homepage logo


Ask a Trooper: Center turn lane

By Staff | Mar 28, 2014

Q: I have always wondered about the 3 lane road running through our city. The center lane is marked as a turn lane, and I believe both directions can use it. My question is regarding how other drivers have used it. If someone is making a right turn, I have seen drivers going in the same direction use it as a passing lane to go around them. I have also seen it used as a merging lane for cars turning onto that street. If the regular lane is occupied, turning traffic will pull out into the center lane and then merge over when they can do so. Are these uses acceptable for the center lane?

A: There are several cities in our area that have this 3 lane road system. Streets using this system are typically heavily traveled and eventually turn into a state highway outside the city limits. This setup provides one lane of traffic going in each direction, in addition to a center lane that is to be used as a turn lane.

The center turn lane will be marked for its intended use. Both signage and road markings will be present.

n Road signs leading up to the start of this 3 lane system will indicate how the center lane is to be used. A white rectangular sign will usually read something to the effect of ‘CENTER TURN LANE ONLY’ or ‘CENTER TURN LANE’. White road signs are considered ‘regulatory’. This means that any operation contrary to their markings is a citable offense.

n Pavement markings will also indicate how this lane is to be used throughout the length of the lane. Solid and dotted yellow lines will border this lane, indicating no passing. White arrows will also be painted in the middle of these lanes to indicate the intended use.

When the above markings are in place for the center lane, all other uses are considered a violation of Iowa code. If the center lane is being used as a passing or a merging lane; the results could be disastrous. Traffic intending to use the center lane to make a turn may not be expecting to see another car approaching them head-on. This could lead to a serious crash, even at ‘in town’ speeds.

A violation of this code section carries a $195 fine.