“Right of way” is the name that we give to the rules governing which car gets to go first when two cars find themselves in each other’s way. And to many drivers, few things are more confusing or more dangerous than right of way. In Texas alone, it is a factor in 15% of all traffic collisions.

Every year, TXDOT publishes a report called Crash Contributing Factors, which is a long list of many factors and how many time each of those factors was involved in a collision.

The report for 2015 includes eight of these factors involving right-of-way.


Failure to yield Right-of-Way…
Total Crashes
Fatal Crashes
…when turning left 30,741 96
…at stop sign 25,329 121
…from private driveway 18,275 43
…at open intersection 8,598 19
…at yield sign 2,715 10
…when turning right on red 1,982 2
…to pedestrian 1,207 15
…to an emergency vehicle 407 1


defensive driving tips right of wayToday, we’ll cover the basic principles that will tell you — as a well-trained driver — how right of way works. The first few of these are simple, but we’ll get to the more complicated situations as well.

Right of Way Principle 1:
ALWAYS yield right of way to pedestrians.

Someone on foot crossing your path has the right of way, so slow down or stop your car and let them cross.


This is especially true of pedestrians using a “seeing eye” guide dog or a “seeing eye” cane system.

Yield right-of-way even if you encounter pedestrians breaking the law by crossing in the middle of the block or crossing when the street light is in your favor.

Be particularly careful when you’re turning left and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk blocking your way.


Right of Way Principle 2:
Obey the signs and signals.

If the signs and traffic signals say it’s your turn to go ahead, it’s your turn. If they say you need to wait and let someone else go ahead, you need to do that.


Right of Way Principle 3:
A car in the lane has that lane.

A driver in any lane does not have to let another car in, even if good manners say he should. Never force your way into a lane of traffic.


Right of Way Principle 4:
First come, first served.

If two cars reach the same intersection, the car that got there first gets to go ahead of the car that showed up second.


defensive driving tips right of waySo far, the rules for right of way have been fairly straightforward, but we’ve only touched on situations where the issue is clear. The next three principles apply when the situation is not as clear.

Right of Way Principle 5:
The bigger, better road goes first.

Cars on unpaved (dirt or rock) roads yield to cars on paved roads. Cars on a two-lane road (with only one lane going in either direction) yield to cars on roads that have more lanes. Cars on roads with four lanes yield to cars on roads with six, and so on. Cars on a private road or in an alley, a private driveway, or parking lot must yield to cars that are already on the road.

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Cars that are driving along a frontage or service road must yield to cars that are exiting from a multi-lane highway or that are leaving the service road to enter a multi-lane highway. This may seem contradictory, because often the service road has more lanes than the on-ramp or off-ramp, but those ramps are considered part of the highway, making them the “bigger, better road” in this case.


Right of Way Principle 6:
Cars that are turning yield to cars that are going straight.

If you approach an intersection intending to turn left, yield to any vehicle that is coming straight through the intersection from the other direction.


Right of Way Principle 7:
Yield to the car on your right.

If all of the principles don’t make it clear who goes first, then the driver on the left lets the driver on the right go first.

That’s right: we take turns going clockwise around the intersection, just like playing Chutes and Ladders when you were a kid.


defensive driving tips right of wayWe covered the seven basic principles earlier – and they are all very important things you should know and use every time you drive – but now we come to the one idea that is probably the most useful on a daily basis.

An idea so important that we save it for the end so it would get the most attention.

Right of Way Principle 8:
You can give the right-of-way to another driver,
but you cannot make them give it to you.

In other words, you can give the right of way, but you cannot just take it. Try this, and sooner or later someone is going to crash into you. There are many arrogant, impatient, self-important drivers on the road. They drive like they have special rights others don’t and expect mere mortals to just get out of their way. The technical term for them is jerks.

Do not be one of them.

And when you encounter one of these jerks on the road – and you definitely will – just yield  to them. Because they’re probably going to take it anyway. Even if  everything you know about driving says you should get to go first, sometimes it’s safest to yield. If another driver is ignorant or selfish enough to think it’s their turn,  let them go ahead of you


defensive driving tips right of wayRemember this above all: as a driver, your #1 responsibility is to get where you’re going safely.

Better to yield to the occasional jerk than get into a crash that keeps you from getting there at all.