Section 7 - TRAFFIC LAWS AND LESSONS

Immature people treat laws as if they were created for other people, not
them. They act as if legislation was designed to prevent them from having
fun. Like children, they do not understand that laws are made by people
for people. The intent of any law is to improve the quality of life, not
to diminish it. Laws are simply "rules" for living. They permit people to
live safely and effectively with each other.

Imagine trying to learn a language that had no rules to guide you.
Imagine playing a game without any rules. Without the guidance of rules,
even the universe could not function. Rules are to living what railroad
tracks are to trains. They provide the direction and even the means of
reaching a destination.

"Rules are to living what railroad tracks are to trains. They provide the
direction and even the means of reaching a destination."

Adhering to these rules is in the best interest of everyone. When one of
these rules is broken, safety suffers; and people can be injured or
killed. For that reason, the State of Virginia has a system of
enforcement to ensure that the rules are kept, but it is not a
comprehensive system. There are not enough police or highway patrol
officers to watch everyone all the time. Something else is required. That
"something else" is self-enforcement.

Fortunately, most people are mature enough to recognize the value of
rules. They are self-regulators. Even with no one watching to "catch"
them, they follow the rules. Every time you get behind a steering wheel
and start an engine, you are taking your life and the lives of others in
your hands. Mature people understand this, and that is why they are self-
regulators. The consequences of drunk drivers, drivers who ignore stop
signals, drivers who exceed the speed limits, or others who flout the
rules are seen in the newspapers every day. The cost in human suffering
and hardship is staggering. Unfortunately, not all drivers are self-
regulating. Not all drivers self-enforce the driving laws. That is why
others must enforce the laws.

Who creates the laws

Of course, state legislators in every state ultimately decide the traffic
laws for state highways, county and city legislators can pass certain
laws for their jurisdictions, and the federal government passes federal
laws. But who decides what is necessary? Along with city, county, state,
and federal governments, there are special interest groups who influence
which laws are passed. Insurance companies and environmental groups are
among those who influence traffic legislation.

In 1966, traffic laws were standardized, based on tested safety
techniques for pedestrians and drivers. It should be apparent from
scientific research and even to the casual observer that when people obey
traffic laws, traffic injuries and fatalities are fewer. Think of traffic
laws as the government's contribution toward keeping you and your loved
ones alive.


There are four basic types of traffic signs: Regulatory Signs, Warning
Signs, Marker Signs, and Guide and Informational Signs. Traffic signals
and signs are posted to regulate you, to warn you, to tell you where you
are, and to guide and inform you.

Regulatory Signs

Signals and signs regulate the flow of traffic by assigning lanes,
setting standards for turns and direction, and defining intersection
crossing patterns. Common traffic regulating signals and signs are
"stoplights," "stop signs," and "Yield." Speed limit signs are also
regulatory signs.

Warning Signs

Signals and signs warn drivers of possible danger by telling them of such
hazards as curves and slippery pavement to ensure everyone an equal
chance to reach his or her destination. The sign "Divided Highway Ends"
indicates where a separation strip or dividing barrier ends. It is
warning a driver that only the lines painted on the highway will separate
approaching traffic from your vehicle. Some other important danger signs
are "Curve ahead," "Soft shoulder," "Deer (or other animal) crossing,"
and "School zone." They all mean to slow down, to exercise caution, or
both! Warning signs are usually yellow.

Marker Signs

Signals and signs provide markers to indicate such information as which
highway a driver is traveling. Marker signs can be either blue or white.

Guide & Informational Signs

Signals and signs guide and inform you by providing information, such as
where an airport or rest station is located and how many miles it is to a
driver's destination. Guide and Informational signs are usually either
green or blue.


Yellow lines, broken yellow lines, red curbs, white curbs - what do they
all mean? Painted areas on the pavement and curbs are signals alerting
drivers to what they might expect from others or to tell what drivers may
or may not do.

Passing Lanes

Yellow and white lines are placed on the pavement to separate traffic
lanes moving in opposite directions. You stay on your side, and I'll stay
on mine. The National Highway Transportation System, combined with state
regulations, has implemented a family of pavement markings to indicate
when and where a driver can pass safely. The rules are not intended to
slow you down; they are intended to save your life. When you see a "no-
passing" area, it is there for that reason.

