California 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.
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:
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.
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.
You must remain stopped at a red arrow until it is replaced with a green arrow.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Some California intersections and roadways are controlled by traffic signs instead of lights. Here are some common examples of signs you may encounter.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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