Posts Tagged ‘stop signs’

10 Commonly Misunderstood Rules of the Road

January 22, 2014


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In high school, I missed just one question on my Utah State Driver’s Education written test. I still remember the question:

QUESTION:  When passing another vehicle, how many miles per hour can a driver exceed the posted speed limit?

a) 3 mph

b) 5 mph

c) 10 mph

d) None of the above

Looking back, nearly *cough* twenty years, I still cannot believe I answered “B.” But back then, as a 16 year-old high school student, the trickery was too much for me to resist—the answer just “sounded right.”

I have since realized that this same basic principle happens on our roads nearly every day. Many times we follow “a law” that is not actually “the law” and frequently doesn’t even resemble the law. We do this for the same reason I missed the question above; because it “sounds right” or because we “think” its right. Perhaps you are a more knowledgeable driver than I, but there are definitely some commonly misunderstood driving laws that we could all better understand. Many of these laws are state specific, so outside of Washington these rules may not apply:

  1. Cell Phone Use: By now you are aware that it is against Washington law to “send, read, or write a text message” while operating a moving vehicle. RCW 46.61.668(1). Fewer know that a person “does not send, read, or write a text message when he or she reads, selects, or enters a phone number or name in a wireless communications device for the purposes of making a phone call.” RCW 46.61.668(1). Remember, it is against Washington law to hold “a wireless communications device” to one’s ear while operating a motor vehicle. RCW 46.61.667. So to sum it all up, a driver can look at their phone, dial a number, and hold a conversation so long as the driver does not put the phone to his or her ear or send/read a text message.
  2. Four-Way Stops: I’m not sure how much of this is lack of knowledge, and how much is lack of execution, but this definitely seems to be misunderstood, or perhaps ignored. When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection at approximately the same time, “the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.” RCW 46.61.180.
  3. Stop Signs: Again, I think we all “know” this principle, but here it is good to actually know the specifics. Upon approaching a stop sign, a driver must come to a complete stop behind the “clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering a marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway.” RCW 46.61.190. Additionally, after coming to a complete stop, the driver must proceed through the intersection “in a careful manner and at a reasonable rate of speed not to exceed twenty miles per hour.” RCW 47.36.110.
  4. Left Turns: This law answers the question unanswered by the “four way” stop law above—who has the right of way when two vehicles arrive at an intersection at the same time from opposite directions. “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left…shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.” RCW 46.61.185.
  5. Emergency Vehicles:  Whenever an “emergency vehicle” is “making use of audible and visual signals” or when a “police vehicle” is “making use of an audible signal” every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and “shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.” RCW 46.61.210.
  6. Cross-walks Signals: Pedestrians facing a “WALK” or walking person symbol, may cross the crosswalk in the direction of the signal. Pedestrians facing a flashing “DON’T WALK” or hand symbol shall not enter the crosswalk. RCW 46.61.060.
  7. Yellow Lights: Washington law on this point is relatively unique. In many states, yellow either means “hurry up and stop” or it means “hurry up and go.” A yellow light in Washington means only that “the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.” RCW 46.61.055(2). Essentially this means that a driver facing a yellow light “may proceed through intersection when he can do so before the yellow light turns red.” Brummett v. Cyr, 45 Wa.2d 904 (1960).
  8. U-Turns: In Washington, U-turns are allowed except where signs indicate they are not allowed. Still, U-turns are not allowed “unless such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic.” Further, U-turns are not allowed where “such vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of any other vehicle approaching from either direction within five hundred feet.” RCW 46.61.295.
  9. Embracing Another While Driving: This is a fun one. It is “unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle upon the highways of this state when such person has in his or her embrace another person which prevents the free and unhampered operation of such vehicle.” RCW 46.61.665. It’s worth noting, that violating this rule is complete evidence of reckless driving.
  10. Slow Moving Vehicles: Even I learned something while writing this. So I will end, where I began, with passing a slower moving vehicle. First, “no person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced sped is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.” RCW 46.61.425. However, a driver travelling behind another who is “driving at less than the legal maximum speed” down a road, with only one lane of traffic in each direction, “may exceed the speed limit…at only such a speed and for only such a distance as is necessary to complete the pass with a reasonable margin of safety.” RCW 46.61.425. When performing such a pass, the driver must return to his lane of travel as soon as practicable and before coming within two hundred feet of any approaching traffic. RCW 46.61.120.

The important thing to remember is to be safe on the roads; to drive in a manner that is respectable and courteous of other drivers and to pay attention to your surroundings. As my mom always told me, “just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you should.”

Though the content of this post is entirely mine, it was first featured in Vancouver Family Magazine.  It is used here with permission.


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