Right of way?
November 30, 2007 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Traffic question- Who has the right of way?

Situation - left turn onto larger streets (that have a middle turn lane).

Who has the right of way?

1. Cars that use the middle turn lane as a stepping stone to stop and wait to merge into regular traffic.

2. Cars that take the turn into the correct lane.

I almost got into an accident yesterday because I was taking a turn into the left driving lane and someone that was stopped in the turn lane decided to merge into traffic at the same time. If there was a collision, who would be at fault? (The street had a 35 mph speed limit)
posted by mphuie to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty sure it's car 1 since they can't see car 2 coming.
posted by Durin's Bane at 9:14 AM on November 30, 2007


That center lane is for turning left -- from either direction -- off the main road. That's why it's marked with bendy, left-pointing arrows. It is NOT a merging lane. I would think the merging car would be at fault.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2007


The person traveling straight ahead in their lane pretty much always has the right of way. The person in the middle turn lane (or yellow-painted-stripey median) has to wait for a safe opening.

But for you, it sounds like you were both kind of trying to enter the lane at the same time. I think of that similarly to, say: two cars trying to change into the middle lane of traffic, one from the left and one from the right. One is clearly ahead of the other but there is some overlap and neither can see the other's turn signal. Who has the right of way in that case? I've always figured it was the car in front that has the right of way, because if the driver in back is looking ahead, s/he would see that someone else is entering the lane.

So who was in front? :)

I haven't looked it up, and IANADI (Driving Instructor, even though they seldom know the rules of the road either).
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2007


it doesn't matter who is at fault. what matters is that you should always think in terms of how to make only right turns.
posted by indigo4963 at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2007


Indigo--reminds me of NJ . . .
posted by 6:1 at 9:29 AM on November 30, 2007


Once you're slowed or stopped in any turn lane you have an obligation to turn. If you want to merge into the through lane, you do so illegally, and at your own risk. You had no reason to believe s/he was merging rather than making another left into a business. Tentative drivers are as dangerous as aggressive drivers IMO--and even more annoying, because they stick around longer.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It could get into percentages of fault, but the way I reason it is this. They did something illegal, you did nothing illegal (since, as noted above, the center lane is not a staging area). Therefore the majority of fault would be on them.

Of course, depending on what state it happens in, there may be other factors in the law.

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on or certified in anything.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2007


I'd say the fact that you just made a left turn is irrelevant. The merging car is as fault just as if they merged in front of a car that was going straight.
posted by winston at 9:39 AM on November 30, 2007


State laws may vary, but at least in CA it's not illegal to use the center turning lane to wait before merging. See the Center Left Turn Lane section near the bottom of this page of the CA DMV's driver handbook.
posted by Durin's Bane at 10:00 AM on November 30, 2007


The WA Drivers Manual p35 says these lanes are reserved for vehicles making left turns.
It also says 'The law says who must yield right-of-way, it does not give anyone the right-of-way.'
posted by MtDewd at 10:07 AM on November 30, 2007


The key sentence in the WA manual's section on two way left turn lanes is "These shared center lanes are reserved for vehicles making left turns in either direction from or into the roadway." [italics mine].
posted by Durin's Bane at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2007


I distinctly recall a thread about this where someone actually had been in an accident for exactly this reason (if I interpret the situation correctly). Most of us thought the left turner had the right of way but a lawyer who really knew the law said we were mistaken. When making a left turn it is your responsibility to yield to traffic, period. Even if that traffic comes out of nowhere, if you make a left turn and hit an oncoming car that's going straight, you're at fault.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:24 AM on November 30, 2007


Was it an actual left turn lane the other car was in, or a suicide lane? Because near as I can tell, the suicide lanes are there for that hopping thing, which would make a big difference.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:59 AM on November 30, 2007


Your description confuses me, so I apologize if I am way off.

I take it both car 1 and car 2 are turning from the same street into the same street. Car 1 makes the turn but turns into the middle lane, which is designated for left turns from both directions, and waits to merge into traffic on its (now) right. Car 2 makes the left turn but turns into the lane designated for traffic (the right lane).

You are not supposed to use the left-turn lane as a merger. In fact, vehicles entering a roadway can only do so if it can be done safely and without interfering with the flow of traffic on that roadway.

I think if vehicle 2 ends up colliding with vehicle 1, then vehicle 2 is at fault because vehicle 2 is not yielding right of way. It is possible for every vehicle in a crash to be at fault.

I live in VT so YMMV.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2007


I guess there is no conclusive answer, but by the time the car in the center turn lane begins to merge, I am and have been going straight (if not for a short distance). Don't cars going straight have right of way over cars merging?

It seems also similar to someone coming out of a driveway but not seeing a car turning right around a corner, and only watching for cars that are going straight.
posted by mphuie at 11:20 AM on November 30, 2007


C17H19NO3 has it right, the middle turn lanes are not merging lanes. I'd say that car would be at fault.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:25 PM on November 30, 2007


Who has the right of way?

No one...the law does not grant the right of way to anyone, it only specifies who must yield it. Using that logic as a basis, I would say the person coming out of the turn lane was at fault as anyone entering traffic must yield to vehicles already in traffic (but, again, the vehicles in traffic DO NOT have the right of way). The person making the left needs to yield to other cars in traffic, but the person in the turn lane isn't in traffic yet and therefore must yield to the person making the left.
posted by Spoonman at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2007


As the answers above indicate, the correct answer, in terms of who would have to pay, varies by state by state. So for the correct answer, ask your lawyer.

For an answer that won't cost you anything, ask your insurance agent, if you have a person who is an agent, as opposed to a machine.

