Q&A - Who Has The Right of Way?

Q&A ImageYou are traveling on Cliffe Avenue and going to turn right at 5th Street in Courtenay with the green turning arrow lit.  If there is a car turning left onto 5th Street (which you can only do at certain times of the day) who has the right of way - the person turning right with the green signal light or the person turning left but also with a green light?



I don't know the streets of Courtenay well, so I had a look courtesy of Google Street View:

It appears that the only way you can find yourself in this situation is when you are traveling northbound on Cliffe and are going to use the right turn lane to turn onto 5th. There is no yield sign for traffic in the turn lane. Left turns for opposing traffic are forbidden Monday to Saturday between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm.
I have an answer for you, complete with how the courts view this issue in the article Yielding on Left Turns.

Interesting post ...

... it would be informative if we had more information (he said, stating the obvious, obviously).

First thing that comes to mind, is that nobody ever has the Right of Way; at least, not according to BC law.  But certainly, there are many occasions when road users are required to give it.  Forgive me if I'm being pedantic, but all too often drivers will presume that they have something that doesn't actually exist.

Meanwhile, looking at the intersection myself on Google Earth also, I can see where the right-turner, particularly when facing a green arrow, would presume ownership of the asphalt when making that turn.  Probably worth reading Section 130 of the MVA for complete information on arrows.

But you can see where that opposing left turner could easily presume that the traffic making that turn would be facing a Yield sign, as this is so often the case with this type of right-turn chute design.

I also wonder if there's the potential for what one traffic engineer described to me as a 'left-turn trap'.  That's when a driver has entered an intersection on a solid green, then waited to turn left in the normal and correct manner - but when the light goes to amber, the oncoming/opposing traffic are still facing a green light (could be an arrow or a solid green).  You can see where they could feel pressured to clear the interestion, and at the same time be expecting the conflicting vehicles to be coming to a stop (because usually that's when they are also facing an amber light).

Of course, when all's said and done (there's usually a lot more said than done, of course) the driver who gets into a collision as a consequence of turning left is almost guaranteed to be considered at fault.  (Which won't do you a bit of good if you're the right turner behind the wheel of a Pinto, and he's driving a Chevy Suburban - I'm just sayin' ... )


I will have to revise my view as your explanation of right of way is a good one. I never expect it from another driver and I see blind expectations of it around me as I drive each day. Not a healthy situation at all.

Yield Sign

In my opinon the Traffic Engineers should just erect a Yield Sign for Cliffe Avenue turning right at 5th Street

That would defeat the purpose, though!

Erecting one or two Yield signs there seems like such a simple solution, but one has to keep in mind that traffic laws, and traffic engineering, exist for two essential purposes.  The first, of course, is to reduce accidents; but the second is to maintain the traffic flow as much as possible.

There are only the two bridges over the river around there, the one at 5th Street and the other at 17th Street, a dozen blocks south.  Traffic heading to and from points east (this including the CFB Comox, the Airport, the Powell River Ferry dock, as well as numerous shopping malls and other facilities, etc) can all too easily snarl when volumes are high; this is a particular problem with both 5th and Cliffe, in fact.

So it's no surprise then that we see crosswalks in only three sides of that intersection (pedestrians can really interrupt potential vehicle flow) and the left turn from Cliffe restricted to evenings/night-time and Sundays.  Meanwhile, traffic coming up 5th from the bridge frequently has the benefit of a green arrow to turn left onto Cliffe; so it's only natural to give the traffic making the reciprocal maneuver - a right turn onto 5th from Cliffe - a green arrow.*  The majority of traffic at that intersection is not proceeding straight through, it is making this turn in one direction or the other, and it has to be the priority for the engineers.

Yield signs interrupt traffic flow, 24/7.  Green arrows, when illuminated, say to drivers "Lets go!  Let's go!! Let's go, go go!!!"  This because they provide assurance to the drivers facing them that potential vehicle or pedestrian hazards are not currently present; pedestrians will be facing a "Don't Walk" and other vehicles will be facing a solid Red Light.

Should the possible conflict between right turners and opposed left turners from Cliffe onto 5th be resulting in traffic collisions, the only solution that makes sense is to eliminate the left turn 24/7, and force those drivers to find another way of getting onto 5th Street.


* It is my long-held belief that legislation should be put into affect by Victoria, that within a finite period - say, two or three years - ALL traffic lights with a green arrow phase to allow uninterrupted left turns should simultaneously display a green arrow for the right turners making the reciprocal manuever; it's absurd to make them stop before turning right on the red, for absolutely no reason (there cannot be a conflict for them) and terribly inefficient.  Municipalities would grumble and groan at the expense, but we would end up with more efficient traffic flow and less pollution.  So there!

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