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Know Who Has the Right of Way

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Tips

Few things are as awkward as getting caught in a stand-off with a stranger—one of those encounters in which you both move in the same direction to pass one another, then pause and awkwardly stutter from side to side. In the worst cases, these encounters end with a collision.


Now imagine that you are in the same situation, only in a car. You and a stranger approach an unmarked intersection at the same time. You stop, you wait, neither moves. Each of you stutters forward slightly, then stops. In this instance, a collision is not only embarrassing but could also be costly and dangerous.

Luckily, there are straightforward, simple rules governing right of way that will prevent such awkward encounters.

First, there are two types of intersections: controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled intersections are marked by signs or lights. The rule for these situations is simple: obey the sign.

Also remember that pedestrians always have right of way. Jaywalkers who dart suddenly into traffic are very annoying; however, you still need to let them cross.

The rules for uncontrolled intersections are a bit more complicated. I’ll divide these situations into a few different categories.

*Two drivers arrive at an intersection

In this situation, whoever reaches the intersection first has the right of way. What if they arrive at the same time? In this case, the driver to your right has the right of way. If the other driver is directly opposite you, those who are going straight or turning right have the right of way.

*Smaller roads intersecting larger roads.

Say you are on a smaller road that intersects a larger road, for example a two lane road that meets a three lane road. The drivers on the road with more lanes always have the right of way.


Although the name is fairly self-explanatory, a T-Junction occurs when one road ends in another, forming an intersection shaped like a T. In this case, the drivers on the through road (the top of the T) have the right of way.

*Access roads and highway ramps

The drivers exiting the highway have the right of way. Those driving on the access road need to yield to them.

Remember these rules and have no fear of awkward intersection encounters! And now, a friendly reminder:

Don’t Be That Guy

Even if you are in a hurry, don’t be tempted to disobey stop lights, stop signs, or right of way rules. While you may think the road is clear or other drivers are paying attention, this may not in fact be the case. These rules are here for yours and everyone else’s safety. As in most driving situations, a little patience goes a long way.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car “, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!


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