And for an answer that is idiosyncratic to state and circumstance, in the states that I've lived in, you would be at fault because you would be using the middle turn lane incorrectly.
posted by peachy at 12:43 PM on November 30, 2007


...and for an answer from someone who hasn't read the question correctly, ask peachy.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:53 PM on November 30, 2007


Sorry, wgp, but the question states I was taking a turn into the left driving lane, meaning, um, that the person was turning.

You perhaps live in a place with different laws than mine, because where I live, the center lanes exist so that cars that are turning can first stop, and wait before they merge into traffic. So the car that turned would be wrong because it would cutting off the car that had already turned, and was in the center lane first, and using the center lane correctly.
posted by peachy at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2007


I would think that cars already on the larger street would have the right of way over you although you may not necessarily be 100% at fault. Avoiding accidents is always Rule #1 over who is right. I also live by the rule of never assuming the other driver is going to do what you expect. This is especially important when driving a motorcycle.
posted by JJ86 at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2007


If I'm reading your question correctly, I think you would be at fault whether or not it is legal in your state to stop in the center turn lane/suicide lane if the car that was there first was in front of you. They are not in a position to see you, so you bear responsibility for driving into them.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2007


peachy, the question states:

1. Cars that use the middle turn lane as a stepping stone to stop and wait to merge into regular traffic.

2. Cars that take the turn into the correct lane.


It sounds to me like mphuie is in car number 2. So if that's the correct lane, then the middle turn lane is the incorrect lane (for merging), no? Where I live, these center lanes are clearly marked (both directions) for left turns only--off the main route, not on. And mphuie, I'm curious why you marked peachy's answer as best answer if you turned into what you called the "correct" lane. OK, now you've unmarked it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2007


Nope, still marked. Doesn't show in preview.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:38 PM on November 30, 2007


I am a civil engineer. I have studied traffic safety at the graduate level and designed many miles of roadway professionally.

I can only speak for Texas, but these types of rules are generally the same nationwide. In this case, right-of-way absolutely belongs to the car turning into the normal lane.

See ยง 545.101(b)(2) of the Texas Transportation Code:
To make a left turn at an intersection, an operator shall: after entering the intersection, turn left, leaving the intersection so as to arrive in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of the vehicle on the roadway being entered.

Turning into the TWLTL (two-way left turn lane...often called a "twittle") would constitute a violation of the above section. You can be ticketed for this.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 4:02 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Exactly. Bingo.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2007


I marked peachy's best answer because it probably is a good idea to ask your insurance agent. They would be the best ones to tell you who ended up at fault as I'm sure these kind of accidents have happened before.

I still think I turned into the correct lane.
posted by mphuie at 4:38 PM on November 30, 2007


I don't know where you live peachy, but the situation you describe--where the center lane is a two-way merging lane--is a collision time bomb, and would not be tolerated. Imagine two cars accelerating head on, each driver looking back over his shoulder to make the merge. Better check with your insurance agent.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:01 PM on November 30, 2007


As the OP is in Seattle, it's a good bet that WA state law is what's relevant (realizing that it wasn't explicitly stated that the incident happened in WA). So, what Durin's Bane said, or to go to the source:

RCW 46.61.290:

(3) Two-way left turn lanes.
(a) The department of transportation and local authorities in their respective jurisdictions may designate a two-way left turn lane on a roadway. A two-way left turn lane is near the center of the roadway set aside for use by vehicles making left turns in either direction from or into the roadway.


Also in the WA Driver's guide section on "Right of Way", page 40:

Drivers entering a road from a driveway, alley,
parking lot, or roadside must yield to vehicles already
on the main road.


mphuie, your original phrasing presumes what is "correct":

2. Cars that take the turn into the correct lane.

I think it would be more appropriate to say "..into a travel lane". From the WA material quoted, I'd say you needed to yield the RoW to the car ahead sitting in the TWLTL waiting to merge into a travel lane (that you are turning into). It wouldn't matter whether you are entering the road via a left or a right turn -- it's legal in WA to enter the TWLTL when turning left into the roadway, and since they are "on the roadway", you need to yield to them if you're entering after.
posted by kanuck at 5:03 PM on November 30, 2007


"Using" a lane when turning onto a roadway could refer to crossing it, rather than using it as a merge lane. "Entering after" doesn't make traffic sense, kanuck, except at four way stops. Vehicles in the TWLTL must yield to traffic in the through lane, regardless of how long they've been waiting. Through traffic cannot be called upon to make some snap judgment as to how long a TWLTL vehicle has been sitting there, or whether it's merging or turning left. If mphuie turns directly into the through lane, he has the right-of-way over the TWLTL vehicle.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:52 PM on November 30, 2007


Shouldn't you wait for all traffic to clear and then pull into the right lane? If you are turing into the left turn lane to ultimately merge into the right lane, that tells me you have done so because cars are coming in the right lane. And by doing so, I think you freak the shit out of driver in the right lane because they think your going to swipe them.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:12 PM on December 1, 2007


Good point, jasondigitized (allowing for the "right/left" confusion). We're talking about five lanes total here, including the center TWLTL. So if you're saying it's best to wait for a gap in the left lane through traffic before even pulling into the TWLTL, that's good advice. Except under extremely busy conditions you'd wait all day, because you must first wait for a gap in the closest two lanes. That's why people use the TWLTL to cross the first two lanes, then wait for an opportunity to merge. It's also why, if you Google TWLTL, you'll find lots of research indicating that TWLTLs are not as effective on busy streets--they might even increase the accident rate. Keep in mind that you also must allow for someone in the very farthest lane who might be considering changing lanes, thus closing your gap. They would also have the right-of-way over you.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2007


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