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AGO 1958 No. 158 - February 14, 1958
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- AUTHORITY TO PERMIT FREE RIGHT TURNS AGAINST A RED LIGHT.

HIGHWAYS ‑- AUTHORITY OF CITIES AND TOWNS TO PERMIT FREE RIGHT TURNS AGAINST A RED LIGHT.

Cities and towns, by local ordinance, cannot permit free right turns against a signal device exhibiting a red light by use of a sign reading "stop on red then right turn permitted."

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                                                                February 14, 1958

Honorable John H. Happy
State Senator, 6th District
311 Paulsen Building
Spokane, Washington                                                                                         Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 158

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for an opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May cities by a local ordinance permit free right turns against a signal device exhibiting a red light by use of a sign reading "Stop on red, then right turn permitted"?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your question involves the proper use of signal devices exhibiting different colored lights.  The manner in which traffic control signals of this nature may be used is prescribed by RCW 46.60.230, which reads in pertinent part as follows:

            "Whenever, at any point, traffic is controlled by traffic control signals exhibiting the words 'Go,' 'Caution,' or 'Stop' or exhibiting different colored lights, the following words or colors only shall be used and shall indicate as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Red alone or the word 'Stop': Vehicular traffic facing the signal shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until a green signal is shown.  No pedestrian facing such signal shall enter the roadway unless he can do so safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic or unless a separate walk indication is shown.

            "Red or the word 'Stop' with green arrow: Vehicular traffic facing such signal may cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by such arrow, but shall yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully within the crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.  No pedestrian facing such signal shall enter the roadway unless he can safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic; or unless a separate walk indication is shown."

            It is to be noted that the first paragraph of this section specifically states that ". . . the following words or colors only shall be used and shall indicate as follows: . . ."

            The question asked is whether or not it is possible to accomplish a right turn against a red light in a manner different from that prescribed in the above statute by the enactment of a city ordinance.  The effect of an ordinance allowing the use of a sign reading "Stop on red, then right turn permitted" is to allow vehicular traffic to stop and then proceed to turn right while the signal device exhibits a red light.  Under the plain terms of RCW 46.60.230, vehicular traffic facing a red light must "remain standing until a green light is shown" unless the red light is used in conjunction with a green arrow.  Obviously a conflict would exist between the statute and the local ordinance.

            RCW 46.08.020 reads as follows:

            "The provisions of this title relating to vehicles shall be applicable and uniform throughout this state and in all cities and towns and all political subdivisions therein andno local authority shall enact or enforce any law, ordinance, rule, or regulation in conflict with the provisions hereof unless expressly authorized by law to do so and any laws, ordinances, rules, or regulations in conflict with the provisions of this title are hereby declared to be invalid and of no effect.  Local authorities may, however, adopt  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] additional vehicle and traffic regulations which are not in conflict with the provisions hereof."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            We think that RCW 46.08.020, quoted above, specifically prohibits local authorities from enacting any ordinance in conflict with the provisions of the act of which RCW 46.60.230 was originally a part.

            InKimmel v. Spokane, 7 Wn. (2d) 372, the right of a city to install and operate parking meters was upheld because, as it was pointed out, the power to impose additional restrictions on parking, so long as they did not conflict with the restrictions imposed by the act, was clearly reserved.

            With reference to traffic control devices, however, we find nothing in the statute which reserves to local authorities any power to change the plain statutory dictates as to how they shall be used and what they shall mean.  The only option is as to the type of signaling devices.  In other words, when a particular type of device is installed, it must be operated in the manner prescribed by the statute and cannot be modified by local regulation to operate in a different manner.

            In addition, the statutory provisions governing traffic control devices are found in chapter 47.36 RCW.  The director of highways is directed to adopt specifications for a uniform system of traffic control signals and

            ". . . Such uniform system shall correlate with and so far as possible conform to the system current as approved by the American Association of State Highway Officials and as set out in the manual of uniform traffic control devices for streets and highways."  (RCW 47.36.020)

            We note that the manual referred to above considers the use of such signs bad engineering practice.

            To accomplish the traffic control contemplated by your question, a signal device exhibiting different colored lights must have the color "Red"or the word "Stop" with green arrow.  There is no statutory authority for accomplishing this result by the combination of signs referred to in your question.

            InLakoduk v. Cruger, 47 Wn. (2d) 286, the court pointed out that the operation of traffic control signals was a governmental function, and that when signal lights are installed by a municipality they must meet the requirements set forth in RCW 46.60.230.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            The legislature has seen fit to prescribe a uniform manner of traffic control throughout the state (RCW 46.08.030), and any change in the prescribed manner should be accomplished through legislative enactment, not by local ordinance.  In this connection, two bills were proposed, but not adopted, at the 1957 session of the legislature seeking to accomplish this change (H.B. 213 and H.B. 427).

            Since signal lights, when installed, must conform to the requirements set forth in the statute(Lakoduk v. Cruger, supra), and since the statute permits a right turn against a red light only when used in conjunction with a green arrow (RCW 46.60.230), we conclude that there is no statutory authority which permits a city to authorize a right turn against a red light by the use of a sign in lieu of the green arrow.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

JOHN O'ROURKE
Assistant Attorney General

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