Question: Is there such a thing in Washington state as a free left?
I’ve had two police officers and a trooper tell me that a free left is OK after a full stop and with no oncoming or cross-wise traffic. I can see lots of room for abuse with this law since we have a bunch of people who don’t stop at stop signs anymore.
I wondered if it were true and something they were trying to keep low-key so it wouldn’t cause more accidents instead of saving more gas. — Peggy Anderson, Tacoma
Answer: Calling it a “free left” is probably too sweeping, but, yes, the opportunities to make left turns at red lights are more plentiful in Washington than many drivers recognize.
The fact that you can make a left turn on a red from a one-way street onto another one-way street won’t surprise most people.
But it’s less well-known that you can also make a left against the light from a two-way street onto a one-way street.
Check out section 46.61.055 of the Revised Code of Washington and you’ll see that it allows drivers at a “steady circular red signal” to make a “left turn from a one-way or two-way street into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the left turn.”
You do have to stop first, of course, and make sure there’s no traffic coming and no sign prohibiting the turn.
The RCW goes on to say:
Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall remain stopped to allow other vehicles lawfully within or approaching the intersection control area to complete their movements. Vehicle operators planning to make such turns shall also remain stopped for pedestrians who are lawfully within the intersection control area as required by RCW 46.61.235(1).