The proper way to use turnouts

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I've had a question for awhile about the proper use of turnouts on roads. I asked an officer once but never got a clear answer. I commute on Highway 9 from Boulder Creek to the San Francisco Bay Area and have seen many close calls because of improper use of the turnouts. Please, if you can, clear this up for me -- and possibly for others.
  1. Drivers do not use the turnouts when there are more than five vehicles behind them. There are signs posted for slower traffic to use the turnouts.
  2. When drivers do use the turnouts, they speed up and do not let any vehicles pass, and then come right back in the lane.
  3. When drivers use the turnouts, they let one car by and then completely cut off anymore traffic, sometimes almost causing a collision. This is the worst of all.
My question is, after a driver pulls over using a turnout, shouldn't they by law, wait until it is clear to go back on the highway? My belief is that the driver pulls over and should wait until it is clear to go back onto the main road. I am curious, just in case one of these inconsiderate drivers smacks into me. Then I can hold them liable. Thank you for any response to this dilemma. Lori Farrer, Boulder Creek A: “In the case that a slow driver uses a turn out, he or she should wait until it is safe to re-enter the roadway,” said Officer Sarah Jackson of the Aptos area California Highway Patrol office. “A vehicle which leaves the roadway has forfeited their right-of-way on that roadway and must re-enter as any other vehicle would. Darting out in front of traffic in any case is not only illegal, but unsafe.” Jackson cited California Vehicle Code Section 21656 in explaining the proper use of turnouts. "On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed,” the vehicle code reads. “As used in this section a slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place." The “normal flow of traffic” can’t be expected to be above the posted speed limit, Jackson said. Drivers who fail to use turnouts can be cited for three things, she said: vehicle code sections, 21656, 22400 or 21461(a) -- turning out of slower moving vehicles, impeding traffic and failure to obey a regulatory sign, respectively. That said, motorists following the impeding driver must not tailgate, Jackson said. “It is wise to use caution when passing a vehicle in a turn out to avoid a collision,” she said as she also warned against crossing over the double yellow line. As for determining who’s at fault in after a collision involving improper use of a turnout, Jackson said the CHP’s investigating officers will be the judge of that. “Rest assured, if you are in a collision you can always call us and we will hold the responsible party liable,” she said. “You may be left wondering who is legally at fault until the report is completed though, since we never assess fault at the scene. Rather, we document all the evidence and the investigating officer's finding are reviewed by another -- very experienced -- officer. This ensures an accurate, fair outcome.”
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