In Washington, certain driving maneuvers are allowed when drivers deem them to be “safe.” That may seem vague, but the rules of the road governing certain procedures leave their legality up to individual driver judgment.
There are two examples within the same email from reader R.B., reading, “Bernard Street has diagonal parking on both sides of the street, and a double yellow (solid) between the lanes. I am trying to find out if it is legal to not only cross the double yellow but basically do a "U" turn to take a parking space on the opposite side of the street which you are driving.”
First, as I’ve noted in past columns, it is legal to turn left across those solid double lines. As long as there is no posted signage disallowing such a turn, or the markings do not represent a painted median (18-in side solid line or double lines with cross-hatching), the Washington Driver Guide specifies that drivers “may cross double yellow lane markings (except medians) if it is safe.”
Regarding a subsequent U-turn, Revised Code of Washington 46.61.265 specifies, “(1) The driver of any vehicle shall not turn such vehicle so as to proceed in the opposite direction unless such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic. (2) No vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any curve, or upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade, where such vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of any other vehicle approaching from either direction within five hundred feet.”
Therefore, as with a turn across yellow lines, written law allows U-turns when they can be “made in safety,” further specifying certain situations that would compromise such safety.
So, in the absence of posted signage prohibiting U-turns, it seems, meeting suggested safety conditions, that the proposed maneuver made by R.B. would be legal.
For Idaho drivers, the rules are essentially the same. In both states, the double yellow lines are essentially in place to disallow vehicles travelling in either direction from passing other vehicles travelling in the same direction, but both states allow left turns across them per the “safety” rule.
Idaho Statute 49-629 specifies that drivers can take that legal left, “into or out of an alley, private road, driveway or roadway,” and even goes further to state its legality when, “making a U-turn under the rules governing that turn.”
Idaho Statute 49-645 governs that U-turn, but is titled, “Limitations on turning around.” It contains text essentially identical to RCW 46.61.265 above, stating the “safety” requirement and other cautionary conditions such as grade and distance. The Idaho law also adds that a U-turn cannot be legally made to change direction in posted “no passing” zones.
It’s always good to know and understand the details of the rules of the road, especially when those laws leave some degree of their implementation up to the judgment of individual drivers.
In other words, if a law enforcement officer has a differing opinion of your interpretation of those rules and cites you for an infraction, knowledge of the law that influenced your decision to behave in a certain way will be invaluable when in front of a judge in traffic court.
Applying experience and common sense is a worthy endeavor when driving, but combining that with specific knowledge of the road rules is even better.
Readers may contact Bill Love via email at email@example.com.