two-way. Just as long as it’s into the flow of traffic on a one-way street.

“This issue has come up before, and it surprises people,” said C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson. “It does not appear to be commonly understood.” He added that C-Tran bus drivers are subject to all traffic laws “and are ticketed as appropriate.”

Truly, we were pretty amazed here in the newsroom — including those of us who were trained to drive here in Washington state. You really can make a left on red from a two-way, across the flow of traffic, onto a one-way? Yup. Doesn’t that seem sort of dangerous?

Well — maybe not. Syd Muzzy, the owner-operator of 911 Driving School in Salmon Creek, pointed out that there shouldn’t be any conflict — because the opposing traffic is stopped at a red light, too.

“The oncoming traffic is also stopped,” he said. “You are not crossing through moving traffic. You have to stop first. Then you may turn left from a two-way street onto a one-way.”

Here’s the lawerly detail embedded in Revised Code of Washington sections 46.61.055 (3)(a) and (3)(c), regarding both red lights and red arrows (with emphasis added):

“(T)he vehicle operators facing a steady circular red signal (or red arrow indication) 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.”

So: unless there’s a sign saying don’t, a left-on-red from a two-way street onto a one-way is legal.

The law continues: “Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall remain stopped to allow other vehicles lawfully within or approaching the intersection control area to complete their movements. Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall also remain stopped for pedestrians who are lawfully within the intersection control area as required by RCW 46.61.235(1).”

So: You must stop, look around and let all other traffic and pedestrians pass by before you make this maneuver. Got that?

Now let’s be careful out there.

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.