Some motorists think it’s a lane to get into and then speed up to merge with traffic, says Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross.
“If traffic is backed up in the inside lanes and you want to make a left-hand turn, you can still enter that lane legally,” he said.
In Bountiful, one such lane is at 4th North and 500 West. “Whether you can legally enter into it or not, it pays to do it slowly because drivers don’t always check behind them as they go into it. As it opens up, someone may cut in front of you and hit you,” Ross said.
In fact, it can be downright scary to get into that lane, as evidenced by the concerns of Layton resident Jacob Phillips.
“Every time I come home, I worry that today is going to be the day I get killed,” he said.
His concern comes from drivers abusing the lane, bordered by an outside yellow line and an inside broken yellow lane.
Although there are such special purpose left turn lanes throughout the state, his biggest concern is in the 300 block of Main Street.
“I’ll be turning left into Park Village (manufactured home park) and cars leaving businesses from the east side of Main will get into that lane and come straight at me,” Phillips said. “I’ve had many close calls and have been scared to death many times.”
Drivers essentially often use the special purpose left turn lane as they would a freeway on-ramp. As a result, drivers travel excessive distances in the lane at increased speeds while searching for a place to “merge.”
This creates a dangerous situation for drivers stopped in the lane to make legal left turns.
Such is the case with Phillips. The dangers are rear-end and head-on collisions caused by the merging driver watching for traffic behind them instead of noticing legally stopped drivers in the lane ahead of them.
“Drivers use it as an auxiliary traffic lane, which is not what it was designed for or authorized to be used for,” said Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe. “It is not an extra traffic lane.”
He identified other hazards of using the lane incorrectly.
“The problems we have with the lane is abuse by a lot of motorists who exceed the maximum distance they’re supposed to travel to make a left turn or they have no intentions of really making a left turn whatsoever,” Keefe said.
The Utah Code says motorists may not drive in the left turn lane except when preparing to make a turn and they may not enter that lane prior to 500 feet of making the turn, Ross said.
“You’re supposed to enter into the special lane and then merge into the traffic lane as soon as you possibly can or it’s safe to do so,” Keefe emphasized.
“We want to discourage people from traveling into that lane,” Ross said. He added that improper left turns are among the top causes of accidents.
News Editor Tom Busselberg contributed to this story.