Road Rules: Parking in the center turn lane


Question: I often see trucks parked in the center turn lane and unloading cargo. I also see truck trailers parked in the center turn lane in rural areas after unloading heavy equipment. What are the rules? Can just anyone park in a center turn lane and conduct business or unload items?

Answer: A thought popped into my head when I read the last part of your question. Imagine if this went beyond deliveries, and guerrilla food trucks started conducting business in center turn lanes, with pedestrians darting across the road for their burger or burrito. Or maybe the cook tosses your food to you from across the lane, like the Pike Place Market fishmongers. 

But that’s not what you’re asking about. And the law is clear: “every vehicle stopped or parked upon a two-way roadway shall be so stopped or parked with the right-hand wheels parallel to and within twelve inches of the right-hand curb or as close as practicable to the right edge of the right-hand shoulder.” If you’re parked more than a foot away from the curb, you’ve violated the law. 

The trickier question is, “What should we do about it?” It’s not just the big semis. I live on a street that has angle parking down both sides. Any delivery vehicle bigger than the mail carrier truck stops in the road to deliver packages. It’s a violation of traffic law, but there isn’t a good alternative either. 

I’ve never been a commercial driver, but I once drove from San Diego almost to Canada in the biggest U-Haul available while towing a car, and I gained a new level of respect for commercial drivers. When it came time for gas or food, I discovered that many of the options for car drivers don’t exist when you’re as big as, well, a truck. You have to think beyond where you’re going to park, to include how you’re going to get out of where you parked. 

Do you know what some truck drivers call the center turn lane? The bonus lane. I learned that on a truck driving forum where a new driver asked about parking in the center turn lane. The collective opinion of the over 50 drivers who responded could be summarized as, “Yep, it’s illegal, but where else are you going to park?”

I also sought out an opinion from law enforcement. The officer wasn’t speaking officially on behalf of his agency, so I’ll leave him unnamed, but he kind of said, “Yep, it’s illegal, but where else are they going to park?” He pointed out that sometimes that center lane is the safest option, even if it isn’t the legal one. If you were hoping to see some enforcement action, I think you’re going to be disappointed. 

I’m not suggesting that every truck that parks in the center turn lane had no other choice, but why would a driver park in the middle of the road if they had a better option? It’s not legal, but it’s tolerated because it’s necessary. That sort of answers whether anyone can park in a center turn lane. If I parked my car in the center turn lane and ran into the grocery store, I predict that I’d face some legal consequences. But why would I when there’s a parking lot I can easily access? 

Commercial drivers at times must choose the best of several not-so-great options, and as long as our transportation infrastructure remains as it is, I don’t see that changing. If we want our stuff delivered, sometimes it’ll involve a truck in the middle of the road.

Doug Dahl is a manager with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Region 11 and publishes


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