What is the importance of having the right-of-way?

When the driver has the right-of-way, the driver is entitled to assume that other drivers will respect that right-of-way and may proceed through an intersection on that assumption.  However, the right is not absolute.  If the driver is aware or should have been aware that another driver was not going to yield the right-of-way, then the driver with the right-of-way must take appropriate action.


It was said by the Supreme Court of Canada as far back as 1952 in Walker v. Brownlee:


Where a collision between two cars occurs at an intersection when the driver of one car fails to yield the statutory right-of-way properly belonging to the driver of the other car but it appears that the latter could have seen the offending car had he looked to his left, he cannot nevertheless be held negligent unless the driver of the offending car establishes that the person enjoying the right-of-way had a sufficient opportunity to avoid the collision had he acted with reasonable care after becoming aware or after  he should have been aware of the other driver’s disregard of his right-of-way.  It is not enough that the accident would possibly have been avoided had he looked.


Therefore, the Courts have set a very difficult standard for the driver without the right-of-way to establish that an intersection accident is not his or her fault but does allow for that possibility in certain cases.  Every case turns on its facts so the driver with right-of-way should not assume he or she will be held not at fault for the accident but that is the most likely outcome. Having a B.C. car accident lawyer on your side can ensure your case is properly represented.


Who has the right-of-way at an intersection when one car is turning left when there is no traffic light?


The Motor Vehicle Act reads:


174  When a vehicle is in an intersection and its driver intends to turn left, the driver must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but having yielded and given a signal… the driver may turn the vehicle to the left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.


This raises the question of what is an “immediate hazard”?  The BC Court of Appeal said in 1963:


If an approaching car is so close to the intersection when a driver attempts to make a left turn that a collision threatens unless there be some violent or sudden avoiding action on the part of the driver of the approaching car, the approaching car is an immediate hazard.


In other words, if a driver wishes to make a left turn while traffic is approaching, the driver is not allowed to do so if the approaching car will have to slam on the brakes or make a sudden turn to avoid a collision.  On the other hand, if when the driver starts to turn and there is sufficient time to make the turn but for some reason hesitates (perhaps because there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk) the approaching vehicle must brake. The subtle nuances of who has the right-of-way in traffic can be puzzling. Taylor and Blair’s personal injury lawyers are experienced in car accidents and well versed in The Motor Vehicle Act, ensuring we can guide you through this process.

Kevin Blair &
Graham Taylor

Taylor & Blair LLP
Personal Injury lawyers
1607 – 805 West Broadway
Vancouver, B.C.