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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two-way left turn lanes

 Readers regularly wonder about the specific use of two-way left turn lanes. Everyone is certain about their use for making left turns OFF of the roadway (except many are unaware the law restricts travel within the lanes to 300 feet).  But a quandary arises when pondering their use for turning ON to the roadway mid-block from a perpendicular position.

The topic brings up one of the many gray areas I've found in written laws.

Text of the law pertaining to these lanes does not reference such use directly.  A sentence in Revised Code of Washington 46.61.290, defining two-way left turn lanes, reads, “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.”

First, the word “either” implies only two directions:  the two directions of the vehicles opposing one another on the roadway.  But when it says, “or into the roadway,” it implies that the lane may be used for vehicles turning from a perpendicular position of an adjoining road or driveway.

If the latter situation is allowed, then one makes a left turn into the two-way left turn lane from the perpendicular position, but moves right to turn back into the roadway from the two-way lane. Anyway, if turning into the two-way left turn lane is permissible from side roads, driveways, and parking lots, the RCW definition should read, “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 the roadway. Also, vehicles entering the roadway from the side may enter and occupy the two-way left turn lane before merging with traffic on their right.”  That would be clear.

Actually, I believe that the two-way left turn lane is designed essentially for the use of cars travelling in opposing directions, or “either direction,” in the lanes parallel to it, and that in the RCW description, “or into” should be deleted.  Nevertheless, in the interest of time and traffic flow, I use the lanes as an assist when entering busy arterials mid-block.

We all use the two-way lanes as “safe havens” to get to our desired lanes in two steps, taking temporary refuge there until traffic is clear.  Based on what a Washington State Patrol told me during a decades-ago stop, though, it’s not legal.  He said, “That is a two-way left turn lane, not a waiting lane.”  In other words, drivers should wait until traffic on the left, the right, and in the two-way left turn lane is clear before moving across the turn lane onto the road.

His words have stuck with me, but I still use the lanes to facilitate entry onto busy arterials, advancing to the two-way left turn lane when traffic from my left is clear, then waiting there for traffic from the right to clear allowing a merge to the driving lanes.  If I were ever ticketed, I would go to court armed with the “or into the roadway” defense.  When entering the “waiting lane,” be vigilant for vehicles entering the lane for the more common left turn off of the arterial.

Someday the law may be revised with more clarity, but the vagueness could be intentional; it gives drivers, officers, lawyers and judges more interpretive latitude.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.