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Who Has the Right of Way at an Intersection in California?

When driving in California, there are right of way laws that motorists and pedestrians are required to obey to keep themselves and others on the road safe. Failing to observe them can result in penalties, or worse, a severe accident.

Right-of-way laws are put in place to help promote traffic safety, so drivers and pedestrians must remain alert in order to avoid accidents. Here, we discuss the important right-of-way laws in California.

California Right of Way LawsRight-of-Way Laws at Intersections

When two vehicles reach an intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the right has the right of way. However, there are some exceptions.

Left-Hand Turns

For left-hand turns at an intersection, you must give the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the street, as well as vehicles traveling in the opposite lane. For right turns, you must also yield to any pedestrian and cars entering the lane you are turning into.

Four-Way Stops

  • The first car to arrive has the right of way, which means you must yield to a driver who arrived before you.
  • When three vehicles arrive simultaneously, the vehicle to the right still has the right of way, and the car furthest left must go last.

Uncontrolled Intersections

At intersections that do not have a stop or yield sign:

  • You must yield to those who have already arrived at the intersection and proceed cautiously.
  • If another vehicle arrives at the same time, the right-most vehicle has the right of way.

T-junctions (Three-Way Intersections)

Intersections where a minor road dead-ends into a major road:

  • Vehicles on the major road (the through road) have the right of way.
  • Vehicles coming from the minor road must come to a complete stop and yield to any oncoming traffic on the through road.

Roundabouts (Traffic Circles)

An intersection with roads that travel around a central island in a counter-clockwise direction.

  • Drivers must slow down as they approach a roundabout and yield the right of way to oncoming motorists or pedestrians.
  • When there is a large enough gap to merge safely, drivers can enter the roundabout.
  • You must travel in a counter-clockwise direction without stopping or passing another vehicle.
  • Signal when you must change lanes or exit.
  • Continue around until you see your exit to the right. If you miss the exit, continue around until you return to it.

Two-Way Roads

  • If you must turn left or make a U-turn while on a two-way road, you must yield to any oncoming traffic.

Right-of-Way Laws for Pedestrians

As a general rule of thumb, California drivers should always be extra cautious and give pedestrians the right-of-way.

  • Drivers must always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, even if they cross the road illegally, such as failing to use a marked crosswalk.
  • Pedestrians are required to yield to vehicles that have a green light at an intersection.
  • Pedestrians who are blind always have the right-of-way.

Right-of-Way Laws for Emergency Vehicles

Emergency vehicles, including ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles, etc., have the right of way when their sirens and flashing lights are on. You must move aside or pull over to let these vehicles pass. If you are in an intersection at the time, proceed through it if necessary, then pull over to the side.

Violating the following right-of-way laws in California can lead to severe injuries and accidents. If you were injured in a right-of-way accident, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible for legal advice.