Rules of the Road -Turning Into Center Lane

When turning left from a side street onto a busy roadway, can you pull into the roadway’s center turn lane and stop, waiting for traffic to clear before merging right to complete the turn?

This left-turn maneuver does appear to be legal (see excerpts below). But perhaps the bigger question is, “Should you do it?”

On that point, safety experts are clear. Left turns are 10 times more likely to end in an accident than right turns. The difference is so dramatic that United Parcel Service (UPS) trains drivers to avoid left turns whenever reasonable and estimates that, at least in busy commercial areas, UPS trucks turn right 90% of the time. (It’s a different story in sleepier residential areas with meandering streets that give few options to turning left.)

You might think looping the block (making only right turns) might waste time and gas, but UPS seems to think that’s offset by eliminating long periods of idling as drivers wait for busy traffic to clear so they can turn left.

Washington RCW 46.61.290:
(3) Two-way left turn lanes.

  1. 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.

However, note that it’s illegal to drive in the turn lane to match speed with the cars in the lane you’re trying to enter.


From Pemco Insurance newsletter

1 comment to Rules of the Road -Turning Into Center Lane

  • J M

    Sorry, how does this show it’s legal? The way I read it is it’s a “left turn lane” and since you’re technically not turning left (because you’ve already made your turn) you’re actually using it as a merge lane, which it doesn’t state is allowable.

    As vendors have left our business from a side street to a busy 5 lane road they have used the left turn lane as a merge lane and have been cited for improper lane use. In speaking with the drivers they told me SPD was very clear on the use of the center lane and how it is only to be used for turning left, not merging.

    Oh, and to be clear you have to turn into the next road or driveway rather than drive blocks and blocks down the center turn lane because the traffic is backed up. This is a major pet peeve of mine and I’d love to see more citations given for those that speed up the center lane.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>