Dear PoPville – Regulations for U-Turns in DC?

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Dear PoPville,

I have a question regarding the rules for U-turns in DC. I did a u-turn on East Capitol St between 14th and 15th street to park on the opposite side of the street (there are no No U-turn signs). While doing this, another car behind me did likewise. As I completed my turn, a was pulled over by a DC police car. The Officer told me that it was illegal for me to do so on a two lane street that was a major thoroughfare but stated he would not give me a ticket. He did not stop nor pull over the other car that did the same u-turn. An excerpt of the DC regulations are below. Can someone explain to me what I did was illegal? Looks like harassment to me.

2204.5 When authorized markers, buttons, or other indications are placed within or between intersections indicating the course to be traveled by vehicles, no driver of a vehicle shall disobey the directions of the indications.
2204.6 Whenever authorized signs are erected indicating that “NO RIGHT TURN” or “NO LEFT TURN” or “NO U-TURN” is permitted, no driver of a vehicle shall disobey the directions of any such sign.
2204.7 No vehicle shall make a U-turn so as to proceed in the opposite direction at any intersection controlled by traffic lights or police officer, or on a crosswalk adjacent to such an intersection.
2204.8 The driver of any vehicle shall not turn a vehicle so as to proceed in the opposite direction unless such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic.
2204.9 The provisions of this section shall not apply to streetcars.

SOURCE: Commissioners’ Order 274, 310/949 effective September 1, 1949, 17 DCRR § 39(a), (b) 42 – 45 (October 19, 1970).

46 Comment

  • Not to start a bikers vs. drivers war of words…and this doesn’t answer the question of if it is illegal or not, but I can’t tell you how many times (as a bike commuter) I’ve had to swerve around taxis and other vehicles making erratic and sudden U-turns in busy thoroughfares like 14th St.

    And how annoying is it for drivers coming the other way to wait as someone makes a 14-point U-turn in the middle of traffic?!?

    If U-turns aren’t illegal…they should be. This ain’t Kansas…

    • Forget bikers vs drivers, try east coast versus the heartland. Leave KS alone.

    • Speaking of u-turners, i was biking in the road on Vermont ave nw between K and L and some d-bag driver made a u turn illegally without looking either way. the next thing i knew, i rolled over the hood of their car. I luckily escaped without injury, but my front wheel was ruined. We got into an argument and that asshole had the audacity to cite me as the faulty one. Anyhow, I ended up taking the high road and walking away since he had no damage to his car.

      Additionally, all the drivers on Pennsylvania ave are idiots as well. If you bike in the middle in the bike lane, you have to watch out for u-turners as well. Most of the time it is the idiot taxi drivers. I’ve had more than one close call because no one can pay attention.

    • I’ve been literally run over at the tail end of a car’s u-turn. 8:55 a.m. 18th Street Adams Morgan because the driver was desperate not to wait at a red light. His movement was not made in safety nor without interfering with other traffic. Not many u-turns can be done in traffic and live up to the regs.

  • I think if the cop wanted to, he could use clause 2204.8 to justify it. And really, harassment? I hate cops as much as the next guy, but if he really wanted to bust your balls, he could have easily given you a ticket.

  • sunsquashed

    I assume you crossed a double line when you made your U-turn. That is illegal. I’m glad you got pulled over, as these traffic violations are WAY too frequent in DC. I only wish cops would do this more often. If the MPD would station a couple of cops around DCUSA they could probably reap a fortune in tickets. The only times I’ve ever been hit by a car on my bike were when cars made sudden illegal U-turns. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt, but please, please, please do not make illegal U-turns in DC. It’s dangerous for other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians.

    • sunsquashed

      Sorry- to clarify, I meant double YELLOW line.

    • I totally agree. This is way out of control in DC. I’ve seen cabs do it at 5 pm on K St. REALLY? The cop that let the driver go is just condoning bad behavior and the anarchy that is driving in this city. I know we have a problem with crime here and limited resources but totally ignoring the rampant traffic violations is not ok.

    • ah

      Oddly, I’m not sure crossing a double yellow is illegal:

      DCMR 2202.7 No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway while overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken.

      2202.8 In every event, an overtaking vehicle must return to the right hand side of the roadway before coming within one hundred feet (100 ft.) of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.

      So to me that says you can cross a double yellow to overtake someone in certain conditions. And that means crossing a double yellow is not illegally.

      That said, 2204.8 seems to cover the offense, especially if the cop was modestly inconvenienced by the U-turn.

