When you take your driving test to get your license in Texas, it is hard to pass the test unless you understand the state’s right-of-way laws. Right-of-way laws help direct traffic and keep the roads from being a complete and utter mess. So, it is ironic that many drivers do not understand simple directions like who goes first at a stop sign or when to yield to pedestrians. Day after day, accidents happen because a driver failed to yield the right-of-way to another driver.
If a right-of-way accident injured you, you may have rights under the law. These laws may entitle you to financial compensation for your injuries. To learn more and find out what steps you need to take to protect these rights, contact an experienced Houston car accident attorney.
What are Texas’s right of way laws, and when do they apply?
In legal terms, right-of-way refers to who has the right to proceed first. When two cars (or a car and a pedestrian) cross paths, right-of-way laws should prevent a collision. Unfortunately, some drivers do not understand these laws or just do not think they apply to them. On the road, all drivers need to understand and obey right of way laws. Let’s take a look at a few situations.
Right of Way at Intersections
If you have driven a car, you have gone through an intersection. Intersections occur when two roads intersect. In Texas, traffic signals and stop signs control busy intersections. However, it is not uncommon to come across uncontrolled intersections, especially in neighborhoods and low-traffic areas.
In all situations, Texas right of way laws dictate who should proceed through an intersection first.
So what does the law say when it comes to these types of intersections?
- Stop signs: If you approach an intersection where there is a stop sign, you must come to a complete stop. If the oncoming traffic does not have a stop sign, you must wait until there is no traffic in the intersection and you have space to proceed. If you approach a four-way stop, you must yield the right of way to any vehicle already in the intersection. If one of more vehicles approaches a four-way stop, yield to the driver on the right.
- Intersections controlled by traffic lights: The rules of traffic lights seem like common sense, but there are a few situations where drivers continue to struggle. In Houston, some drivers cannot seem to figure out turns. If you are making a right or left turn, you must yield to oncoming traffic. The only exception is if you have a green arrow. A flashing yellow arrow means yield. If a driver makes a right turn, they must yield to any traffic already in the intersection (including a vehicle turning or going straight) and any pedestrians. Treat intersections with flashing red lights should as four-way stops.
- Uncontrolled intersections: In some cases, you may come across an intersection with no stop sign or traffic light. Always use extreme caution and slow down when you approach these intersections. In this situation, you must yield to any vehicle that has already entered the intersection.
Pedestrian Right of Way Laws
You have probably heard the saying, “the pedestrian always has the right of way.” Legally, this is not the case. By all means, this does not mean you should not yield if a pedestrian enters the roadway. Definitely stop if a pedestrian enters your path. The law requires both pedestrians and drivers to obey pedestrian right of way laws and has specific rules for various types of crossings.
- Intersections where there is a signal: If the pedestrian faces a green traffic signal, they may cross while the light is green. This applies regardless of whether or not there is a crosswalk. It does not apply, however, if the light they are facing is a green arrow.
- Intersections with a walk signal: The pedestrian may only enter the intersection if the sign indicates it is okay to walk. They should not cross if the signal says “stop” or “wait.”
- Crosswalk with no traffic device: A vehicle should yield to a pedestrian who is in a crosswalk if the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway the vehicle is traveling.
- No crosswalk, no traffic device: In this situation, the pedestrian should always yield to oncoming traffic.
Right of Way for Special Vehicles
As a driver, you must be aware of the rules that apply to certain types of vehicles. This includes emergency vehicles, school buses, and trains.
Here is a quick rundown of the rules:
- Emergency vehicles: If an emergency vehicle approaches from any direction, drivers on the road should immediately pull over to the right side of the road until that vehicle has passed.
- School buses: All vehicles must stop for a school bus that has its red lights flashing or if the bus has extended the stop sign arm.
- Trains: It is illegal for any vehicle to attempt to cross railroad tracks with lowered safety gates. If there is no gate, the vehicle should yield if the train is visible or if the train engine emits an audible noise indicating it is approaching the intersection.
Where do right of way accidents happen?
An overwhelming number of right-of-way accidents happen at intersections. In its recent report, the United States Department of Transportation found, of the 36,096 traffic fatalities in one year, over one-quarter happened at intersections. Of these, far more fatalities happened at unmarked intersections than controlled intersections.
While intersections are one of the most common places for these types of accidents, they are not the only location where these accidents occur.
