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Understanding Right-of-Way

Written by Jared Staver

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Jared Staver is a Personal Injury Lawyer based in Chicago, Illinois and has been practicing law for over 20 years.

Jared Staver

CATEGORY: Auto Accidents, Personal Injury


Right-of-way is extremely important for keeping our roads safe. It tells us in any given situation who should be yielding for other drivers on the road. With common sense, right-of-way laws prevent accidents. Unfortunately, according to a Federal Highway Administration study, two-thirds of drivers failed to stop and yield right-of-way appropriately at any given intersection. Because every driver has a primary responsibility to avoid an accident, you must pay careful attention to other drivers’ intentions and actions and prepare to yield instead of assuming that other drivers will.

Sometimes giving up your right-of-way is the best way to avoid an accident. Every driver must do everything he or she can to prevent collisions. Still, the best way to do so is to follow right-of-way rules. After all, if an accident does happen, the driver violating right-of-way will ultimately be held responsible. While most drivers have a general understanding of some situations in which they have right-of-way, right-of-way laws can often be confusing. The following rules lay out the most important things you should know to determine who has right-of-way.

  • Follow road signs. If you have a stop sign or a yield sign, you have a responsibility to follow it. The sign tells you directly that you do not have right-of-way, and you should follow this.
  • Pedestrians in crosswalks always have the right-of-way. Make sure to keep an eye out for pedestrians not in crosswalks as well. When you can stop, you should always yield to pedestrians in your path even if you have the right-of-way.
  • When you are pulling out of a parking space or off the side of the road, you should always yield to drivers within the road. This includes pulling out of driveways and small alleys.
  • When on a highway, the driver merging from an on-ramp has the right-of-way. Both cars, however, should adjust speed and position to avoid an accident.
  • At a four-way stop, the driver who arrives first should go first after stopping. If two or more cars arrive at the same time, the car on the right has right-of-way.
  • When two roads cross and there are no stoplights or signs, the driver on the smaller road must yield to cars on the multi-lane road. This goes along with the general concept that the drivers on the road with more traffic have right-of-way. Similarly, drivers on gravel or dirt roads should yield when entering a paved roadway.
  • At a t-intersection, the driver on the road dead-ending must yield to traffic on the other road.
  • Drivers entering a roundabout should yield to cars already in the circle. Just like at four-way stops, the right-of-way then moves to the right.
  • Yield to any emergency vehicles, school buses that are stopping, and funeral processions.
  • Tips for Merging Safely

    Another confusing concept related to right-of-way is merging. When we merge, there are certain precautions we should take in order to respect right-of-way rules and prevent an accident. These five tips will help you merge safely on the highway.

    • Prepare to merge far in advance. You should signal your intentions 100 to 300 feet before merging or changing lanes.
    • Check your blind spots and mirrors carefully to ensure it is safe to merge. Make sure you have at least a three to four second gap in traffic.
    • Make sure you are driving fast enough to merge safely. While still in your original lane, adjust your speed to match the speeds of vehicles in the lane where you are going. If this is not possible, make sure you have enough space to gain speed quickly in your new lane so as not to impede traffic.
    • Never merge in zones where it is illegal. Wait until you have a dashed line, not a solid line, to merge. Also, be careful to never pass in zones with signs prohibiting it.
    • Cross only one lane of traffic at a time. After that, repeat these precautions before crossing into the next lane.

    Once you do all of these things before passing or merging every time, you can be assured a safer ride. Although all these tips are guidelines, not, hard rules, it is best to take right-of-way guidelines seriously. Not only can they help make driving less stressful, but they can also prevent serious accidents and even save your life.

    If you are hurt in a Chicago car accident and you’re wondering what your options are, please don’t hesitate to contact our attorneys at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. today. We are here 24/7 and would be happy to discuss your legal situation in a free consultation: (312) 236-2900.

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(312) 236-2900
(312) 236-2900
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