Right-of-Way Basics

(Last Updated On: July 22, 2016)

In General

Generally speaking, left turns must yield to right turns, and left turns must yield to conflicting traffic that is travelling straight ahead. Why? When you turn right, frequently you’re just turning across a pedestrian crosswalk or pedestrian/bicycle area. When you turn left, you’re turning across pedestrian/bicycle area plus the oncoming traffic lane(s).

Generally right turns are commonly a lot quicker, safer, and present the driver with less conflicts when compared to left turns. Left turns can be dangerous when drivers lack judgment, skill, or make errors like assuming there’s no oncoming traffic in cases when their visibility is blocked by an oncoming left-turning vehicle.

Left turns can be avoided by route planning in advance, such as driving past the place you want to turn left and then doing 3 right turns.

If you’re looking for more information on basic right of way rules, check out the eBook I wrote to help drivers:

Stop Signs eBook

Common situations that confuse inexperienced drivers:

2 – Way Stop

The 2-way stop when you’re driving on the thru road: Neither car is facing a stop sign. Both vehicles must yield to pedestrians and cyclists first and foremost. Then, any right turn should go before any left turn (Car B should yield to car A).

Rant

Rant: notice how I wrote “car B should yield to car A?” that means, he’s supposed to yield, it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to! If he doesn’t yield to you, then you don’t have the right of way. Right of way means, that space on that road at that particular time. In cases where drivers fail to yield, be defensive and give the right of way and/or honk if you must to avoid collisions. New drivers will learn to judge other vehicles. Look for eye contact: people don’t usually hit stuff that they see.

 

2wayBasics

 

Traffic Light Turns

 

When you’re driving at signal-controlled (traffic light) intersections with a green light, the same rules apply. Keep in mind in places where there are multiple lanes, the onus is still on the left-turning driver to yield until safe. The law says nothing of the sorts that “the right lane belongs to the right-turning car” and “the left lane belongs to the left-turning car,” (It does say you’re supposed to turn into the closest lane, however i.e. the right lane from a right turn & the left lane from a left turn, if applicable), what it clearly states is that “Left turns must yield to right turns and thru traffic” until safe, period. In other words, use extreme caution when turning left and if you aren’t sure if it’s safe to turn, then don’t!  (Car B should yield to car A).

 

2wayBasicsLights

 

*** Please note that by law, you must yield to any vehicle that is in any space BEFORE YOU, regardless of other traffic laws.  Remember, if someone doesn’t give you the right of way, then you don’t have the right of way.

 

Pedestrians

 

Pedestrians have a lot of rights in BC. In the diagram above, there are 4 legal, unmarked crosswalks – legal places for pedestrians to walk across the road. Vehicles are required to stop and yield to pedestrians waiting on any corner of this intersection. (any intersection, generally speaking – unless you see a “no pedestrian” sign).

 

Some examples:

 

Cars turning left yield to cars that are going straight.

 

 

This driver GAVE me the gift of the Right-of-Way

So that  I could go around the parked truck/obstruction. So I took the right-of- way, and gave him a nice big thank you wave. 🙂 He now has good karma.

 

 

Here I had NO Right-of-Way, even though I had a Green Light

The other cars didn’t give me the right-of-way, so I didn’t have it:

 

 

Basic Left Turn at Traffic Light

Left turn yield to pedestrians and cars turning right and cars going straight through.

 

 

4-Way Stop Demo (Driving lesson)

Whoever stopped first, goes first. If you stopped second, go second. If you stop at the same time, yield to the right; left turn yield to right turn, and left turn yield to straight through.

 

 

2-Way Stop

Cars facing a 2-way stop sign must stop and yield to traffic on the thru street, and may only proceed when safe. If 2 vehicles arrive at the same time, usually you must yield to whichever car stopped and entered the intersection first. If you stop at the same time and one wants to go straight and one wants to go left, the one going left should yield to the one going straight. Sometimes people wave each other thru. While this is a nice gesture, try to avoid this as you may be held partially liable in the event of a crash. If you want to let the other car go first, let him know by staying stopped at the line and look at him, rather than inching forward and looking left and right as if you’re preparing to make a move.

 

Vehicles Exiting Lane/Driveway/Parking Lot

These are legally required to stop completely and yield to pedestrians and all other road users before proceeding.

 

NOT LIKE THIS :

 

 

This is better:

 

 

Hope that all made sense 🙂

Many moons ago, Carmen became an ICBC-approved driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, and has spent many years working with new and experienced drivers around the lower mainland. She can be found reading the Motor Vehicle Act for fun while receiving strange looks from others. May the quest for great driving continue!