Other areas where a right-of-way accident may happen include:
- Onramps: Texas is home to some of the most dangerous highways in the country. While accidents can happen on the freeway, they can also happen as a driver attempts to get on or off the road. When a driver enters a freeway from an onramp, they must yield to oncoming traffic. Many times, these accidents happen when the merging vehicle cuts in front of the vehicle already on the highway.
- Crosswalks: One of the most common reasons accidents happen at crosswalks is the driver fails to look before making a right turn. Remember, if the light is green and a driver wants to turn, the pedestrian has the right of way.
- Parking lots: Parking lots can be confusing. With lanes going this way and that, pedestrians walking everywhere, and vehicles backing up, many accidents happen in parking lots. Unfortunately, most parking lots do not have traffic control devices and many do not even have crosswalks. In a parking lot, vehicles on the main throughway have the right of way. On feeder aisles, vehicles backing up should always yield to other vehicles.
Why do right-of-way accidents happen?
Some accidents happen when a driver simply ignores the rules. But a large number of accidents are because of other aggravating factors. This includes:
Every year, the Texas Department of Transportation releases a report on the frequency and cause of motor vehicle accidents. In the most recent report, there were 3,896 traffic fatalities. Of these, distracted driving caused 368. That is nearly 10 percent. When a driver takes their eyes off the road they have less time to react and may not see another vehicle enter the intersection.
Sometimes right-of-way accidents happen because the other driver simply did not see the other driver coming. These accidents are unfortunate, but all drivers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of other drivers on the road. If you cannot see, that means you should not be on the road. Unfortunately, many drivers realize this too late. In Texas, unfavorable weather conditions can cause poor visibility. This may include heavy rain, fog, and as we have seen recently, even snow.
Other hazards that may cause poor visibility include:
- Driving during night hours
- Large trees or buildings
- Blind spots
In Houston, we have no shortage of speeding drivers. Sadly, speeding kills thousands of people every year. A speeding driver has less time to react. On top of that, the faster a vehicle is traveling, the longer it takes to stop. These two factors combined can have deadly consequences if a driver approaches an intersection too fast and cannot stop in time.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence is one of the most selfish and dangerous things a person can do. So much can go wrong when a driver gets behind the wheel after drinking or doing drugs. Unfortunately, driving under the influence is a very serious problem in Texas.
In its most recent report, the Texas Department of Transportation found drunk driving killed over twice as many people as distracted driving. Alcohol diminishes a person’s ability to make smart decisions and can affect how they react to other vehicles on the road.
Some of the dangers of driving under the influence include:
- Slowed reaction time
- Poor decision making
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor muscle control
- Blurry vision
- Memory loss
- Difficulty processing visual information
Some accidents happen because the driver simply did not know the rules of the road.
This may happen because:
- The driver is newly licensed: Young drivers or drivers who are new to the road may be unfamiliar with traffic laws and have very little experience when it comes to handling new situations.
- The driver is unfamiliar with the area: When you live in a town, you get to know where the stop signs are, when you need to slow down, and what dangerous intersections to avoid. But someone new to town or just visiting does not have any of this information. This becomes an even bigger issue in the case of broken, unmarked, hidden, or otherwise unclear traffic control devices.
Why do you need an experienced attorney after a right-of-way accident?
If you were in an accident, you may think, “I can handle this on my own.” However, after a serious accident, you need someone by your side who knows the law and can help you fight for your rights. The thing about right-of-way accidents is the other party will likely try to blame you. To insurance companies, right-of-way laws are fuzzy and there is always room to shift some of the blame. This is not right, but insurance companies often get away with it.
The law is clear when it comes to right-of-way situations. But you still need someone by your side who will shut the insurance company down and present your case logically and compellingly.
You could expect your car accident attorney to:
- Gather, analyze, and review evidence
- Recommend healthcare providers in your area
- Talk to your healthcare providers
- Facilitate payment arrangements
- Negotiate with the insurance company
- Pay and close out any bills
- Represent you in court
Protect Your Rights
Motor vehicle accidents are never fun. When the other party tries to blame you, it can be outright infuriating. The sad reality is, right-of-way accidents can involve a lot of back and forth regarding fault. When you are trying to recover from an accident, the last thing you need to worry about is fighting the insurance company. The law is clear, and you need someone to stand up for your rights. Do not let the insurance company push you around.
In Texas, you have a limited amount of time to take legal action against the at-fault party in an accident. If you have questions or need help with your case, you should never be afraid to reach out for help. Contact an experienced Texas car accident attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.