Right of way is a term subject to different meanings. In the context
of property law, it is the right to travel over someone's land and to have
the reasonable use and enjoyment of their property as long as it is not
inconsistent with the owner's use and enjoyment of the land. The right
of way may be a specific grant of land or an "easement," which is a right
to pass across another's land. Some rights of way are for a specific use
such as repair of telephone lines.
In traffic laws, a driver is entitled to the "right of way" to priority
to proceed ahead of other vehicles or pedestrians, depending on certain
rules of the road, such as the first to reach an intersection. Failure
to yield the right of way to the vehicle or person entitled to is dangerous
and may result in a citation and fine, or liability in the event of an
accident. However, right of way is not an absolute right. It must be exercised
in a reasonable manner with due care for one's self and for the care of
Generally, a driver approaching an intersection must yield the right-of-way to traffic already in the intersection (traffic in the intersection has the right of way). If drivers are approaching an intersection from opposite directions, the driver turning left must yield to approaching traffic going straight or turning right (traffic going straight or turning right has the right-of-way). Two drivers at an intersection that arrived at the same time at a right angle- the driver on the left must yield the right-of way. ( the driver on the right has the right of way).
The following is an example of state's traffic right of way rules for vehicles:
A driver must yield the right of way:
- when police or emergency vehicles are using sirens
or flashing lights. The driver must pull to the right-hand edge of the
roadway and stop, if necessary. Intersections must not be blocked.
- when making a right turn on a red light after a stop.
- after coming to a complete stop at an intersection
where there is a stop sign or flashing red signal. If there is no stop
line, stop before the crosswalk. If there is no crosswalk or stop line,
stop at a place where all approaching traffic can be seen. Proceed only
after stopping and yielding to all pedestrians and other vehicles in the
- when making a left turn on a red light after a
stop from a one-way street to another one-way street with traffic moving
to the left.
- when more than one driver reaches a four-way stop
intersection. The first driver to stop should be the first to go. When
two vehicles on different roadways arrive at a four-way stop intersection
at the same time, the vehicle on the left should yield to the vehicle on
- when two vehicles on different roadways reach
an uncontrolled intersection at the same time. The vehicle on the left
should yield to the vehicle on the right.
- to oncoming traffic when making a left-hand turn.
If you enter an intersection while the light is green, you may finish your
turn even though the light turns red.
- to through traffic when approaching a MERGE sign.
You must increase or decrease speed to avoid an accident.
- when approaching a YIELD sign. You should slow
down or stop to avoid an accident.
- even after the light turns green when there are
vehicles in the intersection.
- when emerging from an alley, building, private
road or driveway after coming to a complete stop.
- to cross traffic when on the terminating highway
of a "T" intersection with no traffic control signs or signals.
- to any authorized vehicle engaged in construction
or maintenance of a highway that is displaying amber (yellow) oscillating,
rotating or flashing lights. Yielding the right-of-way can help prevent
accidents and save lives.
- when a funeral procession enters an intersection
with its lights on. The lead vehicle of the procession must obey stop signs
and traffic signals. But when the lead vehicle has crossed an intersection,
the following vehicles in the procession may cross cautiously without stopping.
A driver who is not in the procession may overtake and pass the procession
if he or she can without causing an accident or interfering with the procession.
Drivers who are not part of a funeral procession-except for emergency vehicles
- are not allowed to break into the line unless they are authorized to
do so by a traffic officer.
There are other right of way traffic rules regarding pedestrians and
other users of the road, such as bicycles.