Traffic Tickets for Right-of-Way Violations

Tickets in this category are usually issued when, in the estimation of an officer, a driver fails to yield to other motorists or pedestrians when required. Unfortunately, if the officer shows up in court, he or she is likely to remember this type of incident and make a forceful presentation. For example, the officer may explain in great detail why your failure to let an elderly person cross the street in a crosswalk was a dastardly act.

Here is a rundown of the most common violations for failing to yield to other vehicles, along with suggestions on to how to fight them.

Right of Way at Intersections

State laws typically read:

The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to any vehicle that has entered the intersection from a different highway.

These statutes do not mean you have to wait until the intersection is completely clear before entering. Instead, they simply prohibit deliberate crowding or interfering with other vehicles already in the intersection. Fortunately, whether you really did improperly fail to yield the right of way to another driver is commonly a judgment call, meaning you usually have a pretty decent shot at beating this type of ticket.

EXAMPLE: You cautiously enter an intersection, even though there is another vehicle ahead of you. You wait a few seconds before you see that its driver is not sure whether to go straight or turn. To exit the intersection for safety reasons, you cut to the left of the vehicle and make your left turn. In court, you would testify that you first slowed to allow the other driver to leave the intersection. But when he didn't, you realized you were in danger of blocking other traffic and creating a dangerous situation, so you proceeded as cautiously as you could to leave the intersection. In short, with the help of a diagram, you could demonstrate that the other car, not your vehicle, caused the confusion in the intersection.

Failure to Yield at Uncontrolled 
or Four-Way Stop

There are laws controlling actions at intersections that have four-way stop signs or no lights or signs, called "uncontrolled" intersections. They typically say:

When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right of way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right.

This ticket involves a violation at an intersection that has:

  1. No traffic signal, stop sign, or yield sign
  2. Four stop signs, one facing in each direction, or
  3. Stoplights that, for an unknown reason, are inoperative.

Start by understanding that the first car stopped at a four-way intersection has the right of way. And that if two cars arrive at the intersection at the same moment from different directions, the vehicle to the right has the right of way.

The legal elements of this violation normally include all of the following:

  1. The vehicle was "approaching a four-way intersection."
  2. The intersection had four stop signs, one for each street in each direction. Or the intersection had no yield sign, stop sign, or operative traffic light on any street approach.
  3. Another vehicle entered the intersection from "a different highway." (That is, not directly across from you, but to your right or left.)
  4. The other vehicle entered the inter section first or, if you both entered at the same instant, the other vehicle entered from the street or road to your right.
  5. You failed to yield to the other vehicle.

This kind of ticket is often written after an accident. It follows that if you tell the officer that the other car entered the intersection first or that it arrived at the intersection to your right at the same time you arrived, you have all but admitted your guilt. Instead, to prevail, it's normally important to be able to claim you entered the intersection first, or would have if the other driver hadn't rolled through a stop sign. Obviously, it is a huge help to have a witness if you made a real stop while the other driver faked it.

A picture or diagram can help you out. A diagram or picture of the intersection, showing where your car collided with the other car, may be helpful in showing that the other driver rolled through the stop sign. For example, if you can show the collision occurred farther from the point where you entered an uncontrolled intersection than from where the other vehicle entered it, that supports the idea that you were in the intersection longer—or first. That would mean you had the right of way.

Failing to Yield at a "T" or Three-Way Intersection

At three-way (or "T") uncontrolled intersections (or where the two roads are controlled by stop signs), the rules are a little different. The driver on the road that dead-ends must always yield to the other driver (the one crossing the T), no matter who got to the intersection first.

Here the law typically says:

Where two vehicles enter an intersection formed by a continuing highway and a terminating highway, at the same time and from the different highways, the driver of the vehicle on the terminating highway shall yield the right of way to the driver of the vehicle on the continuing highway.

The elements of this violation are:

  1. A "T" or three-way intersection is formed by one road that terminates and another that goes through.
  2. The intersection is not controlled by stop signs, or it has stop signs in all three directions, or an inoperative stoplight.
  3. You were driving on the road that ends at the intersection.
  4. Your vehicle and the other entered the intersection at the same time, and
  5. You failed to yield to the other vehicle.

Again, as is true for a four-way intersection, your main defense to this charge is that your vehicle entered the intersection first.

