The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Opinion

October 9, 2012

U-turns legal with few exceptions

I almost had a serious wreck on a busy part of Wesley Street in Greenville last week when a car pulled out in front of me while doing a u-turn.  The car had been sitting in the turn-lane waiting for a clear area to turn, and didn’t see me turn onto the street. Isn’t it illegal to do a u-turn on five-lane streets? — David, Greenville

No — there is no Texas law making u-turns generally illegal on large streets. The only law that covers u-turns in general is in the Traffic Code, and it is not based on the size of the road but the visibility to the driver. Basically, it says a driver may make u-turns legally as long as they can see at least 500 feet in the direction of oncoming traffic.

Having said that, there are numerous local ordinances that make u-turns illegal on various city streets. In areas where u-turns are prohibited, the law may only be enforced if the municipality erects a “no u-turn” sign — similar to those erected at many intersections.

If no sign exists, and if oncoming traffic is visible for 500 feet, a driver may make a legal u-turn under the same rules as a normal left turn — i.e., you may not turn left at a red light and you must yield to oncoming traffic.

The other day I was driving with my mother who always makes it a point to stop on the entrance ramp before entering interstate highway. She did this on I-30 and almost got us killed by a semi-truck that had to drive on the dirt shoulder to avoid rear-ending us. She said she didn’t care about almost getting hit because he should have stopped as well. Will you please answer this for us: Is it illegal to stop on an interstate entrance ramp?

No, but it is a bad idea and very likely to get the driver or another motorist killed. Also, it is “illegal” to drive recklessly, and an officer seeing a vehicle stop on an entrance ramp is likely to write a ticket for reckless driving.

There is no law in Texas that requires a motorist to stop on an interstate entrance ramp. Nor has that ever been the law. The only law governing the use of entrance ramps is that the vehicle entering traffic must yield to vehicles already on the road.  The only reason a driver should ever stop on an entrance ramp is if the highway traffic is also stopped.

The state and federal governments spend millions of dollars every year on land and materials for long entrance ramps so that vehicles entering traffic have the time and space needed to reach high speeds before they merge into traffic. Stopping on an entrance ramp is not only dangerous because it means the vehicle will not have time to reach speed before merging, but it is also dangerous because other drivers on the ramp are paying attention to what is behind them.

These same ideas and reckless driving rules also apply to merging onto a highway from a stop on the shoulder. If you are stopped on a shoulder to change a tire or for some other emergency, you should not pull directly into traffic from a stop.  Instead, you should use your turn signal and carefully build up speed on the shoulder before merging.

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