Traffic Questions: Who has right of way?

Photo Courtesy of CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Courtesy of CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

My new job is located just a mere 5 minutes from my old workplace. On my drive I encounter not one, but two flashing yellow left turn lanes which is to indicate (rather obviously to me) that those wanting to make the left turn can do so, but must yield to oncoming traffic.

Still, that doesn’t stop several incidents where I observe drivers that are too afraid of even entering the intersection until they see a green light.

And that got me thinking.

Most of us received our license in high school—and we may or may not have studied the corresponding literature that the DMV required. I’d be surprised if most of the drivers on the road really remember protocol. I admit I still have questions at times, like if I’m in the left lane and an emergency vehicle is approaching quickly from behind, should I squeeze further left or go to the right? (Answer: you move to the right lane and stop).

But perhaps a more difficult traffic question includes the following scenario: You arrive first at a two-way stop and have your left-turn blinker on. Another driver across the way arrives and stops at the two-way stop, and intend to drive straight. When the opportunity arises, who gets to go first? You making a left? Or the person going straight?

After conducting an informal poll (which involved me Googling the following online: left lane emergency vehicle where do you go) it appears that most of Americans don’t know the answer: it’s split 50/50.

For me, it’s common sense. Whoever is at the intersection first as right of way. If a person turning left always has to yield to someone going straight (regardless if they were there first), then they might never be able to make a left turn during busy times. It’s hard to communicate that logic to a guy in your neighborhood screaming in his car because you dared to make a left even though you arrived at the intersection first.

What do you think?

  • Shannon Voth

    The first bit about timid drivers waiting to enter the intersection… it’s really up to the cop who sees you to decide if you’re in the right or wrong when you pull out to wait to turn. If you’re out in the intersection and the main light turns yellow, they can (and will) right you a ticket for running the light. I always wait behind the line until I know I can make it while the light is green. My mom got a ticket for it and I’ve gotten a warning for it. As a drivers license tester, we were required to fail anyone who didn’t clear the intersection before the light turned yellow.

    I had to look up the two way stop. The CO book doesn’t actually mention 2-ways, but it does say that all left turns must yield to all oncoming traffic. Who gets there first only applies to four way stops.