Ah, spring, when a young (shaddup!) traffic columnist’s fancy turns to baseball, and, if you were raised by our mother, cleaning.
In the spirit of the latter, this week we are emptying our notebooks of some questions that have been gathering dust.
Our house? Eh, what’s a little dirt among relatives?
Q: Why do crews working on the Interstate 5 HOV project through Tacoma keep painting and repainting solid white lines on the pavement? And can I legally cross those lines? — Pamela P., Tacoma
A: We’re sure you’ve seen them, fellow travelers, both in the northbound and southbound lanes of our fair interstate.
They often seem to appear out of nowhere: Nothing one day, lane lines the next.
So what gives?
We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters put the question to Cara Mitchell, ace spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
“The solid, narrow lane striping is typically installed to help drivers delineate lanes in areas where lanes are being shifted within the construction zone.”
And there have been several lane shifts over the past 1 million years these projects have been grinding down our souls.
Anyhow, what about crossing them?
“In this particular location along I-5, drivers can change lanes in these areas,” Mitchell said.
It occurred to us to ask why crews don’t just put down dotted lines to make it clear that lane changes are OK.
“We have found that, sometimes, dotted markings are not as distinct and clear in these temporary lane shifts in construction zones during rainy nights. It’s truly for the benefit of the driver and for safety.”
There you go.
Q: Is it legal to have earbuds in both ears while driving? — Therese N., Tacoma
A: Therese said she spotted such activity recently.
“I thought it was illegal to wear headphones or earbuds while driving,” she wrote to us. “Am I wrong?”
This is one of those nebulous areas that drives law enforcement officers and traffic columnists crazy.
RCW 46.37.480, titled, “Television viewers — Earphones,” addresses the topic.
The pertinent verbiage is this:
“No person shall operate any motor vehicle on a public highway while wearing any headset or earphones connected to any electronic device capable of receiving a radio broadcast or playing a sound recording for the purpose of transmitting a sound to the human auditory senses and which headset or earphones muffle or exclude other sounds.”
It’s that “muffle or exclude other sounds” bit that’s tricky.
Off we went to Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool for clarification.
Technically, Cool said, earphones, earbuds or headsets manufactured specifically to dampen or exclude outside sounds would be illegal.
Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol pointed out that WAC 204-10-045 indicates that drivers may only use an earpiece or headset that covers one ear if they are talking on their “hands free” cellular telephones while driving.
Still, Cool said, better safe than sorry.
“If you could please tell your readers to not use any type of phone or earbud set-up while driving, it would probably be the best thing you could convey,” she told us.
“When you are concentrating on what you are hearing in a conversation, you are not paying attention to the traffic. And hearing a horn sounded in warning is way better than any song you could be listening to.”
What Officer Cool said.
Q: What’s the proper stopping point at a red light, the solid white line or the crosswalk? — Fran V., Port Orchard
A: Fran asks because she recently received a citation for eschewing the solid white “stop line” and halting her rig before the marked crosswalk.
She’s contested the ticket and has a hearing next month.
We fear it won’t go well for her.
RCW 46.61.055 is unambiguous about where one must stop when one encounters a red light:
“Vehicle operators facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection control area …”
Sorry, Fran, if there’s a “clearly marked stop line,” you have to stop there.
And ... we’re out.
Happy belated vernal equinox!