Knowing what right of way means is important for drivers

Right of way

Right of way means the privilege of the immediate use of the highway over other users. We often speak of it, but do we really know what it means in relation to our driving? It is crucial that drivers know and follow the right of way rules to avoid conflict and collision.

It's not just you

In discussions that I have had about right of way, drivers tend to approach it from the point of view of "other road users must allow me to (insert action being discussed here)." While that is true, if taking the right of way results in a crash, the driver with the right of way can still be held accountable.

Right of Way in the Motor Vehicle Act

Part 3 of the Motor Vehicle Act, which sets out the rules for vehicle and pedestrian movement, contains 35 references to the phrase "right of way." The majority of them relate to intersections controlled by traffic signals. They specify who goes first in various situations and generally grant priority to pedestrians over all vehicles, if the pedestrian is following the pedestrian rules properly.

These rules must be learned when you start to drive and kept in mind to be followed thereafter.

B.C.'s Safe Driving Guide

If you are not a legal scholar, reading the MVA can be confusing. Our provincial driving manual Learn to Drive Smart devotes four pages to explaining right of way in chapter 4, starting on page 43. It is easier to understand.

Knowing when to go and when to yield the right of way to others will keep us all safe on the highways.

Yielding to the right

In places on the highway that are not controlled by a sign, signal or other marking, we generally must yield to the traffic on our right. In the case of an uncontrolled intersection the fact that one way is more heavily travelled or a straighter path does not grant right of way over the yield to the right concept.

Emergency vehicles and buses

There are special circumstances mentioned in this part as well. Yielding to emergency vehicles and buses displaying the yield sign in areas with speed limits of 60 km/h or less are two common situations.


While there are right of way rules that govern the interaction between drivers and pedestrians there is one overriding concern for drivers: exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway.

Important thought

Remember, right of way is given, not taken.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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