Right of way determines which driver has the right to proceed first, and failure to obey right of way is the cause of a lot of car accidents. Knowing who has right of way and when you should yield the right of way to other drivers in common driving situations can help traffic flow more smoothly and help to avoid crashes. Right of way may be determined by traffic signals, signs, or simply by the rules of the road.
Right of Way Scenario #1: Making a Left Turn
Sometimes right of way in a left turn situation is obvious, such as when you have a green arrow giving you a protected left turn. In some other situations, that turn may not be quite so clear. Unless you have a green arrow, you must always yield to oncoming traffic that is proceeding on a green light. This includes cars making a right turn on the green light. If you make a left turn without a protected green and strike a car that is proceeding in a forward direction, you will likely be found at fault as that other driver had the right of way. The same applies to an uncontrolled intersection; anyone turning left must yield right of way to oncoming traffic and wait for the way to be clear before making a turn.
Right of Way Scenario #2: Right Turn on Red
Making a right turn on red is legal at many intersections. Unless you see a sign indicating that no right turn on red may be made, you can legally do so after you stop at the red light and check for oncoming traffic. When you make a right turn on red, you must yield right of way to any other car proceeding through the intersection with a green light. This includes cars traveling forward and cars making a legal left turn on a solid green when it is safe to do so. Cars moving on a green light always have right of way over a car making a right turn on red.
Right of Way Scenario #3: Merging
Whether it is a lane that is ending or a freeway acceleration lane merging in to traffic, any car entering the flow of traffic must yield right of way to the cars already moving in a forward position. It’s common courtesy for vehicles on freeways and highways to change lanes and allow the merging car to join the flow of traffic, but right of way rules don’t require it. If you are traveling in a forward direction, you have right of way over anyone merging into your lane.
Right of Way Scenario #4: In a Parking Lot
Parking lots can cause some confusion as to right of way, since most of the intersections are not controlled by stop signs or other signage. If you are driving in any main thoroughfare in a parking lot that exits to a street, you have right of way over other cars that are entering that thoroughfare from smaller “feeder” lanes. When it comes to backing out of a parking space, cars already moving through the lane have right of way over a car that is backing out.
Right of Way Scenario #5: Leaving a Driveway
If you are pulling out of a driveway, whether it is a residential driveway or from a parking lot, and into traffic, you must always yield right of way to the drivers in the street. Any time you move into the flow of traffic out of a driveway, drivers already moving have the right of way over your vehicle, and you must wait until the traffic clears to proceed.
Right of way is one of the things that are taken into consideration by both police when handing out traffic violations and by insurance companies when determining fault in an accident. When in doubt, always yield the right of way to any vehicle that is already moving in a forward direction, or any time you are moving from a stopped position into the flow of traffic. You’ll prevent accidents and car insurance rate increases.