Who has the right of way, and how does it work?

7 minute read Published on May 1, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Who has the right of way, and how does it work?

If you’re a driver, it’s important to understand the right-of-way rules in Ontario. First-time drivers should make sure that they’re aware of all traffic laws and regulations. However, it’s equally important for experienced motorists to brush up on their knowledge and give themselves a refresher on road rules. Below, we explain how right of way works in various scenarios.

What is the right of way?

First things first - what is the right of way? The right of way is when one driver must yield to another driver in specific traffic situations. Right of way determines which driver is allowed to proceed first.

You could receive a ticket if you do not adhere to the right of way, whether unintentionally or not. Even worse, since drivers must abide by the right of way, failure to do so significantly increases your odds of getting into an accident. Chances are, you would be deemed at fault for the accident if your inability to follow the right of way is what caused the collision.

It is worth noting that the purpose of the right of way is to keep drivers safe on the road. More specifically, it is to avoid two vehicles entering the same space and crashing. For instance, if someone enters a four-way stop ahead of you, you are expected to yield to that car. Therefore, you risk an accident or ticket if you refuse to abide by the right of way.

Not only do accidents cause serious injuries, but having an infraction, such as a careless driving ticket, on your driving record can cause your car insurance rates to go up. Traffic convictions can stay on driving records for anywhere from three to six years, which means you could be forced to pay a higher rate for several years after.

When does the right of way apply?

Generally speaking, right of way applies in the following situations:

  • When you’re at a yield sign
  • When you’re at a multi-way intersection
  • When pedestrians are crossing at a crosswalk
  • When making left-hand turns
  • When two lanes merge into one

How right of way works

To help explain how the right of way works in Ontario, let’s dive into some of the most common scenarios where the right of way road rule applies:

When driving through an intersection

First, right of way is likely to apply when driving through an intersection, whether it’s a controlled or uncontrolled intersection. For a controlled intersection that has traffic lights, stop signs, or yield signs, you should have a clear idea of which vehicle has the right of way. In a multi-way intersection with stop or yield signs, the first vehicle to arrive has the right to proceed first, followed by the second vehicle to come, and so on.

Similarly, at an uncontrolled intersection with no traffic lights or signage, the first car to arrive at the intersection has the right of way. In rare situations where two vehicles arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver to your right always has the right of way.

When driving through a roundabout

When driving through a roundabout, drivers must always yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. In addition, drivers must always signal when entering and exiting the roundabout.

When making a left turn at an intersection

When making a left turn at any intersection, whether it has traffic lights or not, you must always yield to oncoming traffic. This includes vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. The only exception is if you find yourself at a controlled intersection with a traffic light with an advance green light that usually appears as a flashing green light or a green arrow. In this case, the left-turning drivers have the right of way.

When making a right turn that requires you to merge into traffic

When making a right turn that requires you to merge into oncoming traffic, such as when you are turning right on a red light, you must always yield to any oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, or cyclists.

When driving in a parking lot

Determining the right of way can get tricky in a parking lot. Generally, it depends on whether you’re in the thoroughfare or feeder lanes. The former are the main lanes in a parking lot, whereas the latter are smaller lanes that connect to thoroughfare lanes. Identifying which lanes are which is the first step in determining the right of way and navigating the parking lot safely.

Typically, drivers in the main thoroughfare lanes have the right of way over motorists entering a thoroughfare lane from a feeder lane. That said, a good rule of thumb is that you should always yield the right of way to oncoming traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists anytime you turn. In addition, drivers who are leaving parking spaces should always yield to cars travelling down the lane.

The most common right-of-way mistakes

A few of the most common right-of-way mistakes are outlined below. Avoid these scenarios and driving behaviours as much as possible, especially if you want to avoid a ticket or accident:

Failing to yield to pedestrians

You must always yield to pedestrians no matter what province you’re driving in. Pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections, even without clearly marked crosswalks. Keeping pedestrians safe is a top priority.

Ignoring four-way stops

Ignoring a four-way stop is another major faux pas. You must come to a complete stop when you approach a four-way stop. From there, the right of way is determined based on the order in which the vehicles arrive at the intersection. Make sure that you properly assess the situation to ensure you know what place you are in the order of the vehicles.

Only proceed when it is your turn, and it is safe to do so. Sometimes, pedestrians or bicycles may prevent you from proceeding when it is your turn. Since pedestrians and cyclists always have the right of way, you must wait until they have passed to continue driving. You can learn more about sharing the road with bicycles and sharing the road with motorcycles here.

Failing to give right of way when merging

Next, never make the mistake of failing to give the right of way when merging. Specifically, we’re talking about when two lanes merge into one. The drivers who are in the lane that is ending must yield to those in the continuing lane. In addition, drivers must signal their intention to merge before merging. Whatever you do, don’t be aggressive. Remember your defensive driving skills and be patient whenever merging into oncoming traffic.

Incorrectly approaching a roundabout

Another mistake many drivers make is incorrectly approaching a roundabout. The rule for roundabouts is the same: drivers must yield to any and all vehicles already inside the circle. So be sure to look carefully in both directions before turning.

Road rage

One last mistake drivers often make concerning the right of way is getting angry. Road rage is a real problem in Canada and retaliating with road rage because someone didn’t yield to you when they were supposed to is never the smart move. A driver being denied the right of way is quick to spark anger or even rage but do your best to stay calm in all driving situations.

Contact BrokerLink

Ready to find out more about how the right of way works? Contact BrokerLink today. We can explain how this important traffic rule applies to various situations and provide insight into defensive driving skills.

In addition, a BrokerLink insurance advisor will help keep you safe on the road by finding the correct type of auto insurance for your needs and budget. We have helped thousands of Canadians find quality coverage, from basic coverage to enhanced coverage. A few of the types of coverage that we can help you add to your policy include:

Plus, since we are car insurance experts, we will make sure that the policy you choose complies with the regulations in your province. For example, if you live in Ontario or Alberta, you must have no less than $200,000 in third-party liability car insurance.

Find out more about car insurance requirements where you live and how auto coverage can protect you by contacting BrokerLink today. We can also provide you with a complimentary quote in as little as five minutes.

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FAQs on the right of way

When do pedestrians have the right of way?

Pedestrians almost always have the right of way. Drivers are always expected to yield to pedestrians.

What is the penalty for failing to yield the right of way in Ontario?

Failing to yield the right of way can result in three demerit points in Ontario and a fine of $110. In addition, if you receive this type of ticket, it will go on your driving record, which can increase insurance premiums down the road.

Will my insurance rates increase if I get a ticket for failing to yield?

They can. Any driving infractions, including traffic tickets, go on your driving record. The next time that your auto insurance policy is renewed, your insurance provider might increase your premium due to the ticket incurred.

Who has the right of way on the highway?

Generally speaking, cars already travelling on the highway have the right of way compared to those who are just entering the highway. For this reason, drivers must yield to other cars when they are merging onto the highway. The merging lane never has the right of way.

How can I lower my car insurance rates after getting a traffic ticket for failing to yield the right of way?

If you want to lower your insurance premium, you can try raising your deductibles, lowering your coverage limits, removing coverage that you no longer need, paying for your auto insurance plan yearly instead of monthly, or bundling multiple policies into one. You could also enrol in a defensive driving course as some insurance companies offer discounts to those who complete driver’s education programs. Thus, these programs may not only help you study for your G2 road test but they can also allow you to save money on your young drivers insurance plan.

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