Who Has the Right of Way?

The concept of the right of way is important to understand since the law never really grants the right of way. The law simply states when the right of way must be yielded. Right of way can be used when the law permits its use by requiring that others yield the right of way to you. Failure to yield the right of way leads to crashes in all states. There are some ways for you to reduce this probability when you are driving however. Right of way must be yielded to other drivers in the following instances:

  • At a yield sign;
  • To pedestrians in a crosswalk;
  • To persons using a seeing eye guide dog;
  • To persons using a white cane with or without a red tip;
  • At uncontrolled intersections where vehicles are already in the intersection;
  • At “T” intersections where you must yield to vehicles on the through road;
  • When turning left in which case you must yield to oncoming pedestrians, cars, etc.;
  • When driving on an unpaved road that intersections with a paved road; and
  • When returning to the roadway after the car is parked.

Who has the right of way?

The law gives the right of way to no one, but it does state who must yield (give up) the right of way. Every driver, motorcyclist, moped rider, bicyclist, and pedestrian must do everything possible to avoid a crash. When you yield the right of way to another vehicle, you are letting them go before you in the traffic situation. Few areas of traffic safety are more misunderstood than the “Yield to the Driver on the Right” rule. This is the rule that controls most intersections when drivers arrive at an intersection simultaneously.

For instance, you come upon a stop sign at the same time as another driver in a cross street and he is on your right. You yield (give up) the right of way to that driver by letting him go first. If you reach an uncontrolled intersection at close to the same time, the vehicle who actually reached the intersection last is the driver who must yield the right of way. If you reach the intersection at the same time, the driver on the left should yield the right of way.

Pedestrians must always be yielded the right of way at intersections and crosswalks. Bicycles, since they are considered “vehicles,” are subject to the same rules as other drivers; they are not always granted the right of way. When turning left at an intersection, you must yield to oncoming traffic. When merging into traffic, do not attempt to merge if the driver behind you must slow down to let you in. You must, of course, yield the right of way to emergency vehicles and construction vehicles and workers, as well as to school buses during the instances we have already discussed.

If two vehicles meet on a narrow mountain road in which there is only room for one vehicle to travel at a time, the vehicle going downhill must yield to the vehicle traveling uphill. The downhill vehicle should pull over enough to allow the other vehicle through; unless it is more practical for the uphill vehicle to find a wider space or turnout.

The driver should be aware of the areas in which he drives most frequently and should have a general knowledge of other frequently traveled streets or roadways as well. The driver should not be influenced by friends or peer groups when driving and should make his or her own decisions in regard to routes, speed, etc. The driver should know which intersections or thoroughfares are more apt to have crashes and should avoid them. The driver should consider how the right of way will affect his or her travel and should use his or her own discretion as to travel plans and the environment.

Should you ever insist on the right of way?

The driver should never assume that other drivers will start or complete any maneuver and should never insist on the right of way nor attempt to force their way into traffic. Drivers should try to anticipate other driver’s actions as well as yielding whenever needed or required by law. Giving up the right of way to other drivers also helps to avoid crashes, as does gaining eye contact with all operators of motor vehicles that come directly into conflict with you. Drivers should attempt to be both courteous and conscientious toward other drivers.


SafeMotorist.com Driving Safety Articles:
This article was written by SafeMotorist.com defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.