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TRAFFIC Q&A - Left turn on red OK on one-way

HUNTER T. GEORGE; The News Tribune
Published: December 18th, 2006 01:00 AM

Question: Three readers – Fred Gottfried and Mike Henson of Tacoma and Paul Guilfoil of Olympia – want to know: Is it legal to make a left turn during a red light when turning from a two-way street onto a one-way street?

Answer: Yes.

“This is one of the most underused and best kept secrets in traffic laws out there,” Washington State Patrol trooper William Ashcraft said in an e-mailed reply. “Yes, it is legal to turn left on a red light onto a one-way street from a two-way or one-way street, as long as there are no restrictive signs prohibiting the turn.”

He noted that drivers also must first come to a complete stop and yield to oncoming traffic.

Unlike downtown Seattle, there are not many places in Tacoma to take advantage of this. The most common place would be on most on-ramps to the freeway, Ashcraft said. The State Patrol considers onramps to be one-way lanes, unless the exit ramp is right next to the onramp.

Ashcraft said he’s seen less than two dozen people take advantage of the law in his 15 years with the patrol.

“It just looks like an illegal turn, and I’ve even had people that are sitting behind me honk when I turn left on the red,” he said.

When in doubt, he added, it’s better to just wait for the green light.

Got a question about traffic congestion, construction, spending or other transportation issues? Send it to Include your name, hometown and daytime telephone number. We’ll answer as many as we can.

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