OPINION - The Problem With the Concept of Right of Way

conflictDespite people regularly discussing who has the right of way in particular situations, the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) does not grant right of way to any vehicle operator. It requires that vehicle operators yield to others in all situations where conflict occurs. MVA Sections such as 125.1 and 173 specifically indicate who is required to yield, not who has the right of way and set out specific rules governing who is required to yield under which conditions.

Most of these rules are pretty easy to understand. Yield to who ever gets there ahead of you or yield to the right if you get there at approximately the same time. For instance, if you are planning to turn left and the oncoming traffic is close enough to constitute a hazard, yield to them.

The issue is the perspective we approach right of way from.

Many schools, for instance, will use the phrase “right of way is not something you take, it’s something you give.” Unfortunately, they then spend the rest of the lesson on right of way referring who has the right of way.

The ICBC driving and riding guides are also guilty of this.

The problem with this approach is that it fosters an atmosphere of entitlement. If you discuss right of way from the standpoint of who has it, the more literal students start to belief that they either have or deserve to have the right to go.

However, if you approach right of way from the standpoint of responsibility (who is required to yield) and ultimate responsibility (the defensive driving course’s being 100% prepared to yield) then you foster a sense of students being responsible for their own and others safety.

If we want to decrease conflicts between drivers, we would do well as drivers (and instructors) to shift our focus from one of having to one of giving.

Contributed by:

John Eastman

Traffic Safety Consultant

  • 15 years in motorcycle rider training and curruculun development.
  • 8 yrs with the motor vehicle branch in driver exams and examiner training.
  • 15 years with ICBC as a driving school inspector and motorcycle safety subject matter expert.


Well said!

I don't know how I missed this when it was posted back in October, but John has it right.

As our site host pointed out a while back, the only road users who can claim to 'have the right of way' are pedestrians, in certain circumstances.

The older I get, and the longer I drive, the more I wonder what part of 'Yield' some drivers - and cyclists - don't seem to understand. Not to mention pedestrians, much of the time.

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