Who has the Right of Way?

Written by Staff Writer

"Who has the right of way?" is a common question among motorists. You may even hear the statement "I had the right of way!" shouted heatedly when someone refers to a recent traffic incident. But this isn't the case. No one has the right of way. The right of way must be yielded or given up in certain traffic situations. New York, as well as most traffic laws universally, will state when the right of way must be yielded.

In New York, you must yield the right of way for the following circumstances:

  • A driver approaching an intersection must yield the right-of-way to traffic already lawfully using the intersection.
    • An example would be one driver heading through an intersection with a green light, going straight. If a vehicle is turning left and already in the intersection, you must yield the right of way to them.
  • If drivers approaching from opposite directions reach an intersection at about the same time, a driver turning left must yield to approaching traffic going straight or turning right.
  • Drivers must yield to approaching traffic when turning left into a driveway, alleyway, parking lot or other area, even if the turn is not controlled by signs or signals.
  • For any left turn, the law requires you to yield to any approaching traffic close enough to be a hazard.
    • Referring to the first rule, when another driver is coming straight through a green light, they are lawfully to yield to you when you turned in enough time as to not cause a hazard to oncoming traffic. Deciding when traffic is too close takes experience and judgment. If you have any doubt, it is your responsibility to wait for traffic to pass before turning left.
  • If there is no sign or signal at an intersection, or where there are two drivers approaching stop signs at the same time, and they are at right angles to one another, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.
  • Any vehicle entering a roadway from a driveway, alley, private road, or any other place that is not a roadway, must stop and yield the right-of-way to traffic and to pedestrians.
  • Drivers must yield to pedestrians legally using marked or unmarked crosswalks.
  • If you are stopped at a red light and pedestrian steps into the crosswalk, and the light turns green, you must wait for the pedestrian to cross.
  • You must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks on your left or right before turning.
  • If traffic is backed up on an intersection, you may not enter if traffic on the other side would not be able to get through.
  • A driver entering a traffic circle, sometimes called a rotary, must yield the right-of-way to drivers already in the circle.

For more information about right of way, lawfully turning, and other traffic laws for New York, visit the NYS DMV website and read their online "Driver's Manual" — https://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/drivers-manual-practice-tests