Intersections in British Columbia – Driver’s Guide [2023]

Intersections in British Columbia

Welcome to Intersections in British Columbia

Welcome to our Intersections in British Columbia guide. This guide is intended for drivers and other road users to help better understand different types of intersections and how to navigate them safely.

What are intersections in British Columbia?

Intersections in British Columbia are the most common places where collisions occur; places where a road meets with another road. These are places where a number of different road users often cross paths, and they can get very busy.

There is often a lot going on at intersections, so it’s important to always pay attention. Other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and other types of road users might be in a hurry and might want to move into the same space at the same time as you (which is the definition of a collision, by the way).

Definition of Intersections in British Columbia via the BC Motor Vehicle Act

“intersection” means the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of the 2 highways that join one another at or approximately at right angles, or the area within which vehicles travelling on different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict;

British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act Opens in a new tab.

Who has the right of way in intersections in British Columbia?

Right-of-way can be a difficult thing to explain, and no one really ever “has” the right of way until another road user has given it. Who “has the right of way” will always depend on the intersection and the traffic control devices located at the intersection.

Generally speaking, you must yield to another vehicle if it arrived at an intersection before you. At a four-way stop, for example, if two vehicles arrive at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right. To get more details about the right-of-way, check out my blog: Right-of-Way Rules for Driving – Who Goes First?

Many people think that it’s illegal to change lanes in intersections in British Columbia. This is because it’s not generally viewed as a safe maneuver. However, in British Columbia, there is no law written against changing lanes in an intersection. Therefore, it’s technically legal to do it.

Keep in mind, it’s illegal to change lanes over solid white lines – which are found near intersections – and it’s also illegal to change lanes over crosswalks; which are also found near intersections. To learn more about why this is generally considered dangerous, check out my detailed article: Changing Lanes in an Intersection – Why You Shouldn’t.

In BC, is the entrance to a driveway considered an intersection?

No, entrances to driveways, lanes (alleys), and parking lots are not considered intersections in British Columbia from a legal standpoint. These places are simply entrances to private or public properties. Vehicles exiting lanes and driveways are legally required to stop as if they had a stop sign, and yield to any other road users. Check out my full article Emerging from a Lane, Driveway, or Parking Lot to learn more.

BC Motor Vehicle Act – Emerging from Alley or Driveway

Emerging from alleys

176   (1)The driver of a vehicle in a business or residence district and emerging from an alley, driveway, building or private road must stop the vehicle immediately before driving onto the sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across an alleyway or private driveway, and must yield the right of way to a pedestrian on the sidewalk or sidewalk area.

(2)The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from an alley, lane, driveway, building or private road must yield the right of way to traffic approaching on the highway so closely that it constitutes an immediate hazard.

British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act Opens in a new tab.

Types of Intersections in British Columbia

In British Columbia, there are two main types of intersections; those that are controlled by traffic control devices (known as controlled intersections), and those that are not controlled (known as uncontrolled intersections).

What are some examples of traffic control devices?

  • Road signs (stop sign, yield sign, etc.)
  • Traffic signals (traffic lights)
  • Pavement markings
  • Barriers (such as cones and cement barriers)
  • A traffic control person in a construction zone, controlling traffic with a road sign or another way

Controlled Intersections

A controlled intersection is one that has some type of “traffic control device” to control traffic. These are usually signs or traffic lights that basically tell drivers what to do. To drive safely at controlled intersections, you must know what traffic signals and road signs mean.

But also, you need to know the right-of-way rules so that you can understand which road users are supposed to be yielding to who. It’s good to always be extra careful because other road users might not be paying attention or doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Uncontrolled Intersections

Uncontrolled intersections are just what they sound like; not controlled by any kind of road signs or traffic lights. These types of intersections are usually found in neighborhoods and other areas where there isn’t much traffic.

However, they can still be dangerous just because drivers might not be expecting an uncontrolled intersection, or they may not be expecting other road users at that location, since it seems so quiet.

As you are approaching an uncontrolled intersection, you may need to slow down – depending on your visibility -and take a look for other drivers, pedestrians, and other types of road users.

As usual, scan the uncontrolled intersection from left to right. If another driver has arrived at the intersection before you, then you need to slow down and yield the right of way. In other words, let them go first. If two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the left should yield to the vehicle on the right.

If you want to turn left and there is other traffic approaching from the oncoming direction, yield to any vehicles and traffic that is in or near the intersection. If you want to go straight and a vehicle is already in the intersection turning left, you must yield the right of way.

What are the most common intersections in British Columbia?

Some of the most common types of intersections include:

  • Stop sign intersections
  • Yield sign intersections
  • Traffic light intersections

Intersections controlled by stop signs

Intersections controlled by stop signs are very common. Drivers facing a stop sign must stop completely and yield to other road users, and not continue until it’s safe to do so. There are a variety of different stop sign intersections:

Intersections controlled by yield signs

Some intersections are controlled by a yield sign. To yield simply means to give the other road users the right-of-way anytime there would be a potential conflict of space. This means you may or may not have to slow down and/or stop, depending on your visibility at any particular intersection. To read more about yield signs, check out our full guide to yielding.

Intersections controlled by traffic signals [traffic lights]

Traffic signals are used for intersections that are larger and have more lanes compared to most intersections that use stop signs to control them. Traffic signal-controlled intersections can get quite complicated (Such as this intersection on King Edward Avenue and MacDonald in Vancouver) or they can be basic.

Driving safely at intersections

Considering intersections are the most common place where collisions occur, it makes sense for drivers to be extra careful around them. There are several things you can do to make sure your driving is safe at intersections.

Scan all intersections before proceeding through

One of the first things I would always teach new drivers when they were first driving in traffic on a main road was to scan intersections before driving through them. This is especially important when a driver is the “first vehicle” stopped at a red light and then the light switches to green.

This is the most likely moment that collisions will occur, due to drivers racing through the light when they shouldn’t and/or drivers proceeding through the fresh green light when it actually isn’t safe to do so yet.

Simply waiting three seconds after the light goes green, and doing a complete scan from the left, to the center, to the right, and then to the left again before proceeding can prevent a lot of incidents. Check out our full article on scanning intersections before driving through to get more details.

Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in beautiful North Vancouver, BC, and taught many drivers for almost a decade including brand new drivers, drivers from various countries, and seniors, using automatic & standard vehicles and a minivan. She created BC Driving Blog in 2012.

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