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A - A Solid Double Yellow Line separates traffic in both directions. When
a driver sees a solid double line, it is never legal to pass another
vehicle unless there are two or more lanes in the driver's direction of
travel. The driver may cross a solid double line only to enter a driveway
or a private road. If a U-turn permitted sign is posted, the driver may
make a U-turn across a solid double line. Of course, any of these
maneuvers may be made only if it is safe to make them.


B - Two Sets of Solid Yellow Lines. These lines mark a strip of pavement
two or more feet wide. Consider them the same as a concrete barrier.
Drivers may not cross or drive over them. They may not make a left or U-
turn over them. As long as the lines are solid, drivers should think of
them as a wall. They may cross only where the lines are broken and permit

C/D - Left turn center lane in the middle of a two-way street. The lane
is marked on both sides by two painted lines. The inner line is broken;
the outer line solid. When this lane is available, the driver should use
it to begin or end left turns or to start a permitted U-turn.

E - Drivers should move into the broken line bike lane at a point no more
than 200 feet before making a right turn. As they are moving into the
bike line, they should be on careful watch for bicyclists and


Turning Lanes

On a two-way street, left-turn lanes are positioned toward the center of
the road and outlined by two painted lines. The inner line is
broken/dashed, and the outer line is dashed or continuous. These lanes
may be used only to turn left and may not be used to pass another
vehicle. To use this lane, drivers must be entirely within its borders.
They should not allow their vehicle to stick out beyond the borders at an
angle blocking traffic in other lanes. They should signal their turn and
then turn only when it appears safe to do so.

I keep mentioning "only when it is safe to do so" because there is a
misconception some drivers have that when the law allows something, they
think they should then be able to do it; and other drivers will just
naturally allow it. For example, just because a lane allows a left turn
does not mean that drivers can turn left whenever they want. They may
turn only when it is safe. If a traffic signal turns green, that does not
mean that they can forget about cross-traffic. Some other driver may run
his or her red light. So, even though a driver has a green light, he or
she must proceed with caution.

Bicycle Lanes

A solid white line along either side of the street marks a bicycle lane
or path. This line will be found four or more feet from the curb and will
usually be broken near the corner. The designation "Bike Lane" may be
painted at intervals or displayed on signs posted near the edge of the
curb. Bicycle lanes on city and county streets are not controlled by the
state. Instead, local government controls them and may pass ordinances
affecting bicycle paths and lanes. The only times a driver may enter a
bicycle lane is either to park or to turn right. In certain localities,
local regulations will permit entering a bicycle lane only within 200
feet of a driver's turn. Pedestrians are not allowed in bicycle lanes
when sidewalks are available, but motorized bicycles may use bicycle
lanes. How particular bicycle lane usage is enforced from place to place
will vary.


Turning a vehicle is a complex task involving multiple activities. While
turning, a driver is very vulnerable to accidents and should follow some
simple guidelines offering the best chance at safety.

Right & Left Turns

1. Left turn from a two-way street. Drivers should start the turn at the
left- hand edge of the lane nearest the centerline of the street.
Legally, they may start a left turn only from a lane other than the one
nearest the centerline (as indicated by *) if a sign or pavement marking
indicates that it is legal. Drivers should finish the turn in the same
lane they started the turn. It is all right to start a turn from the lane
nearest the centerline and finish it in the lane nearest the curb, but it
is less safe and is considered poor driving etiquette. A vehicle making a
right turn from a side street would be expected to turn into the lane
nearest the curb. It can be dangerous for drivers to swing into that lane
after having started their own turn from the lane nearest the centerline.

2. Right Turn. The station wagon is turning correctly. It began the turn
in the lane nearest the right-hand curb. It will end the turn in the lane
nearest the right-hand curb. Do not swing into another lane of traffic.
Drivers may start a right turn from other than the far right lane only
when pavement or overhead markings show that it is permitted. They may
also use the bike lane if no one is in it.

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3. Left turns from a two-way street into a one-way street. These turns
may legally be made into any lane of a one-way street if it is safe to do
so. Drivers should start the turn from the far left-hand portion of their
side of the road. They may turn into any lane that is safely open as
shown by the arrows.

4. Left turns from a one-way street into a two-way street. This turn
should start nearest the left-hand side of the street. The pick-up truck
may turn into either of the lanes that is safely open as shown in the
right-hand diagram.

5. Left turns from a one-way street into a one-way street. This turn must
start nearest the left-hand side of the street and may be finished in any
lane that it is safe to enter. Drivers should watch for bicycles between
their vehicle and the curb because bicycle riders may legally use the
left turn lane for their left turns.

