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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Readers react to left turners

Two weeks ago, I wrote of drivers making left turns in heavy traffic at signal-light intersections with no left turn provision.  Two factions exist:  1) drivers who pull into the intersection upon green indication to make a swift left when the oncoming traffic stops upon a red indication, and 2) drivers who wait behind the stop line per the letter of the law until traffic clears before turning.

Difficulty arises when through traffic is so heavy that multiple light cycles occur with no opportunity to make a left turn.  As a result, in the interest of efficient traffic flow, law officers generally do not cite drivers for entering the intersection before they can clear it.

In fact, an anecdote from one reader proves that some officers not only tolerate it, but encourage drivers to pull forward.  P.R. described an episode that made a lasting impression upon him thusly, “Your article in today’s paper reminded me of a time in Los Angeles as a young teen. I was riding as a passenger with my grandmother driving. We were waiting at an intersection in the left turn lane behind the crosswalk. Suddenly a man’s voice blared at us through a p.a. speaker. It turns out that a city policeman was behind us wanting to turn also. He said, ‘Ma’am if you would pull out into the intersection two cars can make it through this light.’ As a young teen it left an impression on me that I have never forgotten.”

And R.T. supplied a worthy caution for drivers who pull forward and wait for traffic to clear during left turns.  He wrote, “Just one small comment on the left turn scenario. I do not remember where I learned this, but I have never forgotten it. When making left turns like the ones discussed in your article, do not crank your wheels to the left until you are actually making the turn. Keep your wheels pointed straight ahead. Why, because if you are rear ended your car will be pushed into the oncoming traffic. 

T.S. remarked on another gray area, wondering, “We all know that at a 4-way unmarked/uncontrolled intersection, a driver must yield to any traffic on his right.  However, in Washington, what are the rules for an uncontrolled 3-way intersection? Some states have the thru road having the right of way.  But in Washington, I could find no exceptions for 3-way intersections giving the right of way to the thru road.  Therefore, one can only conclude that in this state, the rules for yielding to any traffic at unmarked/uncontrolled intersection must be the same as the 4-way. Is this correct?

I also find no exceptions for 3-way uncontrolled intersections in Washington law, so they appear to fall under the “yield to the right” rule. Whether the roads involved are designated as streets, arterials, highways, or whatever, there is no legal provision to modify yield rules at “T” intersections where one road is bigger or “better” than another, or that the through-road gets automatic right-of-way. 

Where the DOT deems one road to be more “major” than another, appropriate traffic control is installed (stop signs or yield signs or signal lights).  In the absence of those, the “yield to the driver on your right” rule applies. Of course, in the real world, driver cooperation hopefully ensues, and drivers from the non-through-roads often yield to vehicles on the through-street.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at