Right-of-way rules in Ontario

13 minute read Published on Feb 5, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Close up of a car's tail light. Blurred background of cars stuck in traffic.

Embarking on a journey through Ontario’s bustling streets and serene highways requires more than just a sense of adventure; it demands a solid understanding of the rules that govern our roads.

Whether you’re a seasoned driver, a newcomer to Ontario’s roads, or a curious learner, this blog offers a comprehensive guide to help you easily navigate these rules.

What does right-of-way mean?

Right-of-way is a fundamental concept in traffic laws and regulations, referring to the rules that determine which vehicle, pedestrian, or cyclist has the priority to proceed first in various traffic situations.

It’s a system that facilitates orderly and safe movement on roads and pathways. Understanding the right-of-way is crucial for preventing accidents and ensuring efficient traffic flow.

What are the right-of-way rules in Ontario?

Knowing the rules for right-of-way in Ontario, like who goes first at a 4-way stop or how to enter a roundabout, is essential for safe and efficient driving. These rules not only help in avoiding accidents but also ensure smooth traffic flow.

First, we’ll explain the difference between controlled and uncontrolled intersections.

Controlled intersections are governed by traffic lights, stop signs or yield signs. Drivers must follow the specific instructions of these traffic control devices.

At intersections without traffic signals or signs at uncontrolled intersections, the driver who arrives first has the right-of-way. If two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the vehicle to the right has the right-of-way.

As a rule of thumb, it’s safer to be cautious if you’re unsure who has the right-of-way at an intersection. Yield to any vehicles that are already moving, especially when entering traffic from a stop. This approach helps prevent accidents and ensures smoother traffic flow.

Here’s a handy guide to help you understand Ontario’s rules for right-of-way:

Intersections with stop signs

At a stop sign, drivers must come to a complete stop at the stop line, crosswalk, or before the intersection if no line is present. After stopping, the driver should yield to all other traffic and pedestrians.

Four-way stop signs

Four-way stops are common in residential areas and intersections with less traffic. The rule is straightforward: the first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection has the right-of-way.

If two or more vehicles arrive simultaneously, the vehicle to the immediate right goes first. In situations where vehicles face each other, and one is turning left while the other is going straight, the vehicle going straight has the right-of-way.

Three-way stops, y-intersections or t-intersections

Y- and T-intersections occur where one road ends when it meets a perpendicular road. At a three-way stop sign or Y- or T-intersections, drivers should yield to vehicles that are already in the through traffic lane. When two drivers reach a three-way stop or Y- or T-intersections simultaneously, the vehicle on the right is entitled to proceed first.

Two-way stop signs

Vehicles on the through road without a stop sign have the right-of-way at intersections with a two-way stop. Drivers at the stop sign must yield to all traffic on the intersecting road and pedestrians crossing the street.

Traffic Lights

Traffic lights are crucial for managing traffic flow. Drivers must obey the signals:

Green light signals

Proceed with caution, ensuring the intersection is clear.

Yellow light signals

Prepare to stop if it’s safe to do so. A yellow light indicates the light will soon turn red.

Red light signals

Stop and wait until the light turns green.

Advanced green light or arrow

This allows drivers to turn in the direction of the arrow. Proceed with caution, but remember you have the right-of-way over oncoming traffic and pedestrians for the duration of the green arrow.

In the event of a power outage causing the traffic lights to be off, stay red, or start flashing, approach the intersection as though it is a four-way stop. Every driver should come to a full stop and then move through the intersection in turn, proceeding only when it is safe to do so.

Turning into oncoming traffic

When making a left or right turn across oncoming traffic, such as a left-hand turn at an intersection, it’s crucial to yield to all oncoming vehicles. This is one of the most common scenarios for accidents, as it requires precise judgment of the speed and distance of approaching traffic. Drivers must wait until there is a safe gap in traffic before proceeding.

Right turn: you must merge into the lane closest to the right-hand side of the road.

Left turn: merge into the lane that is just to the right of the centerline of the roadway.

It’s important to match the speed of the traffic flow and merge safely without causing other drivers to brake or swerve. Never assume oncoming drivers will stop or slow down for you, and always be prepared for sudden changes in traffic conditions.

Exiting a driveway

Entering a road from a driveway, parking lot, or private road requires drivers to yield to all traffic on the main road. This includes vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Look both ways and wait for a safe gap in traffic before entering. Also, be aware of sidewalks and crosswalks when crossing them to enter the roadway, as pedestrians have the right of way.

Highway merging

Drivers entering a highway must yield to vehicles already travelling on the highway. Drivers should use the acceleration lane to match the speed of highway traffic and merge safely.

While not a strict rule, it’s also considered good practice for drivers on the highway to adjust their speed or change lanes if possible to facilitate smooth merging.


Roundabouts are designed to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents. When entering a roundabout, drivers must yield to vehicles already in the circle. Unlike traditional intersections, the circulating traffic has the right-of-way, and drivers must also look out for pedestrians and cyclists when entering and exiting the roundabout.

Emergency vehicles

Ontario law requires all drivers to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles like ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars when using sirens and flashing lights.

