Right of Way Rules (Who Has the Right of Way)

Right of Way Rules (Who Has the Right of Way)

Few roadways are more dreaded in Arizona than intersections. And, depending on the intersection in question, a lack of stop signs or other traffic signals might complicate the matter even further. From emergency vehicles to pedestrians waiting to use the crosswalk, understanding who has the right of way can make the difference between an uneventful drive and a chain-reaction car accident.

To safely and effectively navigate intersections, all Arizona drivers must have a thorough understanding of right-of-way rules. Keep reading for everything there is to know about who has the right of way.

How to Approach an Intersection

Before diving into who has the right of way, let’s discuss the proper way to approach an intersection. One of the most common mistakes motorists make is waiting until the last moment to enter their desired lane of travel. As soon as you see your turning lane, move into it as quickly and as safely as possible. Be sure to use your blinker to indicate when switching lanes.

When you approach an intersection, always adhere to all traffic control devices. This means yielding to or stopping at the applicable signage or traffic signals. Be sure to have a clear line of vision across all lanes of traffic before entering the intersection. Likewise, maintain a safe following distance from the motor vehicle in front of you. Failing to do so puts you at risk of causing a rear-end car accident if the vehicle ahead of you stops abruptly.

What Should I Do at an Uncontrolled Intersection?

An uncontrolled intersection is when two or more roads cross each other without any signage, traffic lights, or road markers indicating the right of way. They are most common in residential and rural areas of Arizona. Because there are no clear-cut directions on how to approach these intersections, this is the time to avoid distracted driving and keep both eyes on the road.


There are two right-of-way rules for uncontrolled intersections:

  1. First In, First Out: In this scenario, the driver who approached the intersection first has the right of way. The second driver must yield until the first vehicle has completely cleared the intersection.
  2. Yield to The Right: When two cars arrive at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the left must yield the right of way to the vehicle on the right.

If multiple vehicles arrive at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time, begin with the “yield to the right” rule. After the first vehicle has completely cleared the intersection, drivers should use hand signals or visible gestures, such as nodding or eye contact, to indicate which driver will go next.

Right of Way to an Emergency Vehicle

Any emergency vehicle with its lights flashing and siren sounding has the right of way. This is true for all state and local vehicles, including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances. However, how a driver must yield to an emergency vehicle varies depending on the roadway.

When an emergency vehicle approaches a street, all non-emergency personnel must slow down and move to the right side of the road. On a freeway, you must reduce your speed or come to a complete stop when possible. On a four-lane highway, reduce your speed and try to leave at least one open lane between your vehicle and the emergency vehicle.

Bear in mind that when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the highway, state law requires you to move at least one lane over before you pass. Failing to uphold these right-of-way laws can result in a fine between $200 and $300. Not to mention, your dangerous driving behavior could significantly impact the emergency vehicle’s arrival time to an Arizonian in need.

Fire fighters

When to Yield to a Pedestrian?

All vehicles are required to yield the right of way to a pedestrian waiting at a marked crosswalk. In Arizona, most pedestrian crosswalks are marked by a yellow sign with an arrow pointing down or an image of a person walking. At large intersections, yellow or flashing yellow lights are also installed.

You must always stop your vehicle for a pedestrian waiting to cross. Even when pedestrians aren’t present, you should still slow down when approaching a crosswalk.

Failing to do so can result in a fine between $200 and $300.

Does a Bicyclist Have the Right of Way?

In Arizona, bicyclists and motorcyclists must adhere to the same traffic laws as motor vehicles. This means that they must follow the same right-of-way rules. When approaching an uncontrolled intersection with a bicycle or motorcycle in an opposing lane, the “first in, first out” rule still applies.

Regardless of bicycle or motor vehicle, whichever driver reached the intersection first has the right of way. Then, the second driver must yield until the first has completely cleared the intersection. Of course, if there are traffic lights or signage in place, follow all posted traffic devices. Paying close attention to smaller vehicles, sharing the road, and practicing defensive driving can help prevent a car accident.

Right of Way on Single-Lane or Double-Lane Roads

The more lanes a road has, the more likely it is to be busy—and hazardous. If you’re approaching a double-lane road from a single-lane road, you must yield the right of way to all traffic on the broader roadway. Before crossing the intersection, be sure you have a clear line of vision across all lanes of traffic. This will keep traffic flowing smoothly, and it will help you navigate the intersection safely.

Who Has the Right of Way at a Three-Way or T-intersection?

Sometimes referred to as three-way intersections, T-intersections can be some of the trickiest to maneuver. If you’re on a road that is ending and you need to turn into traffic, you must yield to motorists on the through-road. In other words, if you’re coming from the body of the T, you must yield to the top of the T.

Suburban Intersection

Regardless of which motorist reached the intersection first, traffic on the through-road always has the right-of-way.

Who Has the Right of Way in a Controlled Intersection?

A controlled intersection uses traffic control devices, like signage, lights, and road markers, to indicate the right of way. Navigating these roadways is much easier than navigating uncontrolled intersections, as each intersection entrance is ruled by its own traffic device. However, you must still factor in right-of-way rules before darting into traffic.

For example, when you’re in the left lane, a green traffic light may indicate that you can turn left. Before turning, you must still look both ways and yield to oncoming vehicles.