6. Right turns from a one-way street into a one-way street. After
starting a turn in the far right lane, a driver may use any lane open to
traffic if it is safe to do so. Sometimes, signs or pavement markings
will allow one to turn right from a lane next to the far right lane. This
is indicated by the * in the left-hand diagram above.

7. Turning at a "T" intersection from a one-way into a two-way street.
Through traffic always has the right-of-way. Drivers may turn either
right or left from the center lane. They should watch for vehicles and
bicycles inside their turn.

DMV Image

Left Turn Center Lanes

If a street has a left turn center lane, drivers must use it to turn
left. They may drive for only 200 feet (about 65 yards) in the center
left turn lane before they make their turn. They should not use it as a
passing lane or as a regular traffic lane.

DMV Image

To turn left from the street, motorists should drive completely inside
the center left turn lane. They should not stop partway into the lane
with their butt (rear part of the vehicle) sticking out and blocking
traffic. (Don't you just hate it when people do that?) Drivers should
turn when it is safe. They should watch out for vehicles coming toward
them using the lane for their own turn. A head-on collision in a turn
lane? It does happen.

When turning left from a side street or driveway, drivers should wait
until it is safe, then drive into the center left turn lane (remember the
head-on's). They should signal before moving into traffic and then move
only if it is safe to do so. They may drive across a center left turn

The short version of left turn rules:

    * Make sure the turn is legal.
    * Signal your intentions and move to the lane closest to the center
divider. Note: You may make left turns only from the lane closest to the
center divider unless otherwise indicated by pavement markings or signs.
    * Begin signaling your intention to turn at least 100 feet (about
thirty yards) before you actually turn. If you start signaling too soon,
you may confuse the driver behind you as to your intention to turn. (Is
he turning? When and where?) If you signal too late, you run the risk of
a rear-end collision. The driver behind you needs time to adjust to your
slowing down in preparation for your turn.
    * Check for traffic in both rear view mirrors to make sure you see
others and they see you.
    * Brake as necessary to slow to an appropriate speed for turning
    * Check the intersection for any pedestrians and/or any other
vehicles and then yield the right-of- way to any in the intersection.
Turn only when it is safe to proceed. Look left, right, ahead, and then
left again before starting any turn. Your last look should always be in
the direction you are most vulnerable.
    * If you stop before turning, such as for a stoplight, stop sign, or
traffic, slow down, keep your wheels pointed straight ahead. If a vehicle
hits you from behind, it will push your vehicle straight ahead. If your
wheels are turned to the left in preparation for a turn and you are hit
from behind, it will push you, instead, dangerously into oncoming
    * Make your turn, continuing to be alert for traffic.

The short version for right turns:

    * Make sure the turn is legal.
    * Check for traffic in both rear view mirrors to make sure you see
others and they see you.
    * Brake as necessary to slow to an appropriate speed for turning
    * Check the intersection for any pedestrians and/or any other
vehicles and then yield the right-of- way to any in the intersection.
Turn only when it is safe to proceed. Look left, right, ahead, and then
left again before starting any turn. Your last look should always be in
the direction you are most vulnerable. If it is necessary and the safety
of the turn requires it, a driver can always legally enter a bicycle lane
when making a turn.
    * While making your turn, always continue to be alert for other
drivers' movements.

How to Run a Red Light - Legally

Gotcha! But you can actually do this - well sort of. When drivers come to
a red light, they can turn right, if a) they come to a full stop; and b)
there is no sign prohibiting it. Drivers should stop at the limit line
or, if no line exists, before entering the intersection. Then if it is
safe, they can make a right turn. They should especially watch out for
bikes in the bike lane or any pedestrians stepping into the street.

There is a situation where you can even legally turn left against a red
light. If drivers are on a one-way street turning onto a one-way street,
they can turn left even when the light is red. Just as with the right
hand turn, drivers should make a full stop at the limit line or, if no
line exists, before entering the intersection. If no sign prohibits it,
the driver may turn left when it is safe. As a rule, drivers are more
vulnerable in this situation, so they should be very careful to look out
for bicyclists, pedestrians, or vehicles moving on their green light.


Making a U-turn means reversing your direction by turning around and
going back the way you came on the same street. A driver is very
vulnerable to an accident when making a U-turn and must exercise
considerable caution. Here is how a U-turn should be performed:

    * Get over to the left. Make the turn from the lane nearest to the
centerline of the street. If the street has a center left turn lane, make
your turn from there.
    * Signal your intention to turn left.
    * As you slow down to make the turn, watch closely so as not to
endanger anyone behind you.
    * As you turn, watch for vehicles coming toward you and for vehicles
turning right from a side street.
    * Make the turn as tight as possible.

