Does Right of Way Determine Fault?

After a car accident, including accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles, and big trucks, determining who bears fault for the accident is crucial. When you determine who is at fault for the accident, you determine which party has the right to file a personal injury claim against the other party’s insurance, which can make a huge difference in coverage for medical bills and other financial losses related to the accident.

Does right of way determine fault? In some cases, yes. However, right of way might not offer the only determining factor.

What Is Right of Way?

Right of way determines which driver or individual has the first right to move through a specific road or another area. In many areas, pedestrians already in a crosswalk, for example, automatically have right of way. Right of way can also determine which vehicle has the right to move through an intersection, or how vehicles should merge into traffic. 

Essentially, “right of way” means that the driver has the first right to occupy or move through a specific space on the road. 

Does Right of Way Determine Fault?

In general, the driver that bears liability for an accident is the driver that violated traffic laws in some way. Often, that is the driver that did not have the right of way at the time of the accident. 

Take, for example, an intersection. A vehicle already in the intersection already has the right of way, even if a traffic light changes. Furthermore, if a driver does not have a stop sign at an intersection, but another vehicle is already in the intersection as that driver nears, the driver already in the intersection still has right of way. A driver who rushes into the middle of an intersection, despite the presence of another vehicle, would ignore that right of way and would likely be liable for the accident.

In other cases, the right of way might depend on the time someone approaches the intersection. If the intersection has stop signs, the driver who arrives at the intersection first will typically have the right of way. When two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver on the furthest right usually has the right to go first. When in doubt, however, yielding right of way can go a long way toward preventing a possible collision and keeping everyone safe. 

How Can Police Determine Who Has Right of Way?

In order to determine who had right of way at the time of the accident – and therefore which driver likely violated traffic laws – the police officer who responds to the scene will take a look at the scene of the accident, interview witnesses, and talk to the drivers involved. There are several ways an officer might determine the right of way.

The Accident Scene

Sometimes, a police officer can clearly see who should have had right of way at the time of the accident based on the way the scene looks, including the position of the two vehicles or the people involved in the accident. For example, a pedestrian who ended up hit by a car in the middle of an intersection likely had right of way due to the pedestrian’s position in the intersection: far enough that the driver likely sped through on top of the pedestrian, without giving the pedestrian time to get out of the way. If one driver obviously ran into the side of another vehicle, causing a line of traffic to back up, the driver who ran a red light may appear obvious from the positioning of the vehicles.

Witness Testimony

The police officer who responds to the scene of the accident may take testimony from witnesses to get a better idea of which driver had the right of way at the time of the accident, especially in cases where it does not appear obvious which driver had the right of way. Witness testimony can make it easier to determine which light was red or where drivers might have been positioned at the time of the accident.

Driver Confessions or Testimony

Sometimes, the driver that caused the accident may admit that they ignored the other driver’s right of way or that they did not realize that the other driver had right of way at the time of the accident. For example, a driver might admit to not really seeing another vehicle in the intersection or confess that they were speeding and ran through the intersection too fast. The driver’s testimony or admission of guilt can make it easier to determine who bears liability for the accident.

Accident Footage

Sometimes, the police officer that responds to the scene of the accident or a lawyer working for one of the drivers may want to review footage from the accident in order to establish liability or determine who actually had right of way at the time of the accident. If one of the drivers has a dash camera, that footage can prove extremely valuable. In some cases, you may be able to access traffic camera footage after the accident, which could also provide a fair look at who bore right of way.

What to Do If the Police Report Incorrectly Assigns Right of Way or Liability for the Accident

Always review the police report carefully as soon after the accident as possible. If you find inaccurate information on the police report, including an inaccurate assessment of liability, you may need to dispute the police report. An attorney can help you determine your next steps, from how to file a complaint with the local police department to how to establish how the accident took place and what steps you need to take to protect yourself. 

Contact Eltringham Law to Learn More About Your Rights After an Accident

Did you suffer injuries in a car accident? Are you struggling to prove who had the right of way, which driver violated the right of way