This means pulling over to the right and stopping until the emergency vehicle has passed.

Public transit buses

In some areas, particularly on busy city streets, drivers are required to yield to public transit buses that are signalling to re-enter traffic. This rule helps in keeping public transit systems efficient.


Pedestrian safety is a priority in Ontario. Drivers must always yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, at intersections, and pedestrian crossovers. This applies to both marked and unmarked crosswalks which exist at every intersection.

Even if there are no pavement markings if a pedestrian is waiting to cross or actively crossing the road, pedestrians have the right-of-way, and drivers must stop and allow them to cross safely. Be particularly cautious near schools, parks, and residential areas where children may be present.

School buses

When a school bus stops with its upper red lights flashing, traffic in both directions on undivided roads must stop. Drivers cannot proceed until the bus moves or the lights stop flashing. This rule protects children getting on and off the bus.

Crossing guards

Crossing guards are often found near schools to assist children in crossing the street. When a crossing guard is present, drivers must obey their signals. If the guard enters the roadway with a stop sign, all drivers must stop and remain stopped until all persons, including the crossing guard, have cleared the road.

Bicycles and e-bikes

In Ontario, bicycles and e-bikes are considered vehicles and must adhere to the same rules of the road as motor vehicles. This means that drivers of motor vehicles must treat bicycles and e-bikes as they would any other vehicle:

Yielding to Bicycles and E-Bikes

When turning, drivers must yield to cyclists and e-bikers just as they would to other vehicles. This is particularly important in intersections and when making right turns, as cyclists often ride on the right side of the road.

Passing Bicycles and E-Bikes

Motor vehicles should pass bicycles and e-bikes with at least one meter of space where possible, whether they’re using a bike lane or sharing the road. This ensures the safety of the cyclist and respects their right to use the road.

Shared Lanes

In lanes shared between motor vehicles and bicycles, drivers should be cautious and respectful, allowing cyclists the necessary space and right-of-way.

Parking lots

Motorists should give way to both pedestrians and vehicles already in the traffic lane. Since parking lot collisions are common in Canada, it’s important to drive at a reduced speed and be vigilant for other vehicles reversing out of parking spaces.

Benefits of the right-of-way regulations in Ontario

Right-of-way plays a crucial role in enhanced road safety and traffic management. Understanding and adhering to these rules brings several benefits, not only for individual drivers but also for the overall traffic ecosystem. Here’s a detailed look at these benefits:

Enhanced safety

Clear right-of-way regulations significantly reduce the chances of collisions by establishing who has priority in various traffic scenarios. This clarity is especially important at intersections, roundabouts, and merges, where the potential for accidents is high.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists also benefit greatly from these rules. For instance, the rules significantly increase pedestrian safety by mandating that vehicles yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, particularly in urban and residential areas. Plus, with specific rules around school buses and school zones, these regulations play a critical role in protecting children.

Furthermore, right-of-way rules that include bicycles and e-bikes ensure that these road users are treated with the same respect as motorized vehicles, promoting safer sharing of the road.

Improved traffic flow

Right-of-way rules help manage the flow of traffic through intersections smoothly, reducing the likelihood of congestion and gridlock. Plus, when all road users follow the same set of rules, it creates a predictable environment.

This predictability is essential for smooth traffic flow, as drivers can anticipate the actions of others based on these established rules.

Emergency response prioritization

Rules requiring drivers to yield to emergency vehicles ensure that these vehicles can move quickly and safely through traffic, which is vital in life-threatening situations.

Legal clarity and liability reduction

These rules provide a clear framework for determining fault in an accident, so understanding and following these rules can protect drivers from legal repercussions.

Furthermore, law enforcement agencies rely on these rules to identify and penalize driving behaviours that could endanger others, contributing to overall road safety.

In a construction zone, who has the right-of-way?

In a construction zone, right-of-way rules can be more complex due to the presence of workers, equipment, and often altered traffic patterns.

The primary goal in these zones is to ensure the safety of both the construction workers and the road users. Here’s what you should know before entering a construction zone:

  • Be vigilant for signs indicating lane closures, speed limits, and detours.
  • Construction personnel or flaggers may direct traffic, and their instructions override standard right-of-way regulations.
  • Give way to construction vehicles entering or moving around the site.
  • Watch for reduced speed limit signs.
  • In cases of lane closures, pay attention to merge signs and use the zipper merge method.
  • Be prepared for sudden stops, changes in traffic patterns, and the presence of workers and equipment near the roadway.
  • Delays are common in construction zones, so patience is essential, as aggressive driving or rushing in these areas increases the risk of accidents.

Keep in mind that penalties for traffic violations, including speeding or failure to yield, are often increased or even doubled in construction zones to encourage compliance and ensure safety.

Penalty for not following Ontario’s right-of-way rules

In Ontario, failing to follow right-of-way rules can result in legal penalties, like monetary fines, demerit points, and higher insurance rates, which are part of the province’s efforts to maintain road safety.

The penalty for not adhering to the right-of-way depends on the specific violation and its severity. Let’s explore some of these potential consequences further:

Monetary fines

Violating right-of-way rules typically results in a fine. The amount can vary based on the nature of the violation. For instance, failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks or not obeying stop signs and traffic signals can lead to significant fines.

