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Blog category: Driving

Who Has the Right of Way? Common Driving Mistakes

4 min read

For both newly minted drivers and those who’ve been licensed for some years, remembering consistently who has the right of way can be challenging. It’s easy to get it wrong — especially when things are moving quickly on the road — which can lead to serious accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the fourth-leading cause of traffic fatalities in the US is failure to yield in a right-of-way situation. In 2020, 3,958 people were involved in traffic fatalities for this reason.

Here we list the most common right-of-way scenarios and explain the rules so you can follow traffic laws and stay safe. However, along with the rules, it’s a good idea to use common sense and courtesy. If it will help avoid an accident, always be ready to yield your right of way to other motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.


Pedestrian safety is a serious issue — in California, 22 percent of all traffic fatalities involve pedestrians. Those on foot have the right of way in a crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked. Drivers need to slow down as they approach the crosswalk and be ready to yield. Keep in mind older or disabled pedestrians, and those with young children may need more time to cross.

Four-Way Stop

Stop and yield to the vehicle that arrives first. If two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver on the right has the right of way. If one car is signaling a turn, the driver going straight goes first.

Intersection with No Stop or Yield Sign

Slow down and be ready to stop. Yield to traffic or pedestrians already in the intersection. Don’t forget to give way to a vehicle or bicycle that gets there before you. Or if you get there at the same time, yield to the vehicle or bicycle on the right.

Turning Left

If you’re attempting to make a left turn, whether it’s onto another road, a U-turn, or into a driveway or alley, you must yield to all vehicles coming from the opposite direction. Approximately one-third of all traffic accidents happen at intersections and more than 480,000 of those crashes involve drivers turning left. Another sobering statistic: left turns are three times as likely to kill pedestrians than right turns.

Steep Hill

If you’re climbing up a steep, narrow mountain road and you come face to face with a vehicle heading down, that driver has to yield the right of way. Why? Because the ascending vehicle may need to maintain momentum and it’s a lot more dangerous and difficult to reverse downhill to allow the other vehicle to pass. The driver coming down has more control when backing up the hill.

Roundabouts or Traffic Circles

Traffic already inside the roundabout has the right-of-way, and drivers and cyclists must yield before entering the intersection. If an emergency vehicle enters the roundabout with flashing lights and a siren, it has the right-of-way, and you must yield to them even if you’re already inside the roundabout.

Merging Lanes

Merging can be a confusing and contentious right-of-way situation. Often the vehicle that should yield doesn’t, causing road rage and accidents. The car in the through lane, or the lane not disappearing, has the right of way. However, it helps if everyone slows down and drives courteously.

Zipper Merge

Certain states are encouraging and educating drivers on this controversial way to merge. Popular with traffic flow experts, it has mixed reviews from the driving public. The more widely used merge method is where drivers move over as soon as they’re able when they notice that their lane will shortly disappear. In the zipper method, drivers continue to use both lanes until just before one ends, then merge like the teeth of a zipper coming together: taking turns from each side, with the goal of less backup.

Hopefully, these clarifications will help you next time you’re wondering who has the right of way. But if you’re ever in doubt, it’s safer to relinquish your right if it means avoiding an accident. But it’s not just about being courteous. Observing other drivers’ and pedestrians’ rights also includes observing all traffic laws. This includes making sure your auto insurance gives you enough coverage to protect yourself and others. Give your helpful Wawanesa agent a call to make sure your policy is up to date.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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