Dr. Traffic

It’s often a U-turn when you can’t go left

Figuring out who has the right of way before making a U-turn.
Figuring out who has the right of way before making a U-turn.

It seems the only thing more confusing than making a right turn on a red arrow is making a U-turn. At least that’s what I’ve taken from your letters.

Left turns are often blocked by a median in the center of the road or a “no left turn” sign. Every so often you’ve got to “hang a U-bbie” to get where you’re going.

Only sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out who has the right of way, you’ve said.

Here’s an example:

Carol Reith Miller has lived in the Steele Creek area for 22 years and has seen several accidents and near misses because of U-turns at South Tryon Street and Erwin Road.

As she leaves her subdivision, she’s often traveling north on South Tryon and making a U-turn at Erwin to get onto southbound South Tryon.

“The light turns green,” she said. “If nobody is coming from the other direction, you’re safe. If somebody is turning right ... ”

A driver on Erwin could be turning right at a red light onto southbound South Tryon at the same time. There’s no sign in the left lane telling Miller to yield to the driver making a right turn from Erwin, she said.

“You have the perfect storm,” she said.

In this scenario, U-turners have the right-of-way over a vehicle turning right from the side streets as long as the vehicle making a U-turn has a green arrow or flashing yellow arrow, said Jordan-Ashley Walker, N.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson.

Good to know.

The problem with U-turns that Charles Miller of Indian Trail wrote about is scarier.

“Maybe you can help with drivers that think it is OK to make a U-turn at an intersection when the light at the intersection is red in their direction of travel,” he wrote. “I am seeing this done more and more and from what I read it is just like running a red light.”

If the light is red, stay put for everyone’s sake. You can’t turn left.

Meanwhile, Damon Houghton of Charlotte wants us to know there’s a way to keep the left turn lane moving at busy intersections even when someone is making a U-turn.

That got my attention. We all know how frustrating it can be to wait in a long left turn line, especially during rush hour. When you finally get the green arrow to go left – and it won’t last long – somebody slows down, to double back for a Bo biscuit.

Try not to honk. The U-turner has to halt if there’s a sign posted for U-turns to yield to drivers turning right onto the same road from an intersecting street, NCDOT’s Walker said.

This doesn’t sit well with Houghton.

“I have seen other places in the country where it is just the opposite,” he wrote. “If you are turning right (when the light is red), you must still yield to folks making U-turns (since they have a green left arrow). In these places, this makes sense to me.”

Well, if only life in paradise were stress-free.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms