A response to my SE Examiner article from a thoughtful neighbor:
In your article (entitled "Best Practices for Making Vision Zero Work") in the May 2018 edition of SE Examiner, you state that "sitting out in the middle of an intersection waiting for the path to clear....(to) make a left turn" is "poor driving practice. You might even get a citation for it."
This is contrary to what I've been taught in driver's ed years ago. I understand that when facing a green light, one should pull into an intersection to make a(n) (unprotected) left turn, then await for a clearing to do so.
A California Highway Patrol spokesperson notes that "if a person is driving straight through an intersection (NOT TURNING) law requires a motorist to enter the intersection, only when there is enough room to completely traverse the intersection. For drivers making a left turn, this rule does not apply!
If a driver faces a green light, they are authorized to enter the intersection and wait for clearance to complete their turn. HOWEVER, the driver is not allowed to enter the intersection for a left turn if they are facing a yellow light." (underlined emphasis is mine)
I am one of those annoyed by misinformed drivers who await a clearing for an unprotected left turn by waiting behind the intersection. These drivers might be left idling where they sit until rush hour is over, if they wait until there is a clear (unprotected) left turn during a green light. Your article encourages continuing this poor driving behavior.
Per ORS 811.260, Oregon driving laws appear to allow a driver to enter an intersection when the light is green to make a left turn:
Green signal. A driver facing a green light may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at that place prohibits either turn. A driver shall yield the right of way to other vehicles within the intersection at the time the green light is shown.
Please clarify the legality in Oregon of pulling into an intersection, then waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before making a left turn, and cite the original language describing how doing so (assuming light is green) is unlawful and might result in issuance of a "citation."
Absent this, please print a correction to your article that points out that this is precisely good (and not "poor") driving practice.
And my reply:
Hi Laurelhurst Neighbor,
Thanks for reading my article on Vision Zero. I appreciate that you’ve carefully thought about the issue of unprotected left turns. It’s clear you care about good driving.
In your email, you astutely observe that they do things a little differently in California! In that state, it’s unambiguously legal to idle in the middle of an intersection while waiting to make an unprotected left turn.
If you’ll notice, though, the Oregon code is not so unambiguous. ORS 811.260 states that a "driver shall yield the right of way to other vehicles within the intersection at the time the green light is shown.” The wording suggests that it’s the “other vehicles” that are within the intersection, not the driver’s vehicle.
Last year, I spoke with a state trooper from Boardman about the issue of unprotected left turns. He was of the opinion that waiting in the intersection is, if not outright illegal, at the least, inadvisable. But due to the ambiguity in the code, enforcing the rule is at the discretion of the officer who observes the driving behavior.
Yes, if a driver idles in an intersection waiting to make an unprotected left turn, an officer probably won’t cite the driver, unless, as a result of the driver’s decision-making, the circumstances become especially dangerous. Accordingly, note that I write in the article that “you might get a citation,” not that you will.
As I also write in the article, a better alternative is to simply find a different route—one where you’re not put in the position of feeling like you have to idle in an intersection to make an unprotected left turn. Consider the situation as a whole. It’s just inherently risky to sit in an intersection. By their nature, intersections are one of the most volatile, therefore riskiest features of our traffic highway system.
So I suggest that, rather than begrudge those drivers who wait behind the legal stop before making an unprotected left turn, you applaud them! They're practicing safe driving.
Thanks again for your thoughtful email,