Traffic Q&A: U-turns are OK, except on most Tacoma roadways

Staff writerFebruary 16, 2014 

Question: I think last week’s Traffic Q&A on U-turns (“U-turns permitted on most roads, as long as they’re done safely”) was inaccurate.

The Tacoma Municipal Code prohibits U-turns throughout the city, except for in uncontrolled intersections and where authorized by a sign or signal. See section 11.05.550 of the Tacoma Municipal Code. (And never take legal advice from cops.)

  • Paul Landry, Tacoma

Answer: The answer wasn’t inaccurate, but it should have been more complete.

Our source, Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill, was talking about state law when he said that U-turns are generally allowed.

He’s right about that. The Revised Code of Washington says U-turns are OK most places as long as you make them safely and you’re not on a curve or hill where your vehicle isn’t visible for 500 feet in either direction.

We noted that “some cities and towns have their own ordinances governing U-turns.” But we failed to mention Tacoma is one of those cities.

In 1992, the city adopted the state’s Model Traffic Ordinance in the RCWs for traffic enforcement, but it deleted the section on U-turns. For that, it relies on its own municipal code, which is much more restrictive.

As you correctly say, U-turns are legal in Tacoma only at uncontrolled intersections when it’s safe to turn, and where a sign or signal specifically says U-turns are authorized.

Those places are rare in Tacoma. The Municipal Code calls out just two places where U-turns are signed and permitted: the intersection of Pacific Avenue and South 17th Street for northbound vehicles and the intersection of Pacific Avenue and South 25th Street for southbound vehicles.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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