When Should You Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way?

Knowing when to yield the legal right of way is an important aspect of driving.

According to personal injury attorneys, a driver’s failure to yield the right of way is among the most common causes of car accidents.

Therefore, one needs to understand when they have the right of way and when they should instead yield the right of way to other drivers on the road.

Understanding this will enable one to avoid traffic tickets and potential traffic accidents.

In this article, we will discuss when a driver should yield their legal right of way.

In addition, the article explains the meaning of the right of way, the determinants of the right of way, and situations where giving the right of way is necessary.

When Should You Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way?

When Should You Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way
Vehicles at an intersection. Image from RACQ/Facebook

Navigating the roads demands not just skill and attentiveness but also consideration and deference towards fellow road users.

Among the crucial principles every driver must grasp is the concept of the right-of-way.

This concept of when one should yield their legal right of way relates to the priority that a driver has to grant to specific oncoming vehicles or pedestrians in different situations.

Knowing when one can cede their legal right-of-way is important to avoid head-on collisions, injuries, and traffic infractions.

Conversely, in some situations, the legal right of way is a lawful entitlement where one is required to proceed before other vehicles or pedestrians.

Therefore, the legal right of way is a discretion that one has to accord other drivers, or other drivers have to accord it to them, depending on the specific scenarios.

These scenarios are governed by the law. They include the following:

Right of Way at Intersections

Intersections are accident-prone areas, and more often than not, careless driving at intersections can lead to accidents.

In some states, such as Texas, a driver should yield to vehicles that are already in the intersection at uncontrolled intersections.

However, in situations where two or more vehicles arrive at the same time, the car on the right has the right of way.

In addition, when turning right, the continuing traffic has the right of way, whereas when turning left, a driver must yield to oncoming traffic.

When a driver is approaching an intersection with multiple-lane roads, such as one, two, or a lane that intersects with a larger road, the driver on the smaller road should yield the right of way to cars that are on the larger or multi-lane road

A driver approaching a T intersection must be careful such that the driver on the dead-end road must yield to traffic on the other, normal-sided street.

Legal Right of way for pedestrians

In some states, such as Texas, the laws dictate that pedestrians will always have the right of way, even if they are crossing a roadway outside of the crosswalk.

Generally, pedestrians always hold precedence over vehicles at marked or unmarked crosswalks, unless directed otherwise by a traffic officer or signal.

Legal Right of way on other roads

Vehicles descending on a narrow road with a single lane have precedence over ascending vehicles.

At the highway exit ramp, the driver on the access road must yield to cars on the exit ramp.

When a driver is entering a paved road, the drivers that are traveling on unpaved roads, driving through alleys, or joining a roadway from a driveway must yield their legal right of way to the driver who is passing on the paved roadway in front.

When Should You Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way
A practical example of how the right of way applies. Image from Freepik.com

Furthermore, a driver who is making a right- or left-hand turn should always yield his right of way to traffic that is traveling straight as well as pedestrians. This is the rule of thumb that, in simpler terms, states that vehicles in the flow of traffic have the right of way over other vehicles that are turning or must stop at stop signs or traffic lights

Tips for Determining the right of way

In some situations, it is important to always yield your right of way. For example, emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens must be given the right of way. These cars are usually police cars, ambulances, or fire trucks.

How to determine who has the legal right of way

When one wants to determine if they yield the right of way when driving, or who has the right of way, they ought to consider the following guidelines to better understand

  • The road types
  • Traffic of incoming and outgoing vehicles
  • Signage or signals are present
  • Actions of fellow road users

Therefore, additional rules that determine who have the right of way a driver exists, include:
A driver should always obey the given visual signal (stop signs or traffic lights) when in a controlled intersection.

When Should You Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way
Vehicles obeying the stop signal traffic light. Image from Freepik.com

In Railway crossings, trains will usually have the right of way, and all operators must stop when signals show that an oncoming train approaching an intersection

Additionally, in some situations, the driver who stops first whenever there is an intersection with multiple vehicle entries has the right to way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Determining When to Yield Your Legal Right-of-Way

You should yield your legal right-of-way whenever the law or common-sense mandates it to circumvent a collision or hazardous situation.

What are the instances that necessitate someone to yield their right of way

Instances necessitating yielding your legal right-of-way include:

  • Approaching a yield sign, Pedestrians in crosswalks
  • When approaching individuals with seeing-eye guide dogs or those with white canes (with or without red tips)
  • At uncontrolled intersections with vehicles already in them
  • T-intersections where through-road vehicles are given precedence
  • Making a left turn against oncoming traffic
  • Making a right turn on red after a full stop and checking for traffic
  • Entering a roundabout or traffic circle
  • Entering or exiting a highway or freeway
  • Changing lanes or overtaking another vehicle
  • Approaching a stopped school bus with flashing red lights
  • Approaching a railroad crossing with flashing lights, gates, bells, or signs
  • Approaching an emergency vehicle stopped on or near the road with flashing lights

These scenarios, though representative, are not exhaustive. You may encounter other situations demanding your judgment and discretion to determine whether to yield your right-of-way.

In all circumstances, maintaining courtesy and respect toward fellow road users is paramount. Assumptions about others yielding their right-of-way should be avoided.


The rationale behind right-of-way regulations is to institute an orderly and foreseeable traffic flow and mitigate the risk of collisions and clashes.

However, possessing the right-of-way doesn’t authorize you to disregard your environment or the safety of others.

You must still navigate prudently and vigilantly, and remain prepared to relinquish your right-of-way if necessary to sidestep a collision.

Comprehending and adhering to the concept of the right-of-way is pivotal for every motorist.

Giving right-of-way orchestrates traffic flow and averts collisions and conflicts.

Nonetheless, having the right-of-way should not sanction reckless or aggressive driving.

Prudence and defensive driving remain imperative.

Being prepared to relinquish your right-of-way, when necessary, contributes to enhancing road safety and smoothness for all motorists and pedestrians using the road.