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Section 7 - TRAFFIC LAWS AND LESSONS TRAFFIC LAWS 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. SIGNALS AND SIGNS 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. PAVEMENT MARKINGS 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. DMV Image 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. illustration 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 turns. 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 pedestrians. illustration 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 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. DMV Image 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 lane. 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 safely. * 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 traffic. * 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 safely. * 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. U-Turns 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. SPEED LAWS 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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