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Ask A Cop: What is a special turn lane?

SIMON(A Lake Oswego police officer answers readers’ questions every week In this space. Send your questions to staff reporter Cliff Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-636-1281 ext. 105.)

“I recently got a ticket for misuse of a special turn lane. Can you tell me what that even is?”

A special left turn lane is a median lane marked for left turns by drivers proceeding in opposite directions. They’re created for the purpose of allowing a vehicle to immediately turn left, or to allow a vehicle to merge into the travel lane immediately to their right after having entered the roadway from a driveway, alleyway or other roadway entrance.

Before merging into traffic, the driver must stay stopped until they can safely enter the lane to the right. Failure to use this lane as intended is a ‘Class B’ violation (starting at $260) and citable under ORS 811.346. Having to use the left turn lane to bypass a hazard like a fallen tree, stalled vehicle or other emergency roadway incident is not a violation.

These special left turn lanes can be short in duration or, in the case of a road like Country Club Road, very long. These special left turn lanes are not travel lanes, in the sense that a driver cannot coast along them to pass around traffic; instead,they are designed to allow drivers to turn left into a driveway, onto another road, into an alley, etc.

The best example of a violation of this statute can often be seen during the evening rush hour on Country Club Road as it approaches Iron Mountain Boulevard in Lake Oswego. Drivers heading east into downtown Lake Oswego are often forced to wait in long back-ups in both of the eastbound travel lanes for several hundred feet — and sometimes for more than 1,000 feet — as they near the intersection with Iron Mountain Boulevard. Rather than wait, some motorists pull into the left turn lane and use it to fly by the other vehicles waiting in line.

I completely understand how frustrating it can be to sit behind a long line of cars at an intersection such as this, especially when it seems as if you could just as easily pass everyone by using the left turn lane to get to the intersection more quickly. But this can be dangerous in a number of ways.

For example, a driver who pulls into the left turn lane from a driveway, alley or other roadway in preparation to merge right is expected to come to a complete stop before merging. If there are motorists using the left turn lane like it’s another travel lane, they may not realize that the merging vehicles ahead of them have stopped. And the drivers who are pulling into the left turn lane from the opposite side of the street may not recognize that a motorist is driving in the lane, because it’s unexpected. In either case, there is an increased chance of a crash.

When you have a mix of drivers who are using the left turn lane as intended and those who are racing up behind them, there is also an increased chance of a crash. If a driver moves into the left turn lane at the location applicable to their turn, it’s possible that they could pull in front of a motorist abusing the turn lane, resulting in an angle or rear-end crash because neither driver expected the other to be where they were. Now if we get all of those scenarios occurring at the same time, watch out!

On a public safety and emergency services note, these left turn lanes can be vital to first responders as a way to safely bypass backed-up traffic when responding to an emergency. Tghese lanes keep us from having to enter oncoming traffic lanes or create unnecessary chaos in the roadway. If someone needs help, I want to make sure we can get there as quickly and as safely as we can. 

Please be patient and drive safely.

— Officer Clayton Simon



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