Right-of-Way Laws in California | Arnold Law Firm

California Right-of-Way Laws

intersection in rural californiaCalifornia right-of-way laws provide clear guidance regarding when drivers are permitted to go and when they should yield to others. These rules promote traffic safety and help keep traffic flowing smoothly.

However, even when a driver has the right of way, motorists must remain alert and cautious to avoid accidents. Some of the most important right-of-way laws in California include the following:


Motorists must yield the right of way to pedestrians, which includes people on foot, roller skates, skateboards or wheelchairs. Drivers are expected to drive carefully in areas where pedestrians are present. Drivers must obey right-of-way rules pertaining to pedestrians, including:

  • Stop for all pedestrians who are in or are entering a crosswalk.
  • Yield the right of way even if pedestrians are jaywalking or not following the proper rules.
  • Allow time for pedestrians to safely cross.
  • Be patient with pedestrians who are elderly, blind or disabled, as they may take more time to cross.


Additional right-of-way rules apply when approaching crosswalks, such as:

  • Allow five feet between your vehicle and the crosswalk so pedestrians can safely cross.
  • Do not stop in a crosswalk, as doing so can block pedestrians’ legal path to cross the street.
  • Yield to blind persons who extend their cane to show they want to enter the crosswalk.
  • Do not pass a vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk.


When two vehicles reach an intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the right has the right of way and should be allowed to go first. However, there are exceptions, including:

Three-Way Intersection

A three-way intersection exists when one road ends at another and creates a “T” shape. Motorists traveling on the road that has a stop sign must remain stopped until all vehicles have passed through the intersection. If no sign is present, vehicles on the through road have the right of way, and motorists traveling on the road that ends must stop.

Traffic Signals or Signs

If an intersection has working traffic signals or signs that indicate the right of way, these signals or signs must be obeyed. Here is how the right of way works with signs and signals:

  • Yield sign – Vehicles approaching a yield sign must slow down and use caution when approaching an intersection, as vehicles traveling on the intersecting road have the right of way. If you can clearly see that there are no vehicles approaching the intersection from the intersecting road, you may proceed without stopping.
  • Stop sign – When an intersection is controlled by stop signs, come to a complete stop and wait to proceed until it is safe to do so. Vehicles traveling in a direction that does not have a stop sign have the right of way. If two or more vehicles approach a four-way-stop intersection at the same time, the vehicle to the right has the right of way after stopping.
  • Flashing red light – This should be treated as a stop sign; stop and yield to traffic flowing in the intersecting road.
  • Flashing yellow light – Proceed with caution through the intersection.
  • Traffic signal not working – This should be treated as though the intersection has stop signs in all directions. Be ready to stop before entering the intersection, and proceed when it is safe to do so. If multiple vehicles reach the intersection at the same time, the vehicle to the right has the right of way.

Making a Left-Hand Turn

If a motorist intends to make a left-hand turn at an intersection, he or she should:

  • Wait for the light to turn green. If there is no left-turn arrow light, yield the right of way to oncoming traffic before turning.
  • If there is a left-turn arrow light, remain stopped until the arrow turns green.
  • When making a U-turn, yield to right-turning vehicles in front of you.


A roundabout is a special intersection where traffic moves in a circle in a counter-clockwise direction. Vehicles entering the roundabout must yield to motorists and bicyclists who are already in the roundabout.

When in the circle, do not stop to allow other motorists into the roundabout, because doing so can increase the possibility of causing an accident. Stop in the roundabout only if another motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian is causing a potential traffic hazard. When exiting a roundabout, yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Right of Way on Mountain Roads

California is home to mountainous roads that require additional caution. California’s right-of-way rules dictate that if two vehicles are on a steep road where neither vehicle can pass, the downhill-facing vehicle must yield the right of way to the uphill-facing vehicle. The downhill-facing vehicle may have to back up to allow room for the other vehicle.

Schedule a Free Consultation Today

Violating right-of-way laws can lead to car accidents and pedestrian accidents. Right-of-way laws can be complex, and it can be difficult to determine who had the right of way when an accident happened. If you were injured in a right-of-way accident, contact the trusted car accident lawyers in our Sacramento office for help. Our legal team can evaluate your accident and review your legal options with you.

At the Arnold Law Firm, we charge no upfront fees, and we offer a free consultation. There is no obligation on your part, so there is no risk talking with us about your case. Contact us today to find out what we can do for you.

Fill out our Free Case Evaluation form or call (916) 777-7777 today.