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  • Noonespellsmynameright

    Hi, teaching my daughter to drive and we have a minor disagreement. Car A is traveling south and arrives at a stop sign at an intersection at the same time as northbound Car B arrives at its stop sign opposite. They both wish to turn left, Car A to continue east, Car B to continue west. There is no other traffic around and both can proceed. Who has the right of way or can they both make their opposite left turns at the same time?

    • Hi, Read this : http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/rules-road/drivers/right-way-two-way-stop

      Legalities aside, it is unwise to assume that just because a car has a left turn signal, that it will actually turn left; so going at the same time might be possible but I would recommend extreme caution and I would want some more evidence that the vehicle is actually going to turn, such as you can see the front tires turning that direction.

      • Noonespellsmynameright

        thanks! We both agreed that if she was unsure she should not go, but she was confused I think about the other car being in her lane to make the turn. We will talk more about it on the next lesson.

    • Adam Randall

      I have a similar question, which I should probably know the answer to by now since I’ve had my license for 5+ years. It just never really occurs to me until it’s happening.
      Let’s say we have the same exact scenario, Car A going south turning east, car B turning west. However, we’re at a red light turning green. Cars behind the turning cars start going around A and B, straight through the intersection because both A and B are trying to yield to each other. Visibility for A is blocked by B and vice versa. You can either take a chance that the through traffic is done, and maybe get t-boned, or you can continue yielding and waiting for the opposite car to do the same. What’s the best way to handle this situation?
      Often times I am unsure whether the cars going straight behind the opposite turning car are going to “wait their turn” (meaning both A and B would HAVE to turn at the same time), or only wait until a/b has yielded to long for their liking, whipping around them and resulting in an accident. The rightmost vehicle going first doesn’t work because the vehicles are opposite each other.
      I sometimes run into the issue of starting my left turn, only to see a car making a right turn into the same lane that was hidden behind the car turning left, or rapidly approaching and assuming right of way.

      • Hi. The answer is simple and that is if you don’t have 100% visibility/certainty then just wait. The longest you’ll wait is for the yellow/red light when you’ll be exiting the intersection when safe anyway, so no need to feel rushed.

  • Tuhin Paul

    what is the formal/legal stand on the right of way at an intersection when the light turns yellow for these two cases?
    1) car going straight at amber where it could stop VS car waiting at intersection to turn left?
    2) car turning right into a one way road at amber VS the car waiting at intersection to turn left?

  • jharold

    accident

    turn left is uncontrolled traffic., car A turning left into mall., mall entrance have 3 line, one is for exit
    car B turning right into 1st line of mall entrance but the van in front of car B is over the height limit of the mall.,
    car A turn left behind car B insted taking 2nd line of mall entrance.,
    car B check left shoulder saw island and right should and rear window for backing into the corner right side of the street.
    car B front bumper driver side hit the front bumper passenger side of car A., no horn apply

    car B did not expect car A.,
    because there is 2nd line for turning left (some call fast line)

    whos is fault.,?

    cambie left turn is uncontroled traffic in oakridge mall entrance.,!

    https://www.google.ca/maps/@49.2322101,-123.1164332,3a,90y,264.36h,50.82t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sdKHHpJheg6mUvtovAChUSw!2e0

    here is other view., turning left is no totaly any sign, stop line or yield., all u see if you turning left from there is arrow straight in mall entrance
    https://www.google.ca/maps/@49.232367,-123.1164279,3a,75y,193.34h,56.6t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sKI4ecaNBubooRa_vgEk_hQ!2e0

    • Hi, Sorry to hear. I am honestly not too sure, Sorry! 🙁 ICBC is much better at determining fault. I don’t have a lot of experience with it actually. I think that a Left turn would be required to yield to right turns in this case, although if the left turn went into the left lane and the right turn went into the right lane then there wouldn’t be a problem right? (this left lane is not a ‘fast lane’ into a mall parking lot, we do have the left lane designated as a fast lane on the HIGHWAY/FREEWAY ONLY!) Anyway, it might be partially the fault of both of the vehicles. I am not quite sure exactly where the cars were. It is sort of hard to tell from your description. Please let me know what you find out.

  • left turn confusion

    I am turning left on a left-turn green arrow with a green light on to a two lane street and want to immediately be in the right lane because I want to turn right at the next block. I have my right turn indicator on. A vehicle from the opposite direction is turning right on a red light with a ‘yield to right of way’ triangle sign. There is not a merge lane for the right turning vehicle. Is the right turning vehicle supposed to wait for the green light? And if not, who has the right of way for the right lane?

    • Which intersection is this? Is he facing a red light, or a yield sign? (Usually it is one or the other) In any case, that car (turning right) is required to yield to any traffic and not go to until safe. The motor vehicle act never says that the left lane belongs to the left turning car, and the right lane belongs to the right turning car. It says cars facing red lights and yield signs are required to yield to any traffic on the road and not to go until it is safe.