Demerit points

Ontario employs a demerit point system where points are added to a driver’s record for various traffic violations. Certain right-of-way infractions, like failing to yield to traffic on a through road or at a stop sign, can result in demerit points.

The number of points typically depends on the seriousness of the offence. Accumulating too many points can lead to further penalties, such as licence suspension.

Increased insurance rates

Traffic violations, including failure to follow these rules, can lead to increased car insurance premiums in Ontario. Insurers view these violations as indicators of risky driving behaviour.

Criminal charges

In extreme cases, particularly if a failure to follow right-of-way rules leads to a serious accident or fatality, a driver could face criminal charges, which carry more severe penalties, including potential jail time.

How following right-of-way rules helps maintain lower car insurance premiums

Understanding and following right-of-way regulations is not only essential for road safety but also plays a significant role in the realm of liability car insurance. Adherence to these rules can be a key factor in maintaining lower insurance premiums. Insurance companies often view adherence to traffic laws, including right-of-way regulations, as an indicator of a responsible and low-risk driver.

Conversely, violations of these rules can lead to accidents, which not only endanger lives and property but also result in car insurance claims that can increase insurance rates. Therefore, a solid understanding and consistent application of right-of-way rules contribute to safer driving habits, which in turn helps in keeping car insurance rates more favourable.

Final thoughts

Navigating the roads with a keen understanding of Ontario’s right-of-way regulations not only ensures safety but also reflects positively on your car insurance premiums. Insurance brokerages like BrokerLink offer competitive insurance quotes tailored to your driving habits. Whether you’re seeking car insurance in Toronto, London, or Ottawa or exploring various types of auto insurance, understanding and adhering to right-of-way regulations can be a significant factor in securing favourable rates.

Remember, every responsible decision you make on the road not only keeps you and others safe but also contributes to a more advantageous insurance outlook. Stay informed, stay safe, and let BrokerLink guide you to the insurance solutions that best fit your lifestyle and driving needs.

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Who has the right-of-way at a stop sign intersection?

At a stop sign intersection, the first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection generally has the right-of-way. If two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the vehicle to the right has the right-of-way.

What does highway right-of-way mean?

Highway right-of-way refers to the priority given to vehicles already travelling on a highway. Vehicles entering the highway, such as from an on-ramp or intersection, must yield to the traffic already on the highway.

Do pedestrians get the right-of-way in Ontario?

Yes, in Ontario, pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks and intersections. Vehicles must yield to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.

Who has the right-of-way when merging?

Typically, vehicles already on the main road have the right-of-way. Vehicles merging onto the road must yield and merge safely without causing the main traffic to slow down or stop.

Who has the right-of-way at a green light?

Vehicles facing a green light have the right-of-way to proceed straight through an intersection. However, drivers must still yield to vehicles and pedestrians lawfully within the intersection when the light changes.

Who has the right-of-way in a parking lot?

In parking lots, drivers must yield to all pedestrians and to vehicles that are already moving in the driving lanes. However, parking lots right-of-way can be less clear-cut, so be cautious and drive slowly.

When must you yield the right-of-way?

You must yield the right-of-way in several situations, including at stop signs, yield signs, to pedestrians in crosswalks, to emergency vehicles with sirens and/or lights, and when entering a main road from a driveway or side street.

Who has the right-of-way when merging on highway ramps?

Vehicles already on the highway have the right-of-way. Drivers merging onto the highway from ramps must yield and merge safely.

Who’s right-of-way is it when leaving a driveway?

When leaving a driveway, you must yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and to all vehicles on the road. The right-of-way belongs to the road traffic and pedestrians.

Do I have the right-of-way when making a right turn?

When making a right turn, you must yield to pedestrians crossing the street and to any vehicle approaching from your left that is close enough to be a hazard.

What are the rules for sharing the road with horses?

When sharing the road with horses, slow down and give them a wide berth. Do not honk, rev your engine, or do anything that might startle the horse. Always yield to equestrians on the road.

What if there is a power outage at an intersection?

If traffic lights are out due to a power outage, treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Each driver must come to a complete stop and proceed when it is safe and their turn.

Who has the right-of-way at a four-way stop in Ontario?

At a four-way stop in Ontario, the first vehicle to arrive at the intersection has the right-of-way. If two or more vehicles arrive at the same time, the vehicle to the right has the right-of-way. If directly across from each other, the vehicle going straight goes first.

How far ahead is 15 seconds of eye lead time?

The distance covered in 15 seconds of eye lead time varies depending on your speed. For instance, if you’re driving at 60 km/h (approximately 37 mph), 15 seconds of lead time would cover about 250 meters (820 feet). This is a generally safe practice to ensure you have adequate time to react to road conditions.

Which position is correct for a left hand turn?

The correct position for making a left turn is to move close to the center line or into the designated left-turn lane if one is available. Ensure you’re positioned in such a way that you do not block oncoming traffic. When making the turn, turn into the lane closest to the centerline of the road you’re turning into. Remember to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before turning.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.