Right-of-way is the right of one vehicle, vessel, or person to take precedence over another.
In other words, right-of-way determines who gets to continue on their path-of-travel and who must give way, or yield, to the other person.
All roadway users—not just those in motor vehicles—share the responsibility of legally accepting or yielding the right-of-way.
Right-of-way rules exist to remove confusion and add clarity to the driving experience. Have you ever been walking down a hallway when suddenly, you're about to run into someone?
You take a step to the side, but they take a step to the same side, and then you both take a step to the same side again, and it’s awkward for everyone involved?
The same thing can happen on the road, except instead of just being awkward, it can be deadly.
Here are a few key terms to keep in mind while learning about right-of-way:
A high percentage of teen driver crashes happen at intersections. This makes sense, because there’s a lot going on at intersections, like cars turning and crossing in front of oncoming traffic.
Some intersections are controlled by traffic signs and signals which instruct you when to accept or yield the right-of-way.
These are called "controlled intersections." Take a look at the video below to learn more about controlled intersections.
Uncontrolled intersections are intersections without traffic signs or signals. When you come across these intersections, proceed with caution and yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on your right.
Any vehicle that has entered the intersection on your right or is approaching the intersection from your right should go first.
If the road to your right is clear, or if the vehicles approaching from that direction are far enough away, you may proceed through.
If you are given the right-of-way, be sure there are no cars approaching from the left before you drive through the intersection. Even if you’re following every traffic law perfectly,
you can’t always count on other roadway users to do the same.
You may legally have the right-of-way, but another car may not yield to you when they’re supposed to, so always be cautious before proceeding through an intersection.
Take a look at the video below to learn more about uncontrolled intersections.
At a "T-intersection," stop first, then yield the right-of-way to the vehicles already traveling on the through street.
When turning left:
When turning left at an intersection with a green light, you must always yield the right-of-way to vehicles coming straight through from the other direction, unless you have a green arrow giving you the right-of-way.
You never want to turn left in the face of a car going straight through an intersection. You will cut them off, and possibly cause a very dangerous collision.
When turning left at a flashing yellow arrow, slow down and yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.
If you have a flashing yellow arrow and there is no oncoming traffic, you do not need to stop before executing your left turn.
The idea behind these flashing yellow arrows is to give more cars an opportunity to safely turn during each signal cycle.
At an intersection with a green light, you have the right-of-way when turning right.
At an intersection with a red light, you must stop and yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic when turning right. If there’s a No Turn on Red sign, you may not turn while the light is red.
If you are making a right turn and a bicyclist is approaching on the right, you should yield the right-of-way and let the bicyclist go through the intersection first before making a right turn.
Remember to use your turn signal.
A pedestrian is a person on foot, either walking or running. There are laws that define how and where pedestrians should walk, but as a driver you should always look out for them.
In general, you should yield the right-of-way:
Here are some additional rules of right-of-way to consider:
Without the rules of right-of-way, our roadways would be a chaotic and dangerous place. Make sure you're familiar with the general rules of right-of-way that we've discussed here, as well as the specific laws in your state.
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