DMV Image

Within cities, towns or business areas of counties, U-turns may only be
made at intersections. No U-turn may be made on any curve, on the
approach to or near the crest of a hill, or where the vehicles cannot be
seen approaching from either direction for 500 feet.


Do you want to bankrupt your local traffic court? Then pay attention to
this section and heed its advice. More tickets are written for violating
speeding laws than any other type of ticket. Obeying speed laws will not
only save you a lot of money, it could save your life. Speed kills. If
you don't believe that, answer this question. Would you rather have a
collision in a vehicle traveling 5 miles per hour or one traveling 75
miles per hour? Right -- me too.

The force of a crash at 60 mph isn't just twice as great as the force of
a crash at 30 mph, IT'S FOUR TIMES GREATER!

To repeat, the higher your speed at the time of a collision, the greater
likelihood you will be fatally injured. Since it is no longer practical
to travel everywhere going five miles per hour, the posted speed limits
are a compromise between safety and practicality.

The maximum speed limit in Virginia is 65 miles per hour. That's right,
65 miles per hour. It's legal only on selected roads, and it is always
posted; but that is the maximum.
Whatever the maximum or minimum speed limit, the legal limit is never
more than the posted limit. The posted limit is that "compromise between
safety and practicality" mentioned earlier. The posted speed limit
represents the highest speed that it is safe to travel on that road.

Absolute, Basic, & Prima Facie Speed Limits

There are three types of speed limits: Absolute Limits, Basic Limits, and
Prima Facie Limits.

The Absolute speed limit: "This is the fastest speed you can travel
safely in ideal conditions." It is always the same as the posted limit.

The Basic speed limit: "No matter what the posted speed limit is, this is
the speed it is safest to drive under these conditions." There are no
signs for the basic speed limit, and it is not the posted speed limit. It
should actually be called "the common sense speed limit." It requires you
to drive with your vehicle under control at a speed safe for existing
conditions. The basic speed limit fluctuates, depending on the weather,
the condition of the road, the condition of the driver, and the condition
of the vehicle. A posted speed limit may be 65 miles per hour, but,
depending on other circumstances, the basic speed limit may dictate
driving 55 miles per hour or even 45 miles per hour. If the posted, or
absolute, speed limit were 65 miles per hour, how fast would you drive in
a blinding blizzard or dense fog? That's the "basic speed limit." Of
course, it doesn't work if you have no common sense.

The Prima facie speed limit: "This is the `it oughta be obvious' speed
limit." It is a speed limit for certain situations, which is enforced
unless the posted limit is different. "Prima facie" is Latin for "at
first view," which means you should see it the first time: "It oughta be
obvious." You are expected to know the prima facie speed limit for a
given area even if the speed limit is not posted.

Miscellaneous Laws

Stereo Headphones: Did you know that it is illegal to wear earphones
covering both ears when you are driving? That is true whether you are in
a vehicle with four or more wheels or riding a motorcycle or bicycle. In
some communities, even joggers are prohibited from wearing earphones.
Here's a metaphysical question. If you don't hear the car that hits you,
can it still kill you? Not wearing stereo headphones when you're in
traffic is another case of prima facie. "It oughta be obvious."

Littering: Littering is against the law. Here's a surprise. The only
things legal coming out of a vehicle when traveling on the road are
poultry feathers from live birds and clear water. It goes back to the
days when chickens were brought to market in coops carried on trucks, and
it was impossible to prevent feathers from blowing off. Anything else
coming out of a moving vehicle, such as paper, bottles, and cans, is
litter; and littering is illegal

Dads and Moms Who Do Not Pay Child Support: You are a divorced parent who
does not pay child support mandated by the court, the DMV will refuse to
issue you a driver's license. If you have one already, the DMV will
refuse to renew it.

Use headlights when using windshield wipers: You are required to turn on
your headlights whenever you need to use your windshield wipers.
Exemptions from the need to use your headlights include when you are
using your wipers to clean the windshield or to clear the windshield when
it is misting.

Radar detectors: It is illegal to use a radar detector in Virginia. You
may possess a radar detector inside your vehicle only if the detector is
not provided with power and no one in the vehicle can reach the power
supply. In addition to the fine, the detector may be seized as evidence
if you are charged with use or possession of an operable radar detector.

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