Knowing how to navigate safely through intersections and roundabouts or traffic circles is fundamental to avoiding a car accident. Whether you’re turning right, left, or driving straight through an intersection, understanding who has the right-of-way in any circumstance can be tricky. You have to know when to yield and when to proceed with caution.

Right-of-way determines which driver has the right to proceed first whether it’s through a controlled or uncontrolled intersection. But it isn’t always obvious which driver should go first. Plus, watch for and make eye contact with pedestrians and cyclists, as they often have the right-of-way at intersections.

The right-of-way may be determined by traffic signals or yield and stop signs (a controlled intersection), an intersection with no traffic lights or signage (an uncontrolled intersection), or by the rules of the road in your province.

Failing to obey right-of-way rules is the cause of many collisions, and if you’re charged and convicted of failing to yield the right-of-way or get into a collision for failing to yield to oncoming traffic, you will be considered at-fault for the accident. Either situation may drive up your auto insurance premium.

In Ontario, failing to yield the right-of-way can result in three demerit points and a fine of $110. In Alberta, a conviction for failing to yield the right-of-way may result in up to four demerit points and a fine of $575.

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Common right-of-way scenarios

Here are several common right-of-way scenarios and how to traverse them safely:

  • Driving through an uncontrolled intersection. An intersection without traffic lights, stop or yield signs is an uncontrolled intersection. The first vehicle to arrive at the intersection has the right to go first. If two or more vehicles arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver to the right of you has the right-of-way.
  • Driving through a controlled intersection. An intersection with traffic lights, stop, or yield sign is a controlled intersection. While traffic lights will signal which driver may proceed first through an intersection, if the intersection features a stop or yield sign, the first vehicle to arrive has the right to proceed first. Similar to the rules at an uncontrolled intersection, if two or more vehicles arrive at the same time, the driver to the right of you has the right-of-way. If the intersection features a roundabout, always yield to oncoming traffic and signal before exiting a roundabout.
  • Making a left or right turn. Making a left turn is one of the most accident-prone manoeuvres. You must always yield to oncoming traffic before making a left turn as well as to pedestrians or cyclists who may be crossing the street. A driver turning left has the right-of-way at an intersection with a traffic light that has an advance green light (a flashing green light or arrow). But if you’re turning left onto a multi-lane road, you must turn into the left lane. Making a right turn on a red light is legal (except in Montreal). When making a right turn on a red light, you must yield the right-of-way to the vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists travelling with the green light. When turning right at an intersection with a stop sign, you must wait for passing vehicles or pedestrians or cyclists to proceed before turning. If you’re turning right onto a multi-lane road, you must stay in your lane, and turn into the right lane.
  • Merging into traffic. Whether it is a highway lane that is ending or an acceleration lane that’s merging into traffic, any vehicle entering the flow of traffic must yield the right-of-way to the cars already in it.
  • Driving in a parking lot. Navigating a parking lot can get confusing. Which driver has the right-of-way depends on whether you’re in a thoroughfare or feeder lane. Thoroughfares are the main arteries of the parking lot. Feeder lanes are smaller and typically begin and end at a thoroughfare. Drivers in a thoroughfare usually have the right-of-way over those departing feeder lanes. Regardless of the type of lane, you must yield the right-of-way to approaching traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists when turning left or right. Similarly, drivers exiting a parking space must yield to those who are travelling through the lane they’re trying to enter.
  • Entering traffic from a driveway. If you are pulling out of a driveway, whether it is a residential driveway or from a commercial parking lot, you must always yield the right-of-way to the drivers in the street.
  • Driving through crosswalks. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way at crosswalks and school crossings. You must wait for pedestrians to cross the street before proceeding.

Yield when in doubt

When approaching an intersection and you are unsure if you have the right-of-way, err on the side of caution and yield to any vehicle that is moving in a forward direction, or when you are moving from a stopped position into traffic.

Also, remember to always yield and pull over for any emergency vehicles with its lights flashing, and come to a complete stop for school buses when its red lights are flashing.

Following these tips may help you avoid getting into a collision, and car insurance rate increases.

RATESDOTCA Team

The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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