Failure to Properly Yield When Making Left Turn

Most state laws read like this:

The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left on a highway, or to turn left into public or private property, or an alley, shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction that are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement and shall continue to yield the right of way to the approaching vehicles until the left turn can be made with reasonable safety.

To be convicted, the prosecution must establish all of these elements:

  1. One or more vehicles were approach ing from the opposite direction.
  2. Approaching traffic was "so close as to constitute a hazard" at any time during the turning movement.
  3. You made the left turn anyway, without "reasonable safety."

As with many other types of illegal turn tickets, this one involves a judgment call from the ticketing officer that your turn was "unsafe." It follows that in mounting your defense, it is often wise to focus your defense on the words "reasonable safety." For example, you might argue to the judge that if no other car had to suddenly brake or swerve to avoid hitting your turning car, there is at least a "reasonable doubt" as to whether your driving was unsafe.

Failing to Yield at Stop and Yield Signs

Even though you may have stopped as required at a stop sign, you may still be ticketed if you fail to properly yield to another driver who has the right of way. In most states, the elements of this violation are:

  1. After encountering a stop sign or a yield sign, you entered an intersection.
  2. One or more other vehicles approached on an intersecting street or road.
  3. Approaching traffic constituted a hazard.
  4. You continued through the intersection anyway.

EXAMPLE: After signaling your intention to turn right, you stop at a stop sign. You turn even though a car is approaching from the left on the cross street. The other car must brake to avoid rear- ending you. You get a ticket.

Your defenses:

  • The other vehicle appeared to be turning left, right, or stopping so that it shouldn't have presented a hazard.
  • The other vehicle sped up suddenly just as you entered the intersection, creating a hazard where none should have reasonably existed (people really do this!).
  • You were lawfully in the intersection (after having stopped) before the other driver got close to it.
  • Obstructions on either side, such as hills or bends in the road, meant you couldn't see traffic from that direction, and that, given those obstructions, the other driver was driving too fast, thus creating the hazard.

As you can see, your defense should normally be based on raising the likelihood that another vehicle—not you—caused the dangerous situation. Or put in reverse, you want to convince the judge or jury that you acted with "reasonable safety." One way to do this is by clearly demonstrating that you had a better view of the developing situation than the officer did. For example, you might be able to testify that several other cars were between the officer and the intersection and, therefore, you were closer to what was occurring. Supplement this with pictures and diagrams showing where you were in relation to the other vehicle. (See Preparing Diagrams and Photos for Traffic Court.)

Yielding to Pedestrians

Let's now discuss the most common tickets issued for failing to yield to pedestrians:

This law typically states:

The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing, or trying to cross, the roadway within any marked crosswalk.

In most states the elements of this violation are:

  1. You drove a vehicle.
  2. You approached a marked crosswalk.
  3. There was a pedestrian crossing or trying to cross, and
  4. You failed to yield to the pedestrian by either refusing to stop (even though there's no stop sign or traffic light) or coming very close to running the pedestrian down.

The law in some states contains an additional requirement that you must yield to a pedestrian within any "unmarked crosswalk" at an intersection. In short, the law assumes that a crosswalk exists at any corner where two roads meet. If you get a ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian who is not in a marked crosswalk, it is very important to check the exact wording of your state's law on this point. For example, you'll learn that if there is a crosswalk on one side of a major intersection and no crosswalk on the other, pedestrians are required to use the marked crosswalk side. In this case, it is not a violation to cross in front of a pedestrian on the non-crosswalked side. (See How to Research Traffic Laws.)

To consider other ways to defend against this type of ticket, it will help to look at a real-life situation. Assume, as you approach a corner, a pedestrian begins to cross the street, walking slowly from your right to your left in a crosswalk. You see you have plenty of room to drive by safely after the pedestrian passes by. So you drive through the intersection while the pedestrian is still in the crosswalk. You are stopped and ticketed.

To contest the ticket, start by focusing on the exact words (legal elements) in your state's law. For example, in some states the law makes it clear that it is legal to cross through an intersection after a pedestrian has passed the path of your vehicle even if they are still in the crosswalk. But in other states, the pedestrian must be entirely off the street before you can proceed. If you are in a state that allows cars to proceed while pedestrians are still in the crosswalk, your defense should focus on proving that you gave the pedestrian plenty of room to pass by and then proceeded safely across the intersection. In states that absolutely prohibit you from moving across the intersection until the pedestrian has cleared the crosswalk, you must try to prove that you did wait for the pedestrian to leave the street and the officer just didn't see clearly.

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