Rules of the Road: How much over speed limit before I get pulled over?

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 23, 2013 

Question: How fast do I have to be going over the posted speed limit for an officer to be able to pull me over?

Answer: You may be stopped for any speed over the posted limit. Generally officers allow some leeway due to the inconsistencies of vehicle speedometers.

Q: I am a regular driver on Sunset Drive. At the traffic signal on Woburn Street as well as at Orleans Street it is quite common for vehicles who are way far back in the line to use that lane for what seems like a long distance up to the light. I have seen close calls when a car ahead of me pulls over into the left turn lane without noticing a car speeding up from far back in that left lane. I would like to understand how those lanes should be used.

A: A great question with a lot of moving parts. The intersections you ask about both have two-way left-turn lanes leading up to a dedicated left turn lane. There is a specific break in the lane lines showing where you should pull into the left turn lane.

During our "rush hour," we will frequently see that traffic is backed up well past that location. Cars that wish to turn left frequently will pull into the two-way left turn lane to pass the cars going straight ahead so that they may make their left turn. Technically, this is illegal because you are using the lane to pass cars proceeding in the same direction. Practically, you will probably have an issue only if you are involved in a collision with a vehicle entering the lane in front of you. See below for the relevant legal sections.

A portion of this that was not asked about are the people that pull into the oncoming lane of traffic to get to the left turn lane when traffic is backed up at a signal. This should get you an infraction for "Failure to Stay Right of Center Line," if it is seen by an officer.

RCW 46.61.290, Required position and method of turning at intersections. (2) Left turns. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the vehicle on the roadway being entered. (3) Two-way left turn lanes. (c) Upon a roadway where a center lane has been provided by distinctive pavement markings for the use of vehicles turning left from either direction, no vehicles may turn left from any other lane. A vehicle shall not be driven in this center lane for the purpose of overtaking or passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction. No vehicle may travel further than three hundred feet within the lane. A signal, either electric or manual, for indicating a left turn movement, shall be made at least one hundred feet before the actual left turn movement is made.

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David Wright is a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

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