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Determining Right Of Way For Vehicles, Pedestrians and Cyclists

By Keith Stachowiak on May 19, 2015 // Leave a Comment

Avoid a collision by knowing the laws. Whether you are on the road, on a bike or walking on the sidewalk, Traffic Signyou should know your right of way. Understanding the basic principles of right of way and the key indicators to determine the right of way can help you prevent and avoid an accident.

What Is A Right Of Way?

When operators of motor vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians come into contact on the road, at intersections, or on the sidewalk, Wisconsin’s Rules of the Road create a right of way, which determines who should proceed first in order for all parties to avoid a collision.

Understanding Right Of Way

The concept of right of way can often be confusing, so we thought it might be helpful to break it down with simple examples. Here are a few key indicators that can help you determine who has the right of way.

  • Stop Signs. At many intersections the traffic signs define the right of way. For example, when one vehicle has a stop sign and another vehicle has a through street, the vehicle at the stop sign must wait for the traffic to clear before continuing through the intersection.
  • Traffic Lights. Traffic lights also dictate right of way. For example, in a crosswalk, a pedestrian will see a walk or don’t walk sign. When the walk sign is illuminated, vehicles attempting to cross the path of the pedestrian must yield the right of way to the pedestrian and wait until the pedestrian is out of the way before continuing.
  • Intersections. Most people are familiar with the concept of right of way when two vehicles approach an intersection with a four-way stop at the same time. Since the vehicles are at perpendicular angles, the vehicle to the right has the right of way and should go through the intersection first. If the two vehicles approached the intersection from opposite directions and one of the vehicles is making a left hand turn, the turning vehicle must yield the right of way to the other vehicle before completing the turn.

Special Circumstances Can Dictate Right Of Way

In some situations, the right of way may not be as clear and the rules of the road determine which person should proceed first. There are some circumstances where you must learn your state laws and be able to identify the right of way based on the unique situation.

  • Emergency Vehicles. When police, fire or emergency vehicles have their lights and sirens on, vehicles must yield the right of way to by pulling over, slowing down and/or stopping to allow the emergency vehicle to pass through.
  • Bicycles and Pedestrians. What happens if a bicyclist and a pedestrian are travelling in the same direction on a sidewalk? Who has the right of way? Wisconsin Statute section 346.804 requires that when bicyclists are permitted to ride on the sidewalk, the bicyclists must yield the right of way to the pedestrian. If the bicyclist intends to pass the pedestrian, he or she must do so with due care and give a timely audible warning before passing the pedestrian. If you are a cyclist, you may be interested in learning more about the right of way for bicycles.
  • Funeral Processions. Operators of vehicles must yield the right of way to funeral processions when the vehicles have their headlights illuminated. Furthermore, only the vehicle in the front of the procession has to follow the traffic control signs. After the first vehicle goes through, all the following vehicles do not have to follow the traffic signal.


Wisconsin’s right of way laws or the rules of the road on right-of way can be found in the Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 346 and on the Department of Motor Vehicles webpage at the following links:

Do you have a question about right of way? Were you injured as a result of a right of way accident? Let us know in the comments.

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If you have a case you would like to speak to a lawyer about, please contact us to schedule a free consultation and get an experienced team of lawyers working on your behalf.

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