      • I’m not a lawyer, but that doesn’t say anything to me about crossing a double yellow line. That just outlines how and when one vehicle may pass another one, but it wouldn’t apply in situations where overtaking is not permitted and I think the presence of a double yellow line is one of those.

        • ah

          I thought that could be possible, but searched the DCMR in vain for something saying crossing a double yellow was a violation. It does not appear specifically in the moving violations regs or other regs.

  • Umm, I’m pretty sure to do this you likely crossed a solid line which is a no no. Period. Point. Blank.

    On another note, everyone in DC does it since I can remember (really DC is like the U-turn capital of the world), has done it and will continue to do it because parking is that crucial and people just don’t care. Just so happens you got caught out there. Sorry, better luck next time. But uhh, the question begs to be ask, what made you do it in front of a cop?

    • I meant double lines as well but even so you are supposed to cross any solid line.

    • Agree. The DC U-turn is a de facto legal maneuver.

      • And like you said, just don’t do it in front of cops.

      • dt

        Illegal, probably, but it’s certainly understandable – with traffic, circles, 1 way streets, etc, if you see a spot on the other side of the street sometimes there is no other way to get to it. If you go ‘around the block’ (around a park, wait through 12 lights, etc) that spot will be gone long before you get back to it, 10 minutes later.

        • Hell, that spot will be gone in 5 seconds if you are downtown. And don’t let it be around 14th and K to like 22 at night because you can’t park at a lot of those spots after 9p thanks to the prostitutes and suits.

  • I do it all the time. I’ve done it right next to idling cops. I’ll do it again.

  • OP fails to include his/her demographic group, without which it is difficult to assess the harassment allegation. Perhaps s/he is a conservative Christian. I understand from the television that they are being persecuted.

    Regarding the turn…well, after reading the regs I am going to less shy about u-turning in the future.

  • “When authorized markers, buttons, or other indications are placed within or between intersections indicating the course to be traveled by vehicles, no driver of a vehicle shall disobey the directions of the indications.”
    —– These “authorized Markers” can be double yellow lines on the road which, as almost all responders have correctly concluded, make what you did a no-no. At the end of the day, the cop was bored decided to pull you over and give a warning. Not really a big deal. Nor is the menouvour itself a big deal so all you people flipping out about how the cars in dc are so dangerous: get your panties out of a bunch!

    • How is making a u-turn on a main street not dangerous assuming there is a steady flow of traffic?

    • sunsquashed

      Hey, I’ve been hit by cars making illegal U-turns. It’s scary as hell to be hit by a car (even slow moving)! If I had a slower reaction time, or was going faster, I could have been seriously injured. So no, I don’t think I should “get my panties out of a bunch.”

  • “When authorized markers, buttons, or other indications are placed within or between intersections indicating the course to be traveled by vehicles, no driver of a vehicle shall disobey the directions of the indications.”
    —– These “authorized Markers” can be double yellow lines on the road which, as almost all responders have correctly concluded, make what you did a no-no. At the end of the day, the cop was bored decided to pull you over and give a warning. Not really a big deal. Nor is the menouvour itself a big deal so all you people flipping out about how the cars in dc are so dangerous: get your panties out of a bunch!

  • A lawyer here. I agree with some of the other posters: It’s the double yellow line. That line means “do not cross.” It’s actually a violation to turn left across an unbroken double yellow line, too, but of course people get away with that all the time.

    In other “Did You Know?” news, it is illegal to make a right turn against a red arrow. A red light is a different matter, of course (assuming there is no “no turn on red” signage), but I see people make an illegal turn from 14th northbound at Thomas Circle onto Mass allllll the time. You cannot proceed past a red arrow. That’s what distinguishes the red arrow from the plain red light.

    • The light to go northbound on 14th St through Thomas Circle (by the hotel) needs to be better timed, then there would be fewer violators. I always take 15th St. or 13th St. northbound for that simple reason. I’ve been on a bus that went down L, up 13th, up Mass., and back on 14th to avoid that light.

    • Thomas Circle is total anarchy! I live there and walk my dog there every day and am on constant high alert when crossing any of the surrounding streets. Whether I have the signal to cross or not I always assume someone is going to fly through the crosswalks…

    • This may well be true in DC, but I think it varies by local traffic laws. When I took Drivers’ Ed in Massachusetts, we were explicitly told that you can turn right on a red turn arrow so long as there is not a “No Right Turn on Red” sign. They made a big deal about it as a fun little trick question.

