What Does It Mean to Yield the Right of Way in California?

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The traffic laws of California, road signs, and indicator lights on every motor vehicle all exist to enable drivers to anticipate other drivers’ actions and make their intended maneuvers easily recognizable to others. While most drivers are familiar with the concept of the “right of way,” many fail to recognize the situations in which it is necessary to yield the right of way to others. The most basic definition of the right of way is a driver’s right to continue on their intended path. The right of way changes in various situations, and when one driver has the right of way, other drivers nearby are expected to yield until they have the right of way.Failure to yield the right of way where appropriate can easily result in an accident. In these situations, the drivers who fail to yield when necessary are likely to incur liability for the damages they cause to others. “Yielding” means allowing another vehicle to pass before you continue on your way. In many situations, the road signs and traffic signals make it easy for drivers to determine when and where they are expected to yield. When drivers fail to follow these indicators and yield appropriately, car accidents often occur.

When Must I Yield the Right of Way?

Every driver must complete a written test and a practical exam to obtain their driver’s license in California. While many new drivers complete these tests with few issues, they must still gain experience on the road to reduce their risk of causing accidents. One of the most basic fundamentals of safe driving is knowing when to yield the right of way. Some of the most commonly encountered traffic situations that require a driver to yield the right of way are:

  • Four-way intersections with stop signs. When an intersection has four-way stop signs, drivers must come to complete stops as they reach the intersection, and the stopped vehicles proceed through the intersection in the order in which they arrived. For example, the first vehicle to stop at the intersection would wait until other drivers stop and then proceed, followed by the second driver to reach the intersection.
  • Right turns on red lights. Unless an intersection reads “no turn on red,” it is legal to make right turns on red lights in the right turning lane. However, the driver intending to make a right turn on a red light must yield the right of way and wait for cross-traffic to pass before performing their right turn.
  • Left turns on green lights with yielding indicators. Many intersections with left-turn lanes will have signs that indicate it is legal to turn left on green after yielding to oncoming traffic. The driver intending a left turn must yield the right of way to traffic coming in the opposite direction, and once the opposing lane is clear, they may perform their left turn.
  • On and off-ramps for highways. Whenever a highway on-ramp or off-ramp merges into lanes of traffic, there will be “yield” signs posted at the end of the ramp. Therefore, drivers must wait for the merging lane to be clear before merging. Ideally, it is best to do so while moving carefully to not disrupt traffic flow.

There are many situations in which a driver must yield the right of way, and failure to acknowledge these situations can easily result in an accident. In addition, when a driver causes an accident due to failure to yield the right of way, they are responsible for any damages they cause to others.

Proving Fault for a Car Accident

If you are injured in a car crash because another driver failed to yield the right of way where appropriate, you have the right to hold them accountable for your damages. California uses a fault-based system for determining liability for accidents, and it’s common for drivers who cause accidents because they fail to yield the right of way to argue that they did nothing wrong. The other driver caused the accident.

An experienced attorney can assist you in filing an insurance claim against an at-fault driver’s auto insurance policy and help you gather the evidence you need to prove the other driver’s failure to yield was the direct cause of the accident. Evidence you may need might include traffic camera footage, dashboard camera footage, and statements from witnesses who saw the accident happen.


Q: Do I Have to Yield If There Isn’t a Yield Sign?
Traffic signs exist to help drivers operate their vehicles safely and maintain a steady and safe traffic flow. There are many situations in which a driver must yield without a posted yield sign. Drivers must know how to identify these situations and typically develop their ability to identify appropriate times to yield with experience.

Q: What Happens If a Driver Has the Right of Way But Doesn’t Go?
Some drivers, especially inexperienced ones, may fail to recognize some situations in which they have the right of way. If possible, a simple wave to the driver can indicate to them that it is their turn to go. Honking your vehicle’s horn can be disruptive and should only be used to warn a driver of a potential collision. When a driver with the right of way doesn’t go when they are supposed to go, others nearby are likely to quickly become frustrated and may attempt to continue, potentially endangering themselves and others nearby.

Q: Do I Have to Yield the Right of Way to Cyclists and Pedestrians?
In most areas of California, bicyclists have the right to take a lane just like a motor vehicle driver. However, cyclists are expected to use bike lanes whenever possible and follow the same traffic signals as all other drivers. Motor vehicle drivers are always expected to yield to pedestrians, even when pedestrians do not have the right of way or when they cross the street illegally.

Q: Where Are Failure to Yield Accidents Most Likely to Happen?
Most accidents that occur due to failure to yield the right of way happens in intersections. Drivers must pay attention to their surroundings and carefully watch traffic flow at all intersections. Failure to do so can easily result in serious accidents. In addition, one driver’s mistake can potentially disrupt or startle others nearby, potentially resulting in an accident or traffic jam.

If you or a family member recently sustained injuries and economic losses due to a driver’s failure to yield the right of way, a Sacramento car accident attorney at Kreeger Law Firm can assist you in holding them accountable. Contact us today to schedule a consultation about your recent accident and find out how our firm can assist in your recovery.