Car and Motor Vehicle Right of Way Definition Laws

When the law requires a driver or pedestrian to “yield the right-of-way” to another vehicle/pedestrian, this means that the driver or pedestrian must let the other car/pedestrian go first. Even if someone has the right-of-way, that person must use reasonable care to avoid an accident.


  • “Right of Way” Defined. Vehicle Code section 525.
  • Intersection Right of Way. Vehicle Code section 21800.
  • Left Turn Right of Way. Vehicle Code section 21801.
  • Approaching Entrance to Intersection. Vehicle Code section 21802.
  • Intersection Controlled by Yield Right-of-Way Sign. Vehicle Code section 21803.
  • Entry Onto Highway. Vehicle Code section 21804.
  • Equestrian Crossings. Vehicle Code section 21805.
  • Authorized Emergency Vehicles. Vehicle Code section 21806.

  • “Right of way rules have been described as simply establishing ‘a practical basis for necessary courtesy on the highway.’ ” (Eagar v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 116, 122 [107 Cal.Rptr. 819].)

  • In an action for damages incurred in the collision of two automobiles at the intersection of a private exit road and a public highway, it was not prejudicial error to refuse to give an instruction relating to defendant’s duty to yield the right of way which correctly stated the law applicable to the facts of the case where the court gave other instructions which, though they did not expressly so state, necessarily and clearly implied that it was the duty of the driver on the highway to yield the right of way when his car did not constitute an immediate hazard to the driver entering from the private road, and where the instructions given were not mere general, abstract statements of the law, but were sufficiently specific.  Pandell v. Hischier, 166 Cal. App. 2d 693.

  • “[A] driver entering a public highway from private property who collides with a vehicle traveling on the public road is not necessarily liable for a violation of [Vehicle Code] section 21804. Rather, the driver violates this section only if he or she fails to act as a ‘ “reasonably prudent and cautious [person].” ’ Whether the driver failed to so act is a question of fact for the trier of fact to decide.” (Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255, 266 [155 Cal.Rptr.3d 306], internal citation omitted.)

  • “Of course, even if [defendant] had the right of way, he had a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid an accident, and the jury was so instructed.” (Eagar, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d. at p. 123, fn. 3, internal citation omitted.)

  • “Where a car has actually entered an intersection before the other approaches it, the driver of the first car has the right to assume that he will be given the right of way and be permitted to pass through the intersection without danger of collision. He has a right to assume that the driver of the other car will obey the law, slow down, and yield the right of way, if slowing down be necessary to prevent a collision.” (Minnegren v. Nozar (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 500, 508 [208 Cal.Rptr.3d 655].)

  • “When, as here, each motorist has acted reasonably and the pedestrian has failed to exercise due care for her own safety, the law of this state does not permit the technical violation of the pedestrian’s right of way statute to impose negligence on the motorists as a matter of law. The statute creates a preferential, but not absolute, right in favor of the pedestrian who is still under a duty to exercise ordinary care.” (Byrne v. City and County of San Francisco (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 731, 742 [170 Cal.Rptr. 302].)

  • “ ‘Even where a right of way is given by statute, if conditions so require it to avoid injury to others, the right of way must be yielded.’ ” (Bove v. Beckman (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 555, 563 [46 Cal.Rptr. 164], internal citation omitted.)

  • “Although such a driver may have the right-of-way, he is not absolved of the duty to exercise ordinary care; may not proceed blindly in disregard of an obvious danger; and must be watchful of the direction in which danger is most likely to be apprehended.” (Malone v. Perryman (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 227, 234 [37 Cal.Rptr. 864].)

    Cal. Veh. Code § 553 provides that the driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any private road or driveway or from an alley shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on said highway. Literally, this section would require the prospective entrant from a private road to yield the right of way to all vehicles on the highway regardless of where they were. This would be an unreasonable interpretation. For that reason, the courts have interpreted the section to mean that a prospective entrant from a private road may lawfully enter a highway so long as there is no vehicle so near as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Brad Nakase, Attorney



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