Traffic Q&A: Merging drivers must yield to those on highway

Question: I think you should go over the rules of merging and yielding. People just don’t get it.

I’m merging on the freeway; my blinker is on; I have nowhere else to go. I am not trying to cut you off. Please let me in!

– Denise, Fife

Answer: It’s a classic road-rage situation: merging traffic struggling to get onto the arterial, and traffic on the mainline refusing to give way.

Either that, or merging drivers who think their turn signal gives them the right to move left, no matter what.

Your frustration is understandable, but the law sides with drivers already on the freeway. They have the right-of-way, and they have no obligation – aside from common courtesy – to make life easier for you.

“The responsibility to safely merge into traffic from an on-ramp lies with the driver of the merging vehicle,” said Trooper Guy Gill, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol. “Traffic on the freeway has the right of way. There is no law that requires a driver occupying the right lane on the freeway to move over, slow down or take any other action to let a merging vehicle on the freeway.”

Two Washington statutes come into play, said Tacoma attorney Paul Landry, The News Tribune’s traffic consultant.

“First, under RCW 46.61.195, all highways are designated as arterials, and so the driver on the arterial is the favored driver,” Landry said. “Then, under RCW 46.61.190, the vehicle entering the arterial must yield the right of way to the vehicle which is already on the arterial.”

The Department of Licensing’s Washington State Driver Guide advises the vehicle on the arterial to move over a lane and make room for vehicles entering a roadway that has two or more lanes, but there’s no legal obligation to do so.

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