Sharing the road is like sharing toys when you’re little. It won’t always seem fair, but there are overarching ideals dictating the best way to behave. Nowhere is this more evident than when roads intersect and form junctions. Sometimes you’ll need to wait for other vehicles to go first at junctions, and other times they’ll have to wait for you.
But it’s not usually just a random, take-turns-and-hope-for-the-best approach. So, how do you know who has priority? Here we’ll dig into into the right of way rules and show you how to apply them in real life scenarios.
Give way: to allow other vehicles to go past before you move onto a road.* You can also say that you must 'yield' to other vehicles. Right of way: the legal right to go first across a road, before other road users.* You can also say that you have 'priority' over other road users.
*Definitions according to the Cambridge Dictionary.
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You can give way by slowing right down as you approach the junction, so that you are able to stop if necessary. Check both ways before you enter the junction; if the road is clear, you can pick up speed again.
In the UK, there are a couple of main principles for working out who has right of way:
Both rules apply simultaneously, so there are a few factors to consider when you find yourself at a junction. Let’s see how they play out.
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A T-junction is where two roads meet and form a ‘T’ shape. One road will always be dominant, or more ‘major’, than the other. So, first you need to work out whether you’re driving along the main road or the minor road.
How to tell if you’re on the main or minor road
If your road is the one that continues without interruption, you’re driving along the main road. If your road is coming to an end, and you have to choose between turning left or right, then you’re on the minor road.
Remember, according to our two rules, you have priority over traffic joining your road. But if you want to turn right at the T-junction, you will have to give way to oncoming traffic.
You also need to look out for vehicles emerging from minor roads. If a car has just pulled out in front of you, they may take a bit of time to get up to speed. Although it’s your right of way, you also have a responsibility to drive carefully and attentively. Don’t go and drive up their boot is all we’re saying—even if you think they deserve it.
Here, you don’t have right of way at the junction. Whichever way you’re turning, you’ll have to wait for a gap in the traffic before you pull out. As you approach a T-junction, there will usually be a 'Give Way' or 'Stop' sign, as well as road markings. These should all remind you that you don’t have priority.
✓ You usually have right of way—but not if you’re turning right
✓ Look out for vehicles emerging from T-junctions on the left or right
✓ Be prepared to slow down if someone has just pulled out in front of you
✓ Give way to traffic on the main road
✓ Pull out when there’s a sufficient gap in traffic
✓ Quickly get your speed up to that of traffic travelling on the main road
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We know four-way intersections as crossroads in the UK. There are a few different types, but what they all have in common is that there’s the potential for traffic to be moving in four different directions all at once.
To avoid chaos, some bigger crossroads are controlled by traffic lights, which, providing you have a good grasp of the rules, means everyone knows where they stand. It’s your turn to go when you’ve got a green light.
Things get a little more complicated if you’re turning right. Even if you have a green light, you don’t have priority unless you’ve got a lit up filter arrow. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for a gap in oncoming traffic before you start your turn.
For less busy crossroads, there will usually be road markings and signs that tell you who has priority. Crossroads tend to consist of one major road, with two minor roads joining it from opposite directions.
How to tell if you’re on the main or minor road
You’ll know you’re on the main road if there aren’t any road markings or signs breaking up your route. You can think of it as though there are two T-junctions joining your road.
You’re on a minor road if there are road signs or markings forcing you to give way or stop. Most commonly you’ll see:
Vehicles travelling straight on along the main road, or turning left from the main road to a minor road have priority.
But, just like before, when turning right onto a minor road, you need to yield to oncoming traffic. The best way to do this safely, as well as performing your usual mirror checks and sticking your right indicator on, is to get yourself into a good road position. That way, your intentions are clear to other road users, and traffic behind may be able to undertake you while you wait for a suitable opportunity to turn.
When emerging from a minor road at a marked crossroads, you must always give way to traffic on the main road. Wait until there's enough space for you to pull out safely.
If you’re turning right onto, or going straight across a dual carriageway, wait until you can cross both lanes of traffic in one go—unless there is a central reservation that has room for the whole length of your car (Rule 173).
Once you’re on the roundabout, you don’t usually have to give way to anyone else. But, occasionally, there might be road markings and signs indicating otherwise—so keep your eyes peeled just in case.
|Be very careful when you consider the traffic light placement. Sometimes you’ll come across traffic lights on your approach to a roundabout, but not actually at the give way point itself. If that’s the case, you still need to give way before you enter the roundabout. Use road markings to help you if there are any.|
Rule 170 of the highway code lists other road users you need to look out for at junctions. As well as pedestrians, it specifically mentions:
Some of these are vulnerable due to their exposure, and others might take a different line to the one you expect. Lorries, for example, need more space to manoeuvre, so might use the whole width of the road when they’re turning.
At most junctions, you are only required to give way, and not stop completely. However, you need to be going slowly enough that you can stop if there are vehicles coming. Where there is a stop sign or a solid white line on the road, you must stop.At a closed junction, you will also need to stop, because you won’t be able to see very far ahead. You might need to employ the ‘creep and peep’ method, moving out very slowly until you can see whether your route is clear to make your turn.
You are allowed to wait in a box junction if you’re planning on turning right. Move into position and sit there until there’s a sufficient gap in oncoming traffic to make your turn.
Never assume that a driver will do what their indicators say they're going to do. If the car is far enough away that it’s safe for you to join its road, go ahead. Otherwise you should wait until the driver starts to turn. Either way, you need to watch out for anyone overtaking the vehicle on the junction.