Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road: Can I use center turn lane to pass stopped vehicles?

Question: Is it legal to use the middle turn lane, say on Cornwall Avenue south of Alabama Street, to pass a bus or a postal vehicle while they are stopped? I’ve seen cars do this but then get stuck in the turn lane because the bus pulls back into the traffic lane because it’s open as the passing car is completely in the turn lane trying to pass.

Answer: The short answer would be no.

There are actually a couple of RCWs that discuss lane movement, but your question deals specifically with a two-way left turn lane. The following code is the best answer to your question.

RCW 46.61.290 Required position and method of turning at intersections. (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 300 feet within the lane. A signal, either electric or manual, for indicating a left turn movement, shall be made at least 100 feet before the actual left turn movement is made.

Question: Why doesn’t Bellingham have a “Through traffic stay in left lane” policy for its seven exits like many busy cities located on the interstate do? It seems like this would alleviate many of the accidents and close calls on Interstate 5 that we see.

Answer: Not knowing which areas you are referencing with the “many busy cities” on the interstate, I will have to base this response on my observations. I-5 through Bellingham has two lanes that enter and continue all the way through Bellingham. Many of the other cities on the interstate have lanes that will join onto and then become exit-only lanes from the interstate. Through downtown Seattle there are lanes that come onto and exit the interstate freeway system on both the left and right hand sides of the freeway. In that area, there are signs that indicate the through traffic should stay in two marked lanes.