Legal Issues of Roadway Rights of Way

Public Works Resource
August 13, 2012 — 1,210 views  
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With millions of American drivers on the streets every day, it is incredibly important for there to be established and understood systems to keep vehicle operators, pedestrians and property safe at all times. With this in mind, there are many tools that maintain order, including traffic lights, signs and guardrails.

However, it is just as important for drivers to understand some of the more implicitly enforced rules of the road. Unlike the examples listed above, the regulations are not physical, but rather expected to be learned and followed by all operators.

Rights of way are perhaps the most common examples of this type of law. When sharing the road with other drivers, the importance of paying attention to other vehicles and following the region's rules governing traffic is paramount. Failing to heed these laws can result in injury, death or damage and also lead to serious legal repercussions.

Here are few things to keep in mind to understand the legal issues surrounding roadway rights of way.

Common instances of rights of way

There are many situations in which you, the driver, must yield to another vehicle or pedestrian. At stops, for example, the general practice is that cars leave the intersection in the order they arrived. When entering a roadway, a driver is expected to wait until there is a clear break in traffic.

Similarly, whether at a stop or in the flow of traffic, a driver intending to turn left must wait until the oncoming lane is clear. At rotaries or roundabouts, operators must yield the right of way to vehicles already traveling in the circle.

When pedestrians are waiting at a crosswalk, vehicle operators are expected to cede the right of way to them. Drivers are also required to yield to people who are using a seeing eye dog or white walking sticks, regardless of whether they are in a crosswalk.

If a driver encounters a law enforcement or emergency vehicle with active sirens, he or she must pull over and concede right of way to that automobile.


Depending on the severity and results of an infraction, right of way breaches can result in fines, raised insurance premiums, loss of license and criminal charges. A driver shown to have many related violations within a given time frame can also face elevated punishments.

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