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Fact Finders: Driver questions rules when using the center turn lane

We get a number of traffic questions at Fact Finders. This one relates to the center turn lanes.
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 9:41 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We get many traffic questions emailed to Fact Finders. This one relates to the center turn lane on Sunshine near Campbell in Springfield near McDonald’s, Chik-fil-A, and Raising Canes. Some call it ‘Chicken Alley.’

The city of Springfield’s website reads, “Drivers are continually using the middle turn lane in a way it wasn’t intended to be used.” It also claims, “it’s not designed as a driving lane, a passing lane, an acceleration lane, or an extension of the left turn lane. The proper use is to pull into the center lane a short distance from the spot where you are making your left turn, stop while waiting for traffic to clear, then turn.”

Springfield City Traffic Engineer Brett Foster added this in an email.

“Both drivers have the responsibility to operate their vehicle safely. This situation should be rare. Use of a two-way left-turn lane can be done safely. It requires personal prudence, slowing down, and yielding to vehicles as necessary to avoid an accident.”

As for the drivers turning right onto Sunshine and their responsibilities, we reached out to Dan Bracker from Premier Driving Academy. Although he doesn’t represent the Springfield Police Department, he is a retired Missouri State Patrol trooper with years of experience enforcing Missouri’s traffic rules. He told us the driver in the center turn lane must be the one to yield.

“If I’m headed east on Sunshine, and I want to turn left into McDonald’s, I can do so, but I have to yield to oncoming traffic, whether they’re pulling out of a Starbucks or pulling out of a Chick-Fil-A. If I’m making the left from the center turn lane, I have to yield to oncoming traffic,” explained Bracker.

The Missouri Driver’s Handbook addresses this too. It calls that center lane a two-way-left-turn-lane. It says, “Only enter this lane when preparing to slow down or stop before making a left turn from the main roadway. Do not use this lane as a travel lane (a vehicle may not travel in this lane for more than 500 feet),”

The Pennsylvania DOT guide offers an easy-to-understand and more extensive explanation;

If you see a lane in the middle of a two-way street marked on both sides by two lines — one solid outer line and one broken inner line — it means this lane may only be used for left turns (Refer to the diagram in Chapter 2). Drivers traveling in either direction must use this lane to begin their left turns, and drivers entering the road may also use this lane to end their left turn from a cross street before entering the traffic stream.

There are many possible traffic conflicts in this situation:

  • When you enter the center lane to turn left into a driveway or cross the street, you must watch for both oncoming vehicles in the center turn lane and vehicles turning from driveways and cross streets (on your left) into the center turn lane.
  • When you are turning left from a driveway or crossing the street into a center lane, you must watch for through traffic coming from your left, as well as for drivers who are already in the center lane preparing to make a turn from either direction.

FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES BELOW TO SAFELY USE CENTER TURN LANES:

  • Put on your left turn signal at least three to four seconds before entering the left-turn lane.
  • Do not get into the center turn lane too soon. The longer you drive in the center lane, the more likely you are to meet someone head-on coming from the other direction.
  • When you enter the center turn lane, enter it completely. Do not leave the back end of your vehicle sticking into the normal travel lane, blocking traffic.
  • Turn only when it is safe. Look for vehicles coming toward you in the same lane, and ensure a big enough gap before you turn across oncoming traffic. If entering the center lane from a cross street, watch for through traffic and for center lane traffic preparing to turn.

One more thing, keep in mind if there’s an accident, insurance companies will decide who’s at fault.

Back to the viewer question, Should drivers making a right turn onto a street from a restaurant yield to drivers turning from the center turn lane? We’re sliding this to NO. The responsibility to yield belongs to the driver in the center turn lane.

If you have something you want us to investigate, email us at factfinders@ky3.com

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