Defining Right-of-Way

Yield Sign

Robert T. Lynch, P.E., Principal Collision Reconstruction Engineer

I recently testified on a case involving a collision that occurred between a vehicle that turned left into a parking lot with another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction on the right shoulder, past a line of stopped vehicles. The case did not hinge on visibility, as the line of stopped vehicles created a temporary visual obstruction for both operators to see the other vehicle, but rather on who had the right-of-way at this intersection. Counsel for the vehicle that was operated on the shoulder claimed that the vehicle turning left needed to yield the right-of-way, whereas counsel for the left-turner argued that the other vehicle shouldn’t have been operated on the shoulder.

According to the Vehicle Code of Pennsylvania and New York, right-of-way is defined as “the right of one vehicle or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other.” In the state vehicle codes of New Jersey and Delaware, right-of-way is defined as “the privilege of the immediate use of the highway.” Most other states adopt language similar to one of these two definitions.

A vehicle that is being operated within a shoulder to pass a line of stopped vehicles is not proceeding “in a lawful manner,” nor is it granted with “the privilege of the immediate use of the highway.” So, while most state vehicle codes dictate that a vehicle operator intending to turn left needs to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, when the vehicle is so close as to constitute a hazard, if that approaching vehicle is not being lawfully operated, then that vehicle does not have the right-of-way and the left-turner is not in violation of the state vehicle code. 

Similar situations arise with pedestrians who are crossing within a crosswalk at an intersection, but against the traffic signal. By crossing against the traffic signal, the pedestrians are not acting “in a lawful manner” and thus, would not be granted the right-of-way.

Categories: Robert T. Lynch | Transportation

Tags: Vehicle Code


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