Driving is an art in which the artist must stay within the lines

Dear Street Smarts, Q: How much leeway do drivers have about following the direction of right, left, and straight arrows at intersections? I have always thought that they had to be obeyed no matter what, and if you discovered you were in the wrong lane to late to switch, you had to drive in the direction indicated and turn around at the first legal opportunity. It seems like a lot of drivers view the turn-only arrows as advisory, following the arrows when it's convenient. Other drivers seem to think following the arrows is for suckers. For example, at River Street and Highway 1, some drivers blithely drive right past the cars waiting in line to cross over to Highway 9, wait in the left lane of the two right-turn-only lanes until the light turns green, then race straight across to beat the people who waited their turn in the appropriate straight-only lane, cutting them off as they squeeze into the single northbound lane of Highway 9. That intersection isn't the only place in town that people seem to feel okay about ignoring directional arrows, but it's certainly the site with the highest frequency of this kind of violation in Santa Cruz County. Or maybe it's not a violation. Maybe I've taken the arrows too seriously all my driving life and they're just supposed to be suggestions about directional options you follow if you feel like it. Can you clarify for us, please? Pete Ogilvie, Santa Cruz A: It is not OK for motorists to ignore lanes that are designated for turning or going straight, said California Highway Patrol Officer Sam Courtney. Fellow road users expect drivers to follow the directions painted on the roadway or indicated by a sign, he said. “Doing otherwise may cause a collision,” said Courtney. He cited California Vehicle Code sections 22100 and 21461 as specifying the rules of the road in regard to proper lane position and following regulatory – black and white – signs. By the way, the traffic fine for both turning at an intersection from the wrong position and failing to obey traffic signs and/or signals is $146, not counting any extra penalties imposed by the court.
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