Intersections with a Stop Sign

You must come to a full stop at an intersection entrance controlled by a stop sign. Remember that a full stop means your vehicle has come to a complete halt. A traffic officer can cite you for a “rolling stop,” which is when you let your vehicle slowly roll through the stop sign as opposed to fully halting.

Once stopped, you must yield the right of way before proceeding. Allow the driver who reached the intersection first to cross completely, and ensure there is no oncoming traffic before crossing. Failure to come to a complete stop at an intersection controlled by a stop sign can result in a fine between $200 and $300.

Intersections with a Yield Sign

Similar to a stop sign, you must yield the right of way at an intersection entrance controlled by a yield sign. While you do not need to come to a full stop unless traffic demands it, you must slow down and yield to drivers that are close enough to pose an accident risk.

Pedestrian Signs

Unlike a stop sign, you cannot get ticketed for rolling through a yield sign, unless by doing so you risked the safety of yourself, another driver, or a crossing pedestrian. The resulting fine can be between $200 and $300.

Intersections with a Pedestrian Crosswalk

Remember, a pedestrian at a marked crosswalk always has the right of way. And you should slow down when approaching marked crosswalks, even when pedestrians aren’t present. At controlled intersections with pedestrian crosswalks, pay close attention to flashing yellow lights or yellow signage to indicate that pedestrians may be approaching.

Who Has the Right of Way at a Four-Way Stop?

With a proper understanding of the rules of the road, a dreaded four-way stop doesn’t need to be scary. Essentially, a four-way stop has the same traffic rules as an uncontrolled intersection. You must come to a complete stop when approaching the intersection entrance. Do not roll through the stop sign.

In most cases, you will yield to the vehicles on the right before proceeding. If there is only you and another driver on the road, the “first in, first out” rule applies. Therefore, if you approached the intersection entrance first, come to a complete stop and proceed across the intersection. The second driver may enter the intersection once you’ve completely cleared it.

Right of Way with Traffic Lights

Traffic lights help take the guesswork out of right-of-way rules, but you should still understand what each means and what to do if they fail. Typically, a green light provides the right of way, unless you are in a turning lane. In this case, even if the turn is protected by a green turning traffic light, watch for oncoming traffic before turning.

Traffic lights

Slow down and prepare to stop at a yellow light. Always stop for a yellow light if you would not be able to make it completely across the intersection without the light turning red. Of course, you must stop at a red light as well. But are all red lights the same?

What Do Different Red Traffic Lights Indicate?

When approaching a solid red light, you must come to a complete stop and wait until the light is green to enter the intersection. When red light is flashing, proceed one car at a time, just like you would a stop sign. If you’re contemplating making a right turn at a red light, bear in mind that Arizona law allows a right turn on red, unless there is a sign posted at the intersection. When performing a right turn on red, you must come to a complete stop before turning.

How to Proceed with Yellow Traffic Lights?

Normally, a yellow light indicates you should slow to stop. When yellow light is flashing, proceed like a yield sign. This doesn’t mean to stop at the flashing yellow, but rather, be prepared to stop. This is the case for many pedestrian crosswalks. When the light is flashing and pedestrians are present or there is cross-traffic, you must come to a complete stop before entering the intersection.

Who Has the Right of Way When Traffic Lights Fail?

If you approach an intersection entrance with an inoperative light, treat the signal as a stop sign. This means you should come to a full stop before proceeding.

Traffic Lights

In the case that all lanes of traffic are experiencing inoperative lights, treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Come to a full stop and use the “first in, first out” rule or yield to the driver on your right before proceeding.

Right of Way When Making Left-Hand Turns

It’s a common misconception that just because a driver has a green turning light, they have the right of way to turn. This is not true, and in many cases, this is the easiest way to become at-fault for a left-turn accident. A driver making a left-hand turn has to stop and yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles. Before turning, the driver must be sure to have a clear line of vision across all lanes of traffic.

Who Has the Right of Way When Using a Roundabout?

When using a roundabout, oncoming traffic must yield to drivers already within the circle. Watch the flow of vehicles to your left and wait for a break to enter the roundabout. Be sure your vehicle has room to safely enter traffic and allow other drivers a safe following distance. Squeezing your car into an already-crowded roundabout can start a chain reaction car accident, especially if the roundabout is a single lane.

Remember that even in roundabouts, emergency vehicles still have the right of way. Always yield to allow an emergency vehicle to enter the roundabout first.

Is Right of Way Different on Unpaved Roads?

If you’re entering traffic from an unpaved road, you must yield to drivers on the paved road. If you’re entering an unpaved road from a paved road, you still have the right of way. Be wary of wrong-way drivers on unpaved roads, as the lack of lanes and road markings may confuse some drivers and cause them to drive the opposite direction.

Unpaved Road

Does the Right of Way Differ with Driveways and Private Roads?

Traffic rules do differ slightly when exiting a driveway, alley, or private road. In these cases, you must yield to traffic on the main road. Before turning in or out of a driveway or private road, you must signal your turn. Likewise, you must also yield to pedestrians crossing the driveway or alley.

The last thing you want to do is get pulled over and pay fees for turning into your own driveway. So, be sure to come to a full stop and look across all lanes of traffic before proceeding.

Adhering to Right-of-Way Traffic Laws in Arizona

Large intersections and four-way stops are hot spots for accidents across the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Geared with a thorough knowledge of the right-of-way rules of the road, you can safely avoid fines and traffic accidents when crossing these roadways in Arizona.

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