Question: Recently, Rules of the Road answered that it is illegal for a vehicle in the left-hand turn lane to occupy the middle of the intersection (the box) as the light becomes red so as to obstruct cross traffic.
However, when the signal light is green is it legal to enter the intersection box while waiting for oncoming traffic to clear or stop, or does the turning vehicle have to stay behind the white stop bar stripe until a safe turn can be made?
Further clarification of the rule would be helpful as some drivers enter the intersection on a green signal, while others stop and wait behind the stop bar stripe.
Question: Is it legal for a vehicle in the left-turn lane to wait in the middle of the intersection to complete the turn as soon as the light turns red? I frequently see as many as two cars making left turns against a red light while traffic with a green light has to wait for these vehicles to complete their left turns.
Answer: My previous answer apparently caused some discussion, so let me try to elaborate.
When you can enter the intersection: If the road you are turning onto is clear but you're unable to make the left turn because of oncoming traffic, you MAY, but are not required to, enter the intersection to wait until traffic clears for you to turn.
The advantage to being in the intersection is you are committed to making the turn and may finish it when oncoming traffic stops. This is most advantageous if you are at an intersection that does not have a dedicated left-turn signal. The signals in Bellingham have a delay where the light is red in all directions for a short time. This should allow any cars in the intersection to complete their movement without blocking cross traffic.
The disadvantage to being in the intersection is that once you have left the sensor loop area, it believes you have finished the movement and no longer recognizes your vehicle. This allows the signals to continue on with their cycle.
For the law, go online to read RCW 46.61.055, Traffic control signal legend.
When you can't enter the intersection: If the street you are turning onto is backed up so you would be unable to turn onto it without blocking the intersection, you can't enter until the destination is clear. The same holds true when going straight - if traffic ahead is backed up so you would be stuck temporarily in the intersection, you can't move into it until there is enough room for your vehicle on the other side out of the intersection.
The law for this is RCW 46.61.202, Stopping when traffic obstructed: No driver shall enter an intersection or a marked crosswalk or drive onto any railroad grade crossing unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection, crosswalk, or railroad grade crossing to accommodate the vehicle he or she is operating without obstructing the passage of other vehicles, pedestrians, or railroad trains notwithstanding any traffic control signal indications to proceed.
ABOUT RULES OF THE ROAD
Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.
Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.
For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to bellinghamherald.com/traffic.