49er Driving School 

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WHAT IS RIGHT-OF-WAY? The California Vehicle Code section, 525, defines it as the "privilege" of the immediate use of the highway (roadway, street, etc.).  I recommend you meditate on what immediate means in this contex.




a. The law gives it to us...

b. Other drivers give it to us...

c. The law and other drivers give it to us…


Correct answer: b. The law doesn't give the Right-of-Way!  Instead; it tells drivers when they must yield the Right-of-Way, and to whom. The easiest way for the law to catch a non-yielder is after they have an accident. So with that in mind, let’s take a closer look.




THE GENERAL BELIEF IS...the Right-of-Way belongs to the first vehicle to arrive at the intersection, and if it's a tie between vehicles approaching from different roadways; then, the vehicle on the right has the Right-of-Way. This is a myth that the DMV continues to perpetuate through their handbooks, as well as with website tutorials. As a direct consequence, Driver Education programs tend to be in lock step with them.


Chances are, you and nearly everyone you know, believe vehicular right-of-way means the RIGHT to be first because you arrived there first.  Or, in the case of a tie at the entrance to a "4 way" intersection, the vehicle on the right gets the privilege.  The problem here is that you are thinking in terms of a "given" right based on the wrong location; that being at the entrance to the intersection, and behind the first line.  Therefore, you are thinking it's a "Right-by-Possession" that you earned.  Here's what you should be considering instead:  Is the time RIGHT for you to safely enter that enigmatic 'box' known as an intersection?  For the mystery of the 'box' is that no one can get the right-of-way unless they have first entered it.   In other words, it's about position and timing instead of right-by-possession.  Get it?  The law only says you can have it if you beat others into the intersection and they are OK with that.  If they're not and an accident insues, then you never achieved the definition of right-of-way, i.e., "the privilege of the immediate use of the roadway."  Hard to believe?  Here's the actual law from the California Vehicle Code (CVC).
Chapter 4 - Right- of- Way


21800.   (a)   The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway.

                   (b)  (1)  When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right, except that the driver of any vehicle on a terminating highway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle on the intersecting continuing highway.
                   (c)  When two vehicles enter the intersection from different highways at the same time and the intersection is controlled from all directions by stop signs, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right.

Definition of Highway:  "Highway" is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.  Highway includes street, (even the one you live on).


 For more years then I care to remember, the DMV, have been confused about this law.  On page 12 of the 2008 edition of the California Driver Handbook, and under the heading of “Intersections,” they continue to misstate the law, and I quote: “…yield to the car which arrives first or to the car on your right if it reaches the intersection at the same time as you do.”  Somehow, someway, the DMV has misinterpreted “enter” or “entered” to mean “arrives” or “reaches”? Because this continuing misunderstanding has been with us for so long, it has become the customary rule for most drivers.




Right-of-Way shall be given to the first vehicle to ENTER the intersection. This is not the same thing as who gets there first, because when there is a need to stop, you are required to do so BEFORE entering the intersection.


As for yielding to the vehicle on the right, that applies when two vehicles approaching from different highways ENTER the intersection at the same time. To "enter" the intersection, the front of your vehicle has to be in the enigmatic 'box' created by the prolongations of the curb lines. Crosswalks therefore, are not part of the intersection.


TWO-WAY STOPS: If you are facing a stop sign, yield to all approaching cross traffic that would be otherwise forced to slow or stop to avoid hitting you. To be completely safe, make sure you can see all approaching traffic for approximately 200 feet before entering the intersection.


UNCONTROLLED “BLIND” INTERSECTIONS:  During the last 100 feet of your approach to the intersection, slow to a maximum of 15 MPH until you can see at least 100 feet to the left and right sides. Then, apply the law rather than the custom.




GREEN ARROWS give you priority to turn in front of on-coming traffic because they have a red light. Do not confuse this with the regular GREEN LIGHT... because the on-coming vehicles have one too! You must yield therefore, until you can turn without slowing or stopping the approaching vehicle(s). Failure to do so can get you a ticket...or worse.




Always yield the Right-of-Way to pedestrians. This means that if the two of you are going to arrive at the same spot at the same time, always give the walker the opportunity to cross safely in front of you.


Does this mean you must always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks? NO. It means you must let them go first if a conflict is eminent, this is what immediate implies.  Remember this, pedestrians have the right to cross at any legal place, and at whatever pace they wish to precede, without interference from us drivers. If however, you force them to slow their stride or to stop, then you are guilty of not yielding the Right-of-Way.


Some drivers, even though they know they don't always have to, nevertheless feel they should always stop whenever a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. This however, might cause a serious accident because the vehicle behind them doesn't expect them to stop.  In some cases, the pedestrian winds up seriously injured, or dead because the overly-cautious driver's vehicle is pushed violently into them upon impact.




Jay-walking occurs when a pedestrian crosses the street without using the available crosswalk. If the crossing occurs somewhere along the block rather then at an intersection, then it is ONLY Jay-walking if there are traffic signals at both ends of the block and the pedestrian isn’t within a crosswalk.




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