California Right-of-Way Laws

intersection in rural californiaCalifornia right-of-way laws provide clear guidance on 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 drivers have the right-of-way, they must remain alert and cautious to avoid accidents. If another driver violates your right-of-way and causes a crash, you have the right to pursue compensation for your damages.

Call our Sacramento car accident lawyers today to discuss your claim. The consultation is free, and there is no obligation to take legal action.

Below, we discuss some of the California right-of-way laws drivers, pedestrians and others should know.

How Does the Law Define Right-of-Way (CVC § 525)?

Under the California Vehicle Code, the right-of-way is defined as the right to immediate use of a highway.


When you reach a controlled intersection, the right-of-way is determined by traffic signals. Below, we explain the right-of-way rules for the different lights and signals you will see at California intersections:

Red Lights

You are required to stop at all solid red lights and flashing red lights. If the light is flashing red you can proceed through the intersection after a complete stop, if the way is clear. You should treat a flashing red light like a stop sign.

Can You Turn Right on Red in California?

You can make a right turn on red in California unless there is a sign that says, “NO TURN ON RED.” You must first, however, come to a full stop at the white line and check for oncoming vehicles, as they have the right-of-way.

You are also required to yield to pedestrians when turning right, whether the light is red, solid green or a green arrow. You can only make the turn when you have enough time to do so safely. You cannot impede the flow of traffic.

Red Arrows

You must remain stopped at a red arrow until it is replaced with a green arrow.

Yellow Lights

When the traffic light turns yellow, you need to be cautious. The light turns yellow just before it turns red. You are supposed to stop if it is possible to do so safely. If you cannot stop in time, proceed through the intersection with caution.

When you see a flashing yellow light, you may proceed with caution. However, you should slow down and remain alert.

Yellow Arrows

A solid yellow arrow is a warning that you are running out of time to turn because the arrow is going to turn red shortly. If you can safely stop before going into the intersection, you should do so. If you are already in the intersection, you should finish the turn.

If the arrow is flashing yellow, you can make a left turn but you are required to yield to oncoming traffic before proceeding through the intersection cautiously.

Sometimes the signal after a yellow arrow is a solid red or green traffic light.

Green Lights

Green means go, as you have the right-of-way. However, you are still required to yield to any vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians who are inside the intersection. You may go through the intersection if there is enough space to do so without putting other cars, pedestrians or bicyclists in danger.

Many drivers do not realize they are required to get through an intersection before the traffic signal turns red. If you do not think you can make it, you should stop before moving into the intersection.

If you want to turn right when the light is green, or there is a green arrow, you have the right-of-way. This applies even if there is another vehicle making a U-turn at the intersection.

If you want to make a left turn at an intersection, wait for the light to turn green. Once the light turns green, you can make the turn if traffic is clear.

Green Arrow

When you see a green arrow, you have the right-of-way in the direction the arrow is pointing. Oncoming traffic has a red light and is not allowed to proceed.

If there is no left-turn arrow light, yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic before turning.

What if the Traffic Lights Are Out?

If a traffic signal is not working, it should be treated as a four-way stop sign. Come to a complete stop and proceed with caution.

TRAFFIC SIGNS Governing the Right-of-Way

Some California intersections and roadways are controlled by traffic signs instead of lights. Here are some common examples of signs you may encounter.

  • Yield signs – Vehicles approaching a yield sign must slow down and use caution. You need to be ready to come to a stop to allow another car, pedestrian or person on a bicycle to pass before you can go. If the yield sign precedes an intersection, watch for oncoming vehicles, as they 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 signs – If an intersection is controlled by stop signs, come to a complete stop, and then 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.
  • Wrong way signs – This sign indicates you are going in the wrong direction. You are traveling against traffic and are at risk for a head-on collision. Being cautious to avoid traffic, you should immediately pull over to the road shoulder or side of the road. Put on your hazard lights and watch for a gap in traffic. When there is enough space in oncoming traffic, make a U-turn to proceed back in the right direction. Another way to know you are going the wrong way is to look at the reflectors on the road. If they are red, you are heading toward oncoming traffic.
  • Red circle with a line through it – Signs like this say what you are prohibited from doing. For example, inside the circle, you may see a U-turn arrow. This sign means you are prohibited from making a U-turn at this intersection. You may also see a right arrow or left arrow in this type of sign. That means you cannot make a left or right turn.

Who Has the Right-of-Way at a Four-Way Stop in California?

The first driver to arrive at the intersection always has the right-of-way, and other drivers must yield to them. If you reach the intersection at the same time as another car, the driver on the right has the right-of-way. If four vehicles arrive at the same time, the right-of-way still belongs to the driver on the right. The driver on the left is required to go last.

You are also required to yield to pedestrians and bicycle riders. Even if you have the right-of-way, you must allow them to go through the intersection first.

Who Has the Right-of-Way at a Two-Way Stop in California?

If you reach an intersection before anyone else, you can proceed after stopping. 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.

What to Do at a 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.

What is Vehicle Code 2180 in California?

This California law tells drivers what to do when they are trying to turn left or make a U-turn when they are facing oncoming traffic. Approaching traffic always has the right-of-way, which means you cannot make your turn until the way is clear. The law specifically says you must yield to any vehicles that are close enough to you to present a hazard when you are trying to turn.


Motorists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in most situations. This includes anyone on foot, roller skates, skateboards or wheelchairs.

Drivers are expected to drive carefully in areas where pedestrians are present. Drivers must obey the following right-of-way laws pertaining to pedestrians:

  • 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 traffic laws.
  • Allow time for pedestrians to safely cross the roadway.
  • Be patient with pedestrians who are elderly, blind or disabled, as they may take more time to cross.

Although drivers are expected to yield, it is important to note that pedestrians still have a duty of care to others. This means if a person crosses the road without checking for oncoming traffic, causing a crash,  he or she could be at least partially liable for damages.


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.

Drivers who fail to adhere to these rules at a crosswalk may be liable for damages if an accident occurs.


A roundabout is a special intersection where traffic moves in a circle in a counterclockwise 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. 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.

Here are more tips on safely using a roundabout:

  • Reduce your speed when you approach the roundabout.
  • Enter when there is a large enough gap so you can safely do so.
  • Use your turn signal before changing lanes.
  • Use your signal before you exit the roundabout.
  • If you miss your turn, go around the roundabout until to get back to the exit.


California is home to mountainous roads that require additional caution.

The state’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.

Vehicles traveling on the freeway always have the right-of-way. The driver attempting to enter the freeway must speed up and then merge into an opening while using his or her turn signal to indicate the intent to merge.


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, call an attorney 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 in talking with us about your case.

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