Many drivers do not know or adhere to right-of-way rules at intersections. There are rules to follow at every intersection, but there are also driving behaviours that seem “socially acceptable.” In many cases, the latter seem to supercede the legal rules of the road.
Take, for instance, the uncontrolled-intersection dilemma faced by drivers on a daily basis. The law states that the first driver to arrive at an uncontrolled intersection has the right-of-way. What actually happens is quite different. Drivers on the major higher-traffic-volume road often assume the right-of-way. This behaviour has become the norm in most municipalities.
Legally, when two drivers approach an uncontrolled intersection at the same time from different directions, the driver on the right has the right-of-way. The direction of travel has no bearing on this right-of-way rule unless a left turn is about to be made.
Left turners must yield to oncoming through-traffic. Left turners, facing one another, who arrive at the intersection at the same time may proceed at the same time if there is enough space to complete the manoeuvres. The same rule applies to right turners.
Drivers must always be on the lookout for commuters who don’t follow the rules. Many drivers travel through uncontrolled intersections believing the minor intersecting road has a stop sign for cross-traffic. There are so few uncontrolled intersections in our traffic system that drivers are often surprised by another vehicle, which has the legal right-of-way, crossing in front of them from a minor intersecting road. When they are not required to stop, they assume the cross traffic must have a stop sign.
Two-way-stop intersections are the most dangerous of the stop-sign governed corners. Drivers at the stop signs must wait for all cross traffic to clear before proceeding. Any driver turning left from the stop sign must yield to the driver opposite who plans to go straight through, regardless of who arrived at the stop sign first.
Many drivers who have just arrived at a stop sign at this type of intersection will allow a left turner facing them to go first. Whether they have compassion for the long wait time experienced by the opposite driver, or they sincerely believe the left-turning driver has the right-of-way, driving laws do not support this action if a crash should occur.
Some drivers will motion another motorist through an intersection, giving the other driver the right-of-way. This is admirable behaviour, but if a crash occurs as a result of this action, the driver moving through the intersection is still held to account by enforcement and/or insurance policies.
Four-way-stop intersections are elementary. First-come-first-served is the rule. If two drivers arrive at the same time, the driver on the right goes first. Direction of travel is irrelevant.
When two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time and are facing one another, the left-turner-goes-last rule applies. Socially speaking, there is a predictable disconnect at four-way-stop intersections. Many drivers believe direction of travel dictates the order in which to proceed.
Drivers will often balk at going through the intersection at the proper time because they believe a left-turner must wait for other traffic to clear the intersection.
Pedestrians at intersections take precedence over all other types of traffic. All drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks. A driver loses right-of-way superiority when pedestrians choose to cross the road at intersections.
Court cases are not decided on the basis of “socially acceptable” behaviour. We would all do well to remember this simple fact and act accordingly.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former Canadian V.P. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas. Steve is a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the U of Manitoba.
© Copyright 2013