Which Vehicle Has the “Right of Way”? 

Aerial drone shot of a busy intersection car zooming and fading out of frame
Posted: October 9, 2023

After a New York motor vehicle collision it’s common for the involved motorists to cast blame on one another. Some will claim that the other driver was driving too fast. Others will claim that the other driver stopped suddenly or did not stop at all. And often there are claims that the other driver did not yield the “right of way.” As we recently explored, a New York personal injury attorney focused on helping car accident victims must establish that the other driver was negligent. The term “right of way” is defined in Section 139 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law as follows:  

The right of one vehicle or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other. 

The thing about legal definitions like this is that they can sometimes create more questions than answers. It is one thing to provide a definition, and quite another to demonstrate how a defined term can affect the outcome of a real case. Article 26 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law explains which motorist has the right of way in given situations, including when:  

  • Approaching or entering an intersection; 
  • Turning left;
  • Entering a stop or yield intersection;
  • Entering a roadway;
  • Operating an authorized emergency vehicle;
  • Approaching a parked, stopped or standing authorized emergency vehicle or hazard vehicle; 
  • Approaching a rotary traffic circle or island; and
  • Approaching horses. 

Someone looking to determine which motorist had the “right of way” following a New York car crash would be well advised to consider Article 26 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law or retain experienced counsel to do so on their behalf. For example, when it comes to a vehicle approaching or entering an intersection, section 1140 provides as follows:  

  1. The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway. 
  2. When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right of way to the vehicle on the right. 
  3. The right of way rules declared in subsections (a) and (b) are modified at through highways and otherwise as stated in this title. 

To break that down a bit, a driver approaching an intersection must yield to another vehicle which has already entered such intersection from a different highway. If the other vehicle has not yet entered the intersection and it appears that both vehicles will enter at approximately the same time, “the driver of the vehicle on the left” must “yield . . . to the vehicle on the right.”  

Apparent Contributing Factors 

After a New York car crash that causes serious personal injuries, the responding officer will usually author a police accident report that may contain certain “apparent contributing factors.” Many times, these apparent contributing factors are based on information that the responding officer did not personally observe, including which driver entered the intersection, etc. Such information would obviously be relevant to the question of which driver had the right of way. If the responding officer did not actually witness the crash, assigned “apparent contributing factors” may not be admissible in court.  

The attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. have extensive experience helping injured motorists after New York car crashes. If you were injured in a New York car crash and are looking for help investigating how the crash occurred, including whether you had the right of way and thus are entitled to assert a claim for pain and suffering, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. Our team is available 24/7 at (844) 444-4444. 

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