Right Of Way Rules For Driving – Who Goes First?

right of way

Whenever someone says ‘right of way’ they are talking about an understanding that drivers have, with regards to which vehicle is going to go first before another vehicle, in a driving situation.

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Jump to a section:

  1. What is Right of Way?
  2. Why Right of Way Rules?
  3. 2-Way Stops
  4. Rant
  5. Traffic Light Turns
  6. Pedestrians
  7. 4-Way Stops
  8. More 2- Way Stops
  9. Vehicles Exiting Lane, Parking Lot, Driveway
  10. Through Streets
  11. ICBC Crash Example
  12. Right of Way Right Turns

What is ‘Right of Way’?

Very generally speaking, the rules go like this: left turns must yield to right turns, and left turns must yield to conflicting traffic that is traveling straight ahead.

Why Right of Way Rules?

Well, someone’s gotta go first. And us humans need to figure out who it is so we can all get to where we’re going in one piece. And if we are efficient while doing so, all the better, because us humans are naturally quite impatient as it turns out.

  • 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

When a driver is new, left turns can be dangerous. Also, they can be dangerous when drivers lack judgment, skill, or make errors. One example of an error is assuming there’s no oncoming traffic in cases when visibility is blocked by an oncoming left-turning vehicle.

You can avoid left turns by route planning in advance, such as driving past the place you want to turn left and then doing 3 right turns. Read more about safe, defensive driving.

Common situations that confuse drivers:

Right of Way at Stop signs: 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.

Rant on Right of Way Rules

Rant: notice how I wrote “car B should yield to car A?” that means, the driver is supposed to yield, it doesn’t mean they are actually going to! 

If they don’t yield to you, then you don’t have the right of way; you don’t have 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.

right of way rules

Right Of Way Rules: 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

yield right of way

* Please note that by law, you must yield to any vehicle that is in any space BEFORE YOU, regardless of other traffic laws.

It is kind of like a Christmas present. If someone doesn’t give it to you, then you don’t have it.

Pedestrians & The rules

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.

You are required to stop and yield to pedestrians waiting on any corner of this intersection.

Some examples

Cars turning left yield to cars that are going straight.

Basic Left Turn at Traffic Light

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

4-Way Stop

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. Check out our epic 4-way stop article here.

At 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 them know by staying stopped at the line and look at them, 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. Read the detailed article on exiting a lane, driveway, or parking lot.

What is a Through Street?

According to the Act,  “through highway” means a highway or part of a highway at the entrances to which stop signs are erected under this Act;

Generally when people say through street it means a street along which the traffic has the right of way over vehicles entering or crossing at intersections.


ICBC Crash Example

http://www.icbc.com/claims/determine-fault/Documents/collide.pdfOpens in a new tab.

First of all, no one has the right-of-way until someone else has given it. Thinking “I have the right of way” often leads to disaster when others who are supposed to yield, don’t.

So, think of it in terms of “I should yield to them,” or “They should yield to me.”

Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Being realistic, things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to while driving and you should expect and anticipate this – it is a normal part of driving.

In terms of right turns, this is a difficult question to answer because it depends on what type of intersection we’re talking about and what color the traffic light is (if there is one).

Let’s take some common circumstances though, say an intersection with a green traffic light; and a 2-way stop intersection where the bike, pedestrian, and car are not the ones facing stop signs (they’re on the thru road).

Let’s say the car wants to turn right, and the pedestrian and bike want to go straight, and these people are all going in the same direction.

Pedestrians should be given the right to go first

Bikes should yield to pedestrians

Vehicles (i.e. cars and trucks) should yield to pedestrians and cyclists

In other words, a pedestrian should not have to stop and wait for a bike or a car to go first before they can walk across the road.

A bike should not have to stop and wait for a car to turn right in front of them before they can continue straight. A car should not be cutting off pedestrians or bikes when turning right.

This means, the car might have to stop and wait for bikes and pedestrians to go first before turning. A bike might have to stop and wait (on a right turn) for pedestrians as well.

As usual, be defensive: look for eye contact and try to make sure people know you exist before putting yourself in a situation that could prove to be dangerous.


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Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

30 thoughts on “Right Of Way Rules For Driving – Who Goes First?

  1. What do you think of this? It’s a little confusing. Car A is making a left turn into a parking lot across 2 lanes of traffic plus a right turn lane for an intersection 100 yards behind Car A. The light is red and traffic has backed up in the 2 opposite direction lanes. Nice people in both lanes make room and wave Car A through. However, Car B is racing up to the intersection and pulls into the right turn lane at the same time Car A starts the left turn. They collide. Who is at fault?

    1. I don’t know, I usually try to avoid collisions so I never have to figure out who’s fault it is. But in my opinion it is both their faults, Since it does take 2 drivers to have a collision in which 2 cars are involved. Just my opinion.

    2. I would say Car A. Car B was in a through lane in the opposite direction of travel and in order for Car A to travel across the opposite lanes of travel if safe to do so. Just because someone waves you through does not mean its safe. It means the person waiving you through thinks its safe and can’t see the car that has the right of way.

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