Right of Way and Intersection Accidents

We often hear the term right of way when discussing traffic accidents. Injury claims involving the right of way may involve deeper questions about yielding or yielding to the right of way in Georgia. As anticipated, a driver who fails to yield to another who arguably has the right of way likely will owe for damages caused by their negligent actions. For this article, we will define the right of way simply as the one who has the legal right to proceed. Also, this article is not intended to be a technical treatment of the topic. The purpose of this article is essentially a reminder of the basics.

Basics of Yielding to Right of Way

What is meant by yielding to the right of way? It is unnecessary to dig into a legal definition of the word yield to understand what it means. However, we do want to provide a few clarifying points. Yield, in a sense, simply means to give in. For this article, we will define right of way as meaning one who has the right to proceed or move forward. With these two definitions, we can say that yielding to the right of way means giving in to one who has permission to go ahead.

Smart Choices and Yielding the Right of Way

From time to time, we experience other drivers who seemingly don’t play by the rules. When dealing with an aggressive driver, it always better to give the right of way instead of taking it. For example, say you approach an intersection with a four-way stop ahead of another driver. It was your turn to go when suddenly another car accelerated in front of you and nearly caused a collision. If you had gone, you would have the right to do so. But you chose to opt-out of having a collision and having a car accident. Good choice! Remember, while you may have the right of way, this does not mean you should proceed. It is always a best practice to prevent a car accident!

Considerations Regarding Intersections / Right of Way

Straight through traffic has the right of way over the turning-traffic. In this scenario, there may be a minor street intersecting and crossing over a major street. More times than not, the major street has no stop sign and can be appropriately identified as straight through traffic. The minor road that crosses the major road has a stop sign on each side, signaling to approaching traffic that they should not proceed. In this case, since the straight-through traffic has no traffic controls advising them to stop, they have the right to proceed. In other words, they have the right of way. In this example, traffic approaching from the minor road has a responsibility to yield to the traffic on the major thoroughfare.

Four-Way Stop Intersections and Right of Way

At four-way stop intersections, you should always yield to cars that have already arrived before you. Once all vehicles before you have gone, it is your turn to go. If two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the general rule of thumb is that the car to the right has the right of way over the car to the left. Remember, not all intersections are actual four-way stops. When in doubt, always look for evidence of a four-way stop and never assume it is the case. If you make the incorrect assumption you can cause an accident by failing to yield.

Intersections and Right of Way Confusion

Confusion can actually be caused by being overly cautious. We should all be cautious when advancing our vehicle into an intersection but being too careful can cause confusion and increase the potential for a car crash. Experienced drivers expect other drivers to know and follow the rules of the road. If you fail to advance into an intersection when it is your turn to go, others will likely assume you are not going, and they will proceed ahead of you. Admittedly, overly cautious drivers are better safe than sorry. At the same time, we must understand that actions that confuse other drivers, no matter how well-intended, can cause an increased crash potential for all involved. If it is your turn to go, avoid hesitation and proceed with a level of caution that should be proportionate to the situation.


Confusion Caused by Being Overly Nice

Similar to being excessively cautious, drivers that are too nice cause confusion to other drivers by not following the rules. In a day where road rage is too common, everyone wishes that we all work together in a friendly way to get where we are trying to go. All things being normal and equal, most of us want everyone to be nice. However, the confusion caused by being overly nice happens when a driver puts being nice in front of the rules.

Here is an example. Let’s say that two cars arrive at an intersection simultaneously. One of the drivers forgets the rule that says the person to the right gets to go first. In that case, a driver may give a polite wave to the other driver allowing them to proceed first. However, being overly nice may entail you waving car on. This is very confusing to everyone involved and increases crash potential for everyone involved. We have seen quite a few cases where someone was hit after being waived into traffic by another car.

Confusion Caused by Waiving Drivers On

One of the most common causes of accidents is when one driver waives another driver on. This scenario is similar to being overly nice but is more common and worth discussing separately. A typical example of this scenario is as follows. Driver 1 is in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Driver 2 is approaching from the opposing direction and is looking to turn left and cross in front of driver 1. Driver 1 stops moving forward and creates an open space and waves driver 2 on. This could be understood by driver 2 that all is clear to proceed. In all likelihood, this was not the intended meaning. While driver 2 believes they are clear to go, driver 1 meant that they are giving permission for driver 2 to pass in front of them. In the meantime, a third vehicle impatiently chooses to accelerate around driver 1 crashing into driver 2 as they attempt to make their left turn in front of driver 1.

Again, this scenario is prevalent and unfortunate. As a general rule, if you choose to allow another vehicle to turn left in front of you in heavy traffic, it is not advisable to direct the driver turning left on what they should or should not do. It is confusing to driver 2 and, in some cases, could introduce driver 1 as partially responsible for causing the accident because they waved driver 2 on.

Confusion Caused by Unfamiliar Intersections

When accidents happen, insurance adjusters interview their insured as well as the person making the injury claim or claimant. Adjusters will sometimes ask their own insured if they were familiar with the intersection or not. This does not alleviate the at-fault driver’s responsibility. But, it does supply an explanation that could be presented to a jury, an explanation that reasonably explains their negligence. For example, suppose a two-way stop was unfamiliar territory to an at-fault driver. In that case, it will be hard to make an argument that the at-fault driver simply made an understandable mistake in judgment. After all, if he has been through the intersection before, he knows or should have known what to expect. The defense side hopes that a juror could sympathetically imagine themselves being in an unfamiliar area and making the same mistake. Sympathy for an at-fault driver can potentially help decrease verdicts against the driver.

Mistakes Turning Left Involving Right of Way

Generally speaking, just because you have a green light does not mean you are clear to turn left. You must yield to oncoming traffic that is approaching you from the opposite direction. Approaching traffic from the opposite direction has the right of way. Failing to turn left without exercising a proper lookout can result in a collision with an oncoming vehicle if one or both drivers do not have time to make evasive maneuvers to avoid the collision. Insurance adjusters often say that the at-fault driver “left-turned” the other driver. In this case, the driver turning left failed to yield to the right of way of oncoming traffic.

Turning Left and Pedestrians

A driver is generally in the clear to make their left turn where there is no oncoming traffic. What about pedestrians? In the example of a driver that did not consider the possibility of a pedestrian crossing at the very point where they are turning left there can be danger. Failing to yield to a pedestrian can simultaneously result in failing to yield to oncoming vehicles.

If you proceed through a green light turning left and abruptly notice a pedestrian crossing the street in front of you, you will have to slam on the brakes to avoid them. That being the case, you are now in the middle of the intersection, not moving, and potentially in the pathway of oncoming vehicles from your right that are traveling on the straight-through lane. That example could have been avoided by not advancing before confirming there were no pedestrians approaching the intersection.

Wide Turns at Intersections

Turning too wide because of excessive speed can sometimes result in failing to maintain your lane of travel. In the event that a car that is across from you and traveling in the opposite direction and turns right into the same direction of travel, you could find yourself merging into their path of travel while turning. Left turns at high rates of speed can happen due to reckless driving in general. However, this particular scenario frequently occurs when the driver turning left is at a high rate of speed and is trying to beat the light.

Are You The Victim of an Intersection Accident?

If you or someone you know has been severely injured in an intersection accident or because of right of way negligence, Scholle Law would like to help you get the compensation you deserve. Our experienced injury team has a proven track record of success. The vast majority of the work we do relates to serious motor vehicle accidents. Let our experience and resources help you move forward after your serious injury accident. Call us today!

To set up a meeting, call us today at (678) 921-3320 or contact us online.