What Does Yielding the Right of Way Mean?

The phrase “right-of-way” appears nearly 30 times in the California Driver’s Handbook. Although the handbook defines the term, many California drivers do not know it or appreciate what it requires of them. 

The fact that California’s Department of Motor Vehicles lists right-of-way violations as a leading cause of traffic crashes is evidence of drivers’ ignorance or reckless disregard of these rules.

Knowing and following the right-of-way rules is crucial to staying safe on the road. When followed, these rules allow you and other drivers to know what movements to expect from one another. This knowledge can help you anticipate driver actions and avoid collisions.

The Right of Way Defined

The right of way refers to the legal right to travel in a given direction. When you have the right of way, the law permits you to continue on a particular travel path, and other individuals must allow you to do so. If the travel intentions of others interfere with your movement, those other individuals must stop and wait until you have passed before proceeding.

“Yielding the right of way” refers to acknowledging that another person has the right of way in a particular situation. You allow another vehicle to proceed with its intended travel while waiting. 

You may yield the right of way voluntarily, such as when you permit a car wanting to turn left to do so, even though you could rightfully proceed on your route first. California’s motor vehicle laws and rules of the road require you to yield the right of way in specific situations as well.

While various individuals may have the right of way at any given moment, such individuals’ travel usually does not interfere with each other’s. For example, two cars traveling in the same direction will have the right of way over a vehicle attempting to turn left in front of them.

When You Must Yield the Right of Way in Los Angeles, CA

As long as you do not create a traffic hazard or violate other laws, you can yield the right of way to others as a courtesy. However, the law does require you to yield the right of way in the following situations:

Pedestrians Crossing the Street At a Crosswalk

When a pedestrian crosses the street in a crosswalk, you must yield the right of way and stop for that pedestrian. You may only continue once the pedestrian has safely exited the crosswalk or is no longer in your path of travel.

Not all crosswalks are marked. If you see a pedestrian in the roadway crossing the street, you should yield the right of way to them as well.


Stop signs or traffic lights control the right of way at some intersections. At other intersections, all directions of travel have a stop sign. If you come upon a four-way stop intersection, traffic and pedestrians already in the intersection have the right of way. You have the right of way over all other traffic that arrives at the intersection after you.

Be aware that bicyclists must obey the same laws, including the right of way rules, that motor vehicles must follow.

Turning Left

If you turn left, you must yield the right of way to any approaching traffic and pedestrians. You can proceed and turn left after your path is clear.

Stay Safe By Following the Right of Way Laws

Although it may seem like there are a lot of right-of-way rules to follow, many of them are common sense. When at an intersection or crossing and in doubt about the law, the best practice is to drive defensively and yield the right of way to other traffic.