Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Banging a U-ie

The Inside Scoop: Well, you learn something every day. Like, I break the law just about every time I turn the ignition key. U-turns are more illegal than I ever dreamed. At least my shortcut through the Korner Konvenience parking lot (got to love the use of the "K") is legal. Though I do feel guilty about never, ever buying anything from there.


Who taught YOU to drive?

U-Turns

By Peter DeMarco

Like a lot of Boston drivers I don’t think twice about making a U-turn. Whether I’ve missed my street, or I’m stuck in traffic with a clear escape route in sight, I just bang a U-ie and all is well again.

Even on Massachusetts Avenue, where signs clearly state that U-turns are not allowed, I’ve figured out a way. Spotting my favorite convenience store, I put on my left turning signal and pull into the parking lot. But instead of continuing into a parking space, I make a semi-circle and scoot out the parking lot’s second curb cut, putting my car back on Mass Ave. in the direction I want to be.

The best part about my little convenience store U-turn? It’s totally legal.

Well, I think it is.

In truth, I always check to see whether a police cruiser is parked in the church across the street before I make my move. If I’m feeling particularly paranoid, I might even pull into a parking spot for 10 seconds, then back out, as if I’ve thought better about buying a Herald.

Which leads us to this week’s topic: Just when is a U-turn legal? The law is pretty clear when “No U-Turn” signs are posted, but does that mean they’re legal at all other times? Can you cross a double yellow line while making a U-turn? Can you use a convenience store parking lot as an accessory?

And if you’re hopelessly stuck in traffic – gee, when does that ever happen? - do the same rules apply?

THE LAW SAYS …

For answers I headed straight to the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ driver’s handbook, where the section on U-turns contains the following sentence:

“Unless a NO U-TURN sign is posted, you are allowed to make a U-turn as long as your path is clear and it is safe to do so.” (cq)

Case closed, right? Not exactly, I soon found out.

Unfortunately, the RMV driver’s handbook isn’t accurate, said Lieutentant Jack Albert, (cq) traffic commander for the Cambridge Police Department.

According to Massachusetts General Law, regardless of the situation, you CAN NOT make a U-turn over a single or double yellow line. The thinking is that it’s often dangerous to do so. And while a U-turn saves you time, other drivers may have to slow down or stop to allow you to turn, which isn’t fair to them.

Albert couldn’t explain why the RMV handbook doesn’t say this. “It’s bizarre,” he said. But confusion is pretty much a given when it comes to U-turns, he added.

“When you stop people (for making a U-turn) they definitely have that look on their face – ‘What did I do?’” he said. “They say, ‘I wasn’t aware of it. I thought it was only illegal when it a sign was posted.’ So I would say a lot of people aren’t aware of the law.”

Amie O’Hearn, (cq) director of public relations for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, said that the driver’s handbook is an evolving document and agreed that the section on U-turns might need to be rewritten to make the rules more clear.

“That’s interesting that you bring this up,” she said. “The U-turn is something that drivers are always worried about. You’re out there driving – should I do it? Should I not? It is something that leaves a doubt in your mind. I will definitely mention this to the driver’s manual committee.”

The fine for an illegal U-turn, Albert says, depends upon what offense the officer decides to charge you with. Failure to yield to oncoming traffic carries a $35 fine; a U-turn violation on a state highway such as Mass. Ave, which is also Route 2A, is a $20 penalty; making a U-turn in a business district in Cambridge violates a city bylaw and will cost you $50.

As for my convenience store U-turn - “The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets,” by Ira Gershkoff (cq) and Richard Trachtman, (cq) says my maneuver works just as well at gas stations – Albert just shrugged.

“You’re not impeding the flow of traffic,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to fault you for that.”

- 30

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