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Who’s Turn is it Anyway?

Questions about Virginia’s rules of the road and how a driver’s failure to yield right-of-way can disqualify insurance settlements.

Photo: Tysons Corner, Virginia / USA — December 19, 2018. Heavy traffic heading south on I-495 | tlindsayg / Shutterstock.com

This is the second part of a series aimed at helping Virginians become (even) better drivers.

We all do our best to be safe and responsible drivers, but here in Virginia there is a vehicle crash every three minutes. While there are many different circumstances that can lead to a car accident, one of the most common is ‘Failure to Yield’. In Virginia in 2018 there were over 18,000 driver citations written for Failure to Yield, which puts it at number two on the Commonwealth’s list of top causes of crashes. (‘Following Too Closely’ was number one; you can read all about it in our first installment in this series.) Driver’s Education was a long time ago for some of us, and a subject worth refreshing.

The fact that most of the time we can drive and arrive at our destination unharmed, is due to one simple concept: right-of-way.

Failure to Yield might not seem as serious as, say, Reckless Driving, but a Failure to Yield citation for a driver in the aftermath of a crash is a clear determination of fault by the investigating officer, which can have significant repercussions for the driver. It could cause demerit points to be assigned to the driver’s record, a possible increase in insurance premiums, and/or potential fines.

Beyond that, in Virginia, if a person has played even a small part in causing the accident in which they are injured, they cannot collect damages from the other driver. A classic example is someone pulling out from a convenience store parking lot (or any private road or driveway) – that person must yield the right-of-way to traffic on the street. Even if an approaching car on the street is speeding, or texting, or simply not paying attention, while they may be negligent in operating their vehicle, so too is the person who fails to yield the right-of-way, and that person cannot recover damages under Virginia law. For more on this topic read our blog on Contributory Negligence.

comscreen / Shutterstock.com

How well do you remember your driver’s ed? Here are some right-of-way examples:

  • When two vehicles enter an uncontrolled crossing intersection at the same time, the vehicle to the right has the right-of-way. When a cross-type intersection doesn’t have signs, lights, pavement paint, or other traffic direction, and two cars approach at about the same time, the vehicle to the left must yield.
  • When a vehicle approaches a circular intersection, the vehicle on the traffic circle has the right-of-way. Roundabouts can be confusing and there’s a whole segment of drivers dedicated to cursing their existence, but they’re proven effective at limiting injuries at problem intersections by making it nearly impossible to have a head-on or T-bone collision. Vehicles approaching a traffic circle must yield to vehicles already in the circle.
  • When exceeding the speed limit, any vehicle that is speeding gives up the right-of-way. Keep in mind, forfeiting right-of-way can reverse the calculation for fault in a crash, even when the other driver would have otherwise been fully at fault. As we’ve said, this has ugly implications for any insurance settlement.
  • When a vehicle approaches an uncontrolled ’T’ intersection, the vehicle going straight has the right-of-way. When a ‘T’ intersection doesn’t have signs, lights, pavement paint, or other traffic direction, the vehicle on the leg of the ‘T’ must yield.
  • When making a left turn, the vehicle going straight has the right-of-way. Unless indicated otherwise by traffic controls, a vehicle making forward headway takes precedent. Left turns must yield.
  • When pedestrians and bicyclists are crossing the road lawfully, they have the right-of-way. Drivers must yield to pedestrians or bicyclists when they are using a crosswalk, or without markings at the logical extension of a sidewalk or at the end of a block.
  • When entering a highway from a side road or on-ramp, the vehicle already traveling on the highway has the right of way. This has been the source of much confusion for on-ramps, because it’s commonly understood that a driver should accelerate to highway speed to facilitate merging. This is generally true when an open space is easily identifiable, however the yield designation remains, and drivers must either slow down or come to a stop if they cannot spot a safe entry point into traffic.

Still confused about right-of-way?

There are many more conditions where drivers must yield right-of-way, including but not limited to situations with emergency vehicles, school buses, and funeral processions. For more, see Section 3 of the Virginia Drivers manual, Safe Driving, page 15.

You can also sign up for a driver improvement course at the Virginia DMV. Most people are eligible to take the course online, but there’s an in-person driving test. In addition to clarifying the rules of the road, you’ll be awarded 5 safe driving points for completing the course, and you might even save money on your auto insurance.

Burnett & Williams’ Personal Injury lawyers are on a mission to help you avoid needing a Personal Injury lawyer. But if you ever do need us, we’re here, and we’ve got your back. Call us for a free consultation, (703) 777-1650, or contact us on the web.


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