Angry driver

(San Jose, Calif., Mercury News file illustration)

Dear Crabby,

I need advice on how to deal with one of my biggest pet peeves driving in Washington state.

The law clearly states that you have a free right at a red light after coming to a complete stop. Unless, however, you have a red arrow indicating your direction of turn, then you must stop and wait for a green arrow or light.

So many times I am in this situation and I try to obey the law. But I get angry with people honking at me or yelling. What do I do? Do I smile and wave? Honk back? Explain the law to ignorant jerks who pull up alongside me at the shoulder to yell at me before taking off? Turn up the music louder?

I’d like to know what you think.


Right on Red

Dear Right,

You’re wrong.

In the circumstance you describe, the red arrow functions exactly the way any red light would. That is to say, if you’ve come to a complete stop, the road is clear, and there isn’t any “no turn on red” signage, you can go ahead and make a right on a red arrow. Both the Revised Code of Washington (state law) and the state Department of Licensing’s Washington Driver Guide address this, and both are pretty clear. (Hey! You WERE right about something; the law IS clear.)

The section of the code in question, RCW 46.61.055, says, in part, “ ... vehicle operators facing a steady red arrow indication may, after stopping, proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn.”

The Driver Guide is even more straightforward. It says, in part, “Hey, dummy, go ahead and make that right. The people honking are right to be mad.” (Fine, it doesn’t really say that. It says, “A red arrow means you must stop and you cannot go in the direction of the arrow. If you are turning right, you may turn after coming to a full stop if it is safe and if there is no sign prohibiting the turn on a red arrow.”)

I know this is probably a lot for you to take in emotionally. Your level of self-righteousness on this one was pretty high. (See your “ignorant jerks” comment and just, you know, your overall tone of snarky assuredness.) I want you to know I’ve been there, buddy. Not on this specific point, but on many, many other things I was just absolutely sure I was right about. I can be remarkably condescending and arrogant right up until the moment I’m proven irrefutably wrong.

So I know how much it hurts to get bucked off of a high horse. You probably feel pretty dumb right about now, and you probably feel pretty guilty on account of all the people whose intelligence you impugned (even as your own ignorance added a minute or two to their commute). I really do empathize.

On the plus side, there is a clear silver lining to your public (albeit anonymous) comeuppance here in these pages: You now know that you don’t have to wait at a red arrow. That’s gonna save you lots of time down the road. And, if you find yourself behind someone who’s not turning, I hope you honk long and hard at that idiot.

Hope that helps.



Please send your questions, complaints and irritations to with the subject  “Dear Crabby.”