New York's Right of Ways Laws

Learn when you have the right of way in New York.

In New York, right of way laws determine which vehicle or pedestrian gets to proceed ahead of another. For example, right of way laws are needed to resolve problems that arise when cars are turning left or when there are pedestrians nearby. Most often, these laws guide how vehicles and pedestrians should proceed at intersections. If you’re caught violating a New York right of way law, you may be ticketed and fined under New York law.

Right of Way Laws for Vehicles at Intersections

Here are several important right of way laws in New York for intersections:

Cars already in the intersection. When you approach an intersection as a driver, the you must yield to other drivers who are already at the intersection. For example, if as you approach an intersection, another car is crossing your road, the other driver has the right of way because he or she was there first. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1140(a))
No traffic signals. When two vehicles get to an intersection at the same time and where there are no traffic signals, the vehicle on the right has the right of way. So the driver of the vehicle on the left, must yield to the vehicle on the right. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1140(b))
Left hand turns. When two drivers get to an intersection from opposite directions and one plans to turn left, the one turning left must yield to the oncoming car. This law applies if the oncoming car is going straight or turning right and it also applies if you are turning left into a driveway, parking space, or alley. . (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1141)
U turns. In New York, you may make a U turn from the left turn lane and when the traffic light gives you the go-ahead. When there is no signal, you must have a view of at least 500 feet before making the turn, and you must yield to any oncoming traffic. U turns are prohibited in the business districts of New York City and you may never make a u turn on a limited access expressway. (NY DMV Driver’s Manual, Ch. 5.)
Traffic circles. When you enter a traffic circle – sometimes called a rotary or roundabout – you must yield to the traffic already in the circle. (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1145.)
Yield signs. When you approach a yield sign, you must yield to the traffic you’re trying to move into. You must also yield to any pedestrians. When yielding, you must stop altogether if necessary. If you get in an accident or hit a pedestrian after driving through a yield sign without stopping, your failure to stop will be considered proof that you failed to yield the right of way. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1142.)

Pedestrian Right of Way Laws

There are also specific rules that apply when cars and pedestrians meet on the road. A pedestrian is any person “afoot” or in a wheelchair. The definition of pedestrian has also been applied to a person operating a foot-propelled scooter.

In crosswalks and intersections. In marked and unmarked crosswalks (at intersections), pedestrians usually have the right of way and vehicles must slow or stop to yield to pedestrians. However here are some exceptions:

  • Where there are traffic signals. Where there are traffic signals, both pedestrians and vehicles must follow the direction of the traffic signals. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1151(a).) (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1150.)
  • When pedestrians create conflict. As a pedestrian, you may not step out into the street in front of a car in a way that makes it “impractical” for them to stop. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1151(b).)
  • Where there are alternate pedestrian crossings. Also, if you’re crossing at a place there is a bridge or tunnel designed for use by pedestrians – but you still choose to cross on the road – then vehicles have the right of way and you must yield to them. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1151(c).)
  • When pedestrians cross diagonally. Pedestrians may not cross intersections diagonally, unless permitted by a traffic control light. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1152.)

Sidewalks. When a vehicle crosses a sidewalk from an alleyway, building exit or private road or driveway, the vehicle must yield to pedestrians in or approaching that sidewalk. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1151-A2.)

Yielding to other pedestrians. When possible pedestrians should walk on the right side of sidewalks so that the pedestrians walking the other way can use the other side. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1155.)

Walking in the road. On roads with sidewalks, you may not walk in the road. On roads without sidewalks, you must walk facing traffic on the left side of the road and when cars approach, you must move as far to the side of the road as possible. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1156.)

Equestrian Right of Way Laws

When a horse is on the road, drivers of vehicles must take care to avoid colliding with the horse, shall avoid frightening the horse by slowing down, moving away, and not beeping the horn. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1146-A.)

Emergency Vehicles

Special right-of-way rules apply in New York when approaching or being passed by an emergency vehicle. When an emergency vehicle sounding its siren approaches from behind, you must move your vehicle over to the right side of the road to let the emergency vehicle pass. If you’re travelling on a one-way road, you may move to either side of the road. You must stay stopped until the emergency vehicle has passed. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1144.) Also, when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights you must pass with caution taking care to avoid the vehicle. If possible and safe, move to a lane not adjacent to the stopped emergency vehicle. (Vehicle and Traffic Law §1144-A.)

Learning More and Getting Help

Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process or Pedestrian Accidents.

Or, if you have been involved in an accident that you believe was caused by someone not obeying New York's right-of-way laws, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney. Your lawyer can help you to determine if the other driver should be held responsible for your accident and can assist you in taking steps to make claims against the other driver. To find a car accident attorney near you, try searching Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.

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