Right of Way

The concept of “Right of Way” plays a vital role in the ability of all of us to keep our roads safe. The law dictates who goes first and when in situations where multiple vehicles and their drivers come together. In other words, if you are granted the right of way under the law, you should go ahead of another vehicle you may encounter where two or more roads meet. Soon, when you read about intersections, you’ll get some more details regarding who is granted the right of way and in what situations.

Traffic control signals such as blinking yellow lights and yield signs dictate who normally has the right of way. You should fully expect that there will be numerous times when the driver who is permitted to go first won’t. There are various reasons for this, most of them bad, but some of them understandable.

You already know the bad reasons: another driver is in a rush, and their time is more important than yours. Or another driver is, by nature, impatient and simply doesn’t want to wait for you.  Yet another driver feels like allowing someone (who does, in fact, have the right of way) to go first is a sign of weakness. Another driver is more focused on a new text message than on the intersection they just entered. In all of these cases, you must be the one to decide that it is safer for you to give up your right of way and allow the other driver to proceed. If you learn to read other vehicles and drivers, spotting this potential source of a collision should not be too much of a challenge. And, in case you are wondering, yielding your right of way to an inconsiderate driver is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of responsibility and common sense.

You may be asking yourself what a valid reason for giving up your right of way (as defined under the law) could be. Well, aside from letting these careless and impatient drivers go first, there are some instances where you may want to let another driver proceed even though the law gives you the right of way. A lot of it has to do with traffic. Consider this:

You approach a four-way intersection just before another driver on your left does. You have the right of way and want to go straight across the intersection and continue along your route. The problem is, though, you notice an eighteen-wheeler up ahead on your street (another good reason to “aim high” in your steering). It is backing into a business and has traffic stopped all the way back to your intersection. If you go now, despite having the right of way, you won’t have enough space to completely clear the intersection. The back end of your vehicle will be sticking out into traffic and obstructing other drivers trying to pass through.  In such a case, you might want to wave the other driver on. Their route is clear, and that will allow time for your path to open up. You will encounter similar situations when you approach a school where classes have just ended and there is a line of traffic leaving the school. Or you see traffic backed up at a railroad crossing ahead so there is no room for you if you proceed through an intersection. These situations will be very rare but they do come up once in a while. Here’s the thing: there are no lights or signs telling you what to do. So we return to one of the cruxes of this course. You must use your common sense, understanding of the law, observation skills, and good judgment to do what is not normally expected. In this case, you are not doing anything wrong. You are observing and noticing that voluntarily yielding your right of way in this one instance will keep traffic flowing rather than impeding other vehicles (the back end of your car sticking out into an intersection). These types of cases while rare, will come up at some point in your driving career. No need to dwell on them but be prepared when they do. There is another old adage you may have heard: “Discretion is the better part of valor.” That adage describes this situation to a tee. Right of way or not, if you even think that another driver plans to go before you when they should yield, let them pass. You will encounter many careless drivers on the road. The more distance you keep between you and them, the better.


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