      While you do not want to turn directly into the right lane (you’re supposed to initially turn into the left lane), if you start your left turn and then switch to the right turn signal and plan a lane change immediately after the intersection, this is a legal lane change. However, can you trust the other car? No probably not right? Some drivers seem to think that the left turning car HAS TO stay in the left lane, allowing them to turn right at the exact same time. This is dangerous in general not to stagger a turn and to expect to be able to turn right ON A RED LIGHT (red means stop, and yield, yes?) at the same time as a vehicle lawfully going through the intersection on a GREEN arrow! Obviously to be defensive and avoid crashing into them, though, you may have to put up with them and be careful – honk and tell them to stay put if you think that will work – and if they turn, may have to slow down in order to get to the right lane to be able to do your right turn…in other words use caution. I am not sure if you would be found partially at fault in the case of a collision because technically you would have done an “unsafe lane change” … and they would have done an unsafe turn against a red signal / yield.

      Right Turn

      (3) Despite subsection (1), and except when a right turn permitted by this subsection is prohibited by a sign at an intersection, the driver of a vehicle facing the red light, and which in obedience to it is stopped as closely as practicable to a marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, as closely as practicable to the intersection, may cause the vehicle to make a right turn, but the driver must yield the right of way to all pedestrians and vehicles lawfully proceeding as directed by the signal at the intersection.

      Left Turn

      (3) When the driver of a vehicle intends to turn the vehicle left at an intersection where traffic is restricted to one direction on one or more of the highways, the driver must cause the vehicle to approach the intersection in the extreme left hand lane available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle, and after entering the intersection turn the vehicle to the left so as to leave the intersection as nearly as practicable in the left hand lane available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle on the highway being entered.

      Yield signs

      (2) Except as provided in section 175, if 2 vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time and there is a yield sign, the driver of a vehicle facing the sign must yield the right of way to all other traffic.

  • Joyce

    I have a questions, maybe doesn’t directly relate to the situation of left and right turns.

    This happened during my road test,
    At a four way stop, Me and another car arrived at the intersection at the same time.
    He is on my left wanting to go straight and I am at his right but am making a left turn.
    Who should yield in this case?

    • I would say you should go first because you’re on the right (doesn’t really matter which way you are going in this case, we yield to the right if we stop at the same time.)

      • Joyce

        Great thank you!

        • If you were facing each other, and one wants to go straight and one wants to go left, then the one going left should yield. Maybe that’s what you were thinking. 🙂

          • Joyce

            He is not facing me but on my left going straight.
            I guess you pretty much answered it.
            He should yield cuz i am at his right, tho im turning left.

  • vivian-li

    Succinct and comprehensive! Been searching the web everywhere for info on right-of-way for left and right turns, and no other article gets straight to the point as well as this one. Thanks!

  • Joanne

    I’ve learned that the car turning right has the right of way, as described in the article. However, a lot of people don’t seem to know that these days. I constantly have to make a left out of my street, and often times, there is a car on the other side trying to make a right turn. I drive about half way out so that I can complete my left turn as soon as the car makes the right turn. The car turning right just sits there, so I end up making the left turn first so that I’m not sitting in the middle of the road. (If I don’t drive half way out, I’ll be waiting there for hours.) This drives me crazy!

    • Oh they probably get scared because you’ve pulled into the intersection already, that is fine as long as both cars seem to have an understanding or communication of who is going first. Cars taking right of way when it isn’t theirs is just rude, or worse those ‘almost accidents’ that happen because drivers aren’t educated or are not polite. I hear ya there though, it is often a case of what is supposed to happen & what actually happens to keep you safe are worlds apart. I prefer 4 way stops, but I guess if you live around there you don’t have a choice unless you want to turn right and go around the block, lol which is probably more obnoxious.

  • Brodie

    At traffic lights, those people turning right, that have the right of way, should also be vigilant to a driver turning left who is facing an amber light. That driver needs to clear the intersection, so in a sense, that driver turning left needs the right of way. I don’t know how many times, I have almost been in an accident because I HAVE to turn left to clear the intersection, but the driver turning right won’t get out of the way. It is a sticky point, but sometimes the rules do not always dictate the exact rule.

    • I hear ya. What is supposed to happen by law, likely won’t happen a lot of the time in real life, but it’s important to understand the rules; especially for new drivers. and also to understand that you must expect to make allowances for the questionable, unpredictable or dangerous actions of other drivers if you would like to stay alive and in one piece. and furthermore, to just accept things and expect things. if you are never surprised by a car when driving then you will have a lot less of a reason to become stressed or anxious or ?

  • This is such a big pet peeve of mine, I shouldn’t let it bother me as much as it does though. I wish people would understand the basics again of who has the right of way. Yeah you are right that car b should yield to car a, but it not always going to happen.

    • carmenac

      It seems like it should be such a simple concept…