Right Of Way Rules For Driving

What is ‘right of way’?

It’s a little different from ‘right away’ that’s for sure.

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.

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?

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 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.

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.

Common situations that confuse inexperienced 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.

Then, any right turn should go before any left. Car B Should yield to Car A.

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 he doesn’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.

Remember, it is like a Christmas present. If someone doesn’t give it to you, then you don’t have it. Ohhh snap.

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.

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 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.

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.

Thru3

ICBC Crash Example

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http://www.icbc.com/claims/determine-fault/Documents/collide.pdf

Right Of Way On Right Turns: Cyclists/Bikes, Pedestrians, Or Cars?

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

Hope that all made sense. You can read more about understanding intersections here from ICBC.

By Carmen

Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada.

30 comments

  1. 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. 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. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

    1. 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.)

          1. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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 ?

  9. 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.

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