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.

Basic Intersections, Turns, Stop Si...
Basic Intersections, Turns, Stop Signs Demonstration

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 ActOpens in a new tab.,  “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.

Thru3

ICBC Crash Example

ok2
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.

Intersecton6

Why do we yield to the right and not the left?

Good Question!

For example, say you have a 4-way stop and these two vehicles stop at the same time, and both want to go straight.

yield to the right

If we yield to the right, it clears the intersection faster than if we yield to the left.

In many circumstances, you do not need to wait until the other car is gone into the far distance, disappearing over the horizon, and the dust settling on the ground, before you start to roll; you should start rolling when the other vehicle is pretty much out of your way.

This is all based on the idea that the point of driving is to get somewhere, and clearing intersections in the most efficient manner possible would benefit everyone.

 

If Car A goes first (the car on the “Right”), then Car B can start rolling when Car A is about half way through the intersection:

If Car B went first (the car on the “Left”), then Car A would have to wait until Car B got across the entire intersection, remaining fully stopped, and then could proceed. This would take longer (especially when the roads are very wide).

I know, it’s very profound

If you are car B in this case, DO start rolling once car A is half way across. Don’t give the other driver a heart attackOpens in a new tab., but do be assertive. This will make it clear to vehicles arriving after you that you intend to go. If you stay completely stopped for longer than necessary, other drivers may become confused.

Read more:

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Carmen

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.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Ohhh yes I see. Typically there’s room to go at the same time, it’s just a matter of making sure it is actually safe and the other car is actually turning. Hope it all goes well. Teaching driving isn’t exactly easy so let me know how you guys are doing, Remember to drive to the ice cream place once in a while. :)

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b574f5b0b9c36a964a742edb1dfe732d7e85985d158413c8567a70d40d5a9806.jpg

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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

    1. 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.

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

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