Turn Lanes and Right-of-Way
Alfred asked: Does a motorist in a left turn lane of a divided road with left turn signals on retain the right of way to the straight thru lanes over a bicyclist crossing the intersection? I always thought it is illegal to change lanes from a left turn lane.
Let me restate the question to see if I have it right. A motor vehicle is in a left-turn-only lane with turn indicators on. A bicycle (Or any other vehicle) is crossing the intersection either left to right or right to left. At the last minute, the motorist decides to continue straight instead of turning, and moves from the left-turn-only lane to the through lane. What are the right-of-way implications? We will assume there are no traffic control signal lights designating right-of-way.
This was discussed from a different perspective in the 7 July post – Bicycles in Left or Right Turn Lanes. In that case cyclists were in the turn lane, but continued straight through the intersection. The assumption was that there was no conflicting traffic, so the right-of-way implications were not discussed. The same laws apply though.
s. 316.089 – Driving on Roadways Laned for Traffic – Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic…
(3) Official traffic control devices may be erected directing specified traffic to use a designated lane or designating those lanes to be used by traffic moving in a particular direction regardless of the center of the roadway; and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of such device.
Drivers of all vehicles, including bicycles, are entitled to the expectation that others will obey the traffic laws, and may act accordingly. By violating the statute above and indicating the planned left turn, the motorist has the responsibility to insure future actions do not endanger others. The motorist should yield right-of-way if there is potential for conflict. If the lane change is made in the beginning of a long left turn lane, the right-of-way considerations are less clear. In that case, both the motorist and the cyclist would have more time to evaluate the circumstances.
Intersections are dangerous. The laws are designed to indicate respective right-of-way, but not all know or comply with the laws. We must be alert and drive defensively.