You have probably heard the expression “the right of way” before. It means that either a driver, pedestrian, or cyclist has the ability and the legal right to go before someone else does. It usually applies to various traffic situations.
The law determines who has the right of way in different situations. In other words, who gets to go first is not an opinion. If you do not have the right of way, but you try to go before someone else who has it, you might injure or kill them.
On top of that, you’re breaking the law. If a police officer sees what you did, they can ticket or even arrest you.
The normal thinking is that pedestrians have the right of way, meaning that they can go before vehicles. That is not always the case, though. We’ll take some time in this article to get into this subject in a little more depth.
The Right of Way is a Legal Requirement to Go
When you’re trying to determine the right of way in different traffic situations, there’s one thing you should realize. If you’ve got the right of way, and you refuse to take it, you’re holding up traffic and potentially delaying many people.
For instance, if you’re in a car and you’ve stopped at a red light, you’re doing the right thing since the vehicles that have a green light should be able to go before you. However, once your light turns green, you not only have the right to go, but you need to, because if you don’t, then the vehicles lined up behind you can’t go either.
Often, if you refuse the right of way, you’ll cause gridlock. Nobody wants that since other vehicles, and possibly pedestrians and cyclists, will not be able to get where they’re going. Also, you’re likely to make everyone around you angry, and you could even trigger a road rage incident.
The Right of Way is Not the Same in Every State
There’s something else regarding the right of way that you should realize, and it is this. There are some universal situations where even a novice driver would probably find it obvious whose turn to go it is.
There are some situations regarding traffic and the right of way, though, where whose turn it is to go varies according to state law. Much like with many other things, each state has its own laws regarding particular right of way situations. There may be some overlap, but there are also going to be some differences.
When you study to take the driving test in your state, you will have a chance to look at some situations in your study materials that will talk about the right of way. Those should indicate what you’re supposed to do in various situations. Once you’re in another state, some of the requirements might be different, so you should try to familiarize yourself with those ones as well.
Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?
Now, on to a question that many pedestrians and drivers often ask: do pedestrians always have the right of way? We would probably include cyclists in that category with pedestrians since you can usually use the two interchangeably.
The short answer is that the law affords pedestrians many different privileges, and they often get to go before a car can. There are always exceptions, though.
If a pedestrian is waiting for a walk light which indicates that they can walk through a crosswalk, and they get that light in their favor, that means they can walk before a car can go. That’s fairly basic.
You might wonder, as a driver, whether you can legally strike a pedestrian with your car if they either jaywalk or they try to cross the street ahead of you against the walk light. You can’t. Just because someone tries to walk or ride across the road on a bike and they don’t legally have the right of way, that doesn’t give you an excuse to hit them.
On the other hand, if they try to cross and they don’t have the right of way, and you can’t stop in time, the law will probably consider that if the case ever goes to court. While you can’t legally hit a pedestrian if they cross against the light and they don’t have the right of way, you can still reasonably expect that they would stop if they saw traffic coming. If they don’t, and you hit them, your lawyer can argue that the cyclist or pedestrian was reckless and they should have known better.
Laws Regarding Cyclists and Pedestrians
If you’re in a car and you hit a pedestrian or cyclist, you will also have an easier time avoiding partial or total culpability in court if that cyclist or pedestrian was behaving in an improper way. For example, cyclists and pedestrians should walk with traffic rather than against it.
They should yield the right of way to vehicles if that vehicle has a green light in their favor. They should not jump out suddenly in front of traffic, and they must stop at a crosswalk at a red light.
Any time that a cyclist or pedestrian decides to disregard those rules, they are putting themselves in danger. If you’re driving, you still have to try to stop if they get in front of you. However, if you’re not able to do so in time and you hit them, the court will find in your favor more times than not if the cyclist or pedestrian tries to get money from you for their medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.
Cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers need to watch out for one another, and the existence of right of way laws is part of how they can coexist. If you ignore these laws and generally accepted policies, that’s often when you’ll cause an accident, an injury, or even a death.