Right of way is about giving, not taking
One of the discussions I seem to have on a monthly basis is about right of way. It seems to be confusing to many people; drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike. What’s your take on this confusing law? Do you have a solid understanding or does it confuse you every now and then? I often refer to this law as the “courtesy law”. See if this makes sense to you.
In most jurisdictions the right of way has 2 basic rules for drivers; the first driver to arrive and stop should be given the right of way. The second rule is if two drivers arrive and stop at the same time, the driver to the right should be given the right of way. Most drivers know these rules so when another driver challenges these rules or tries to make a change to them, it can screw things up. Right of way needs to be given before it can be taken.
For example, how many times do you approach the stop when another driver is already stopped and on your right? You would be expecting them to go ahead of you, but for some unknown reason they wave you to go ahead of them. Why wouldn’t they want to proceed? Are they confused or maybe they were preoccupied and weren’t ready to go yet?
At a roundabout in my community I often find drivers giving up their right of way as well. When approaching the roundabout you should yield to those already in the roundabout, but once you are in the roundabout you should keep going until you reach your exit. Makes sense, right? However, there seems to be a few drivers who yield to those in the roundabout and then once in the roundabout they yield to other vehicles they approach. Why? They are in serious need of re-education for both right of way at intersections and roundabouts.
How many times have you seen two drivers wave each other to proceed before the other at the intersection and no one moves? Now you have two drivers waving at each other to go ahead of the other driver and often will have other stopped drivers behind them. I’ve even witnessed it where they even begin to get upset that the other driver isn’t going ahead of them. I know Canadians are considered to be polite, but really?
We were raised to also believe that pedestrians should be given the right of way as well at intersections. This is true, but as a pedestrian, we have to ensure the right of way has been given to us. For example, even though I may have the walk symbol at the crosswalk, is the driver who is about to turn across my path without looking at me? Do they know I’m even there? Once we’ve made eye contact with them, ensure they can see you before crossing the street. What about the pedestrians who don’t have the walk symbol and they begin to walk through the crosswalk. Drivers may notice the “don’t walk” symbol and assume you wouldn’t be crossing and proceed at the same time you would. You’re putting your life at risk there. You need to follow those same rules.
I often see cyclists getting caught up with this law. Many good cyclists follow the rules associate with right of way and ensure they take their right of way when appropriate. But I also see drivers cutting off the cyclist to make their turns. Remember that cyclists are vehicles of the road and they also follow the same rules that drivers of vehicles follow. Give right of way to them just as you would motor vehicles. If you’re a cyclist, ensure you have the right of way before trying to keep it. I often see cyclists pass through intersections on a red light. I think these people believe that if a driver can see them, they won’t get struck. That’s not always the case as hundreds of cyclists get struck every year on our roads.
Understanding the right of way law allows drivers to keep the flow of traffic moving along smoothly and safely. It’s like learning to play a game or a sport. Once you know the rules, the game flows along much nicer when everyone plays by the same rules.