Right of Way

Learn to Drive Smart Manual coverRight 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 4 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.


Examiner was wrong

Another issue with driving test. Examiner Comment ”consistently giving up right of way”

Safe correct driving can’t be bad and it is better give the right of way to people who don’t follow the rules and speed limit rather than be in accident.

From the BC’s safe driving guide: page 80 “It’s also important to know the right of way rules. However, other road users make mistakes and do unexpected things. It may not always be easy to decide who has the right of way. In a doubt, always be ready to give the right-of-way ”

From the BC’s safe driving guide: page 111“Strategies: Preventing Aggression: Give the right of way”


Another issue with driving test.

So presumably, 'pix530' doesn't like the result of a Road Test; perhaps it was his own test, or that of a friend or family member? Is it possible that 'pix530' attempted to train somebody about driving, unsuccessfully? Let's take a look at this for a moment.

Examiner Comment ”consistently giving up right of way”

A DE isn't actually required to write comments on the test sheet (the markings they make will be sufficient to convey the result, and reasons for that conclusion). However, they often will do so in order to help show the applicant which particular areas of driving they should work on in particular; in the case of a Fail, the DE will make these written notes in order to help them be more successful in future. Many people have a hard time comprehending the scoring system on tests, particularly for the Class 7 license.

It's important to realize that the applicant actually holds a driver license, only it's a Learner license (so therefore has the restriction of a mature adult driver occupying the right front seat). So what the test is about, apart from basic vehicle control, is to determine whether that driver can use their own judgment, effectively using their own visual skills, without needing any further guidance. It's about whether they're actually ready to drive solo; that's the determination being made.

Safe correct driving can’t be bad and it is better give the right of way to people who don’t follow the rules and speed limit rather than be in accident.

First things first; this has nothing to do with other drivers not obeying speed limits. It is about safe, correct driving though.

So let's think of an easy example involving right of way. Situation: the applicant is on the main road with a yellow line down the middle and good visibility. The average driver would cruise along there around 45 km/h, looking well ahead but glancing to each side on approach to each intersection for potential pedestrian or vehicular conflicts.

Suddenly, a red sports car on the cross street rockets up to the intersection, looks like they're likely to blow the stop sign, and that driver hasn't even made eye contact. So the applicant reflexively hits the brake, to ensure they're not involved in a collision with the guy if he does continue into their path.

Nothing wrong with that, it's logical behaviour on the part of the applicant. It's what the DE would do if driving in the same situation. So naturally, it will not be marked against the applicant.

But what if that same applicant approaches that same intersection, and this time the red sports car has stopped properly at the stop line, and is moving gently forward in order to view traffic, to see if it's safe for them to proceed; the driver makes eye contact with the applicant. In response, the applicant hits the brakes for no reason, and tries to get the driver with the stop sign to resolve the conflict by moving ahead of them? And what if the applicant behaves like this at many two-way stops? Probably an applicant like that (who has never learned to make their own decisions and analysis, which is the real problem here) will also arrive at 4-Way stops and then refuse to move until all the other cars have gone away. Meanwhile, throughout the test, they drive at an illogically slow pace, appearing not to even realize what the road signs convey to all drivers involved, and trying to make every other driver go ahead of them. I've seen all of this behaviour, many times.

And meanwhile, this has been taking place in relatively quiet conditions. It's later on that the applicant is on busy arterial streets, making turns at traffic lights. And what do they do when preparing to make a left turn, with the nearest oncoming vehicle more than a block away? Confidently complete the maneuver? Hell no, they'll sit in that there intersection for ages, unnecessarily jamming traffic, rather than making a reasonable judgment and finishing the turn while it's safe.

Believe me, Driver Examiners see far too much of this absurd behaviour, and the test parameters they have to follow will have inevitably resulted in lots of negative marking. But that's not the DE's fault; it's the applicant who is driving the car. Badly, and ignorantly.



I get a feeling

That this is just an inconfident driver who wasn't qualified for a license after taking a test, because they just let everyone through without discretion. And erring on a side of caution by-default will only produce consistent errors; get too many and you're not qualified for a license. We simply can't have drivers on the roads waiving people through left-right-and-centre without regard for rules of the road.

Seeing how the comment was made in 2010, I wonder if that commenter's opinion has changed after presumably having driven for 10 years and getting the "feel" for the road now.

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