Traffic Q&A: U-turns permitted on most roads, as long as they’re done safely

Staff writerFebruary 9, 2014 

Question: My sister was stopped for making a U-turn, and she had a conversation with an officer who said that U-turns are absolutely, 100 percent forbidden.

Yet that same week, I saw two other people make U-turns. One of those happened to be a Tacoma transit utility person.

What the officer said totally flabbergasted me. Are U-turns really always illegal? — Patti, Tacoma

Answer: In certain places they are, but, generally speaking, Washington law is fairly lenient with regard to U-turns. They’re prohibited only on curves or hills where your vehicle is not visible for at least 500 feet in either direction.

However, the law also says U-turns must be “made in safety,” without interfering with other traffic. Keep in mind that your sense of this might not be the same as that of the police officer watching you.

It’s possible your sister was in a place where other restrictions apply. Some locations are posted with “No U-turn” signs. The emergency connectors in the medians of freeways are off-limits. Also, some cities and towns have their own ordinances governing U-turns.

“I’ve seen a lot of collisions caused by U-turns over the years,” said Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill. “In most of those cases, drivers simply failed to yield the right of way to other vehicles either oncoming or vehicles coming up behind them.

“Drivers need to also keep in mind road and weather conditions, time of day, traffic volumes and possibilities of pedestrian traffic,” Gill said. “Good, attentive drivers should have no problem doing U-turns as long as they’re done safely and in accordance with the law.”

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