  • In DC, we LOVE our illegal
    U turns… It seems your cop was bored… We u turn here… That’s what we do… Watch yourself on DC streets… Kansas it ain’t and we’re glad about that, but an illegal u turn? There’s no place like home

  • I’ve always thought that pretty much anywhere in the US, it’s illegal to do a u-turn mid-block. The only legal place to do a u-turn is at an intersection that isn’t marked with “no u-turn” signs.

    • Hit on my bicycle by a guy making a U turn at an intersection with no “No U Turn Sign” I did $1500 in damage to his car, no injuries to me or bike. Handed the matter over to my insurance, he didn’t get a dime. Illegal to make a U turn at an intersection with a traffic light is what i was told

  • I have never lived anywhere where it’s legal to make a u-turn in the middle of the block. Where I grew up, the rule was that you could do it only at an intersection. Rule 2204.7 seems to say this is a no-no in DC if there are traffic lights.

    This falls into the general category of traffic offenses that aren’t enforced and so they are flouted. Speed limits and stopping at red lights are in the same category.

    When I was in law school, I spent a semester representing misdemeanor defendants in DC. Imagine my shock when I learned that the u-turn rules are enforced all the time–against black people as a pretext to peer in the car for drugs, etc. Like mj, I have made u-turns in front of cops, and never been pulled over. (I am white.)

    • Oooooh. All those tough self-hating black male cops pulling over poor disadvantaged black men. Oooh. Oooh.

      Try getting to know some black people.

  • brookland_rez

    I’m sure it’s illegal but everyone does it, and like most traffic laws in DC, if there’s not a camera, it’s not enforced.

    Which is why when I’m on my motorcycles, I generally stay in the left lane, or if I must be in the right I stay to the left hand side of my lane and keep a distance between the parked cars and myself. Also I watch for warning signs that someone might pull out like idling cars, wheels turned to the left etc. I also use extreme caution around taxi stands and stay as far away from them as possible.

  • is it legal to cross double yellow to turn? This happens all the time. Lets say I’ll be cruising NW on Mass Ave and some guys is blocking the entire left lane to turn into a condo on the other side, waiting for traffic on the opposite side so they can turn. Is this legal? I normally lay on the horn but didnt want to look like a jerk if this was actually legal…

  • Once, I was nearly hit by a cabbie doing a U-Turn across a double yellow on 16th St. He proceeded to yell at me for being in his way.

    Yes, crossing a double yellow is illegal. Yes, drivers in DC do it all the time.

  • I was parked and a lady pulled a u turn and hit my car. She couldn’t completley make the u turn and had to back up and ended up hitting my car. I called the cops and they didn’t issue a ticket OR even write a report. I had to pay to fix my own car even though I wasn’t even moving! I hate u turners now.

  • I make U Turns whereever I want. I drive through the intersection on V st and New Hampshire as though the people on New Hampshire have a stop sign. I buzz through yellows. All of the bikers that are also breaking their laws think I’m an ass. It’s because in my car, I am. (They are too). I totally deserve tickets for all of the things I do. You deserve tickets too. The difference is, I know I’m doing something wrong, and you are looking for validation, which makes you way more dangerous.

  • I have always know since I took the drivers test in DC 1976 that it is illegal to make a U-Turn at ANY Controlled Intersection which means traffic lights stop signs and of course police direction . The streets in DC are not wide enough to make a complete U-Turn and must back up to complete it. Those who live in virginia and maryland think it can be done in the District but most roads in those states have a left turn lane where on can complete such a move

  • I think one of the reasons we see this so often in DC vs other major cities is we have relatively few large one way streets and most of our major two-ways don’t have any barrier between directions. In boston or new york, you’d be hard pressed to find streets where it’s physically possible to do a mid-block u-turn.

  • If you turned in the middle of the block, as you say, then you made an illegal U-turn, according to the law you cited yourself. In addition, you aren’t allowed to cross a double-yellow line, which I would have hoped you’d learn before getting a driver’s license.

    No harassment; it sounds like the cop gave you a break, hoping you would learn a lesson. Looks like the officer erred in that assumption.

  • I once got a ticket for making a U Turn when I had a left turn green arrow. THAT was the worst — got hit with the technicality of it being a controlled intersection. Can’t really think of a safer situation to make a U-Turn than that.

  • me

    OP’s cry of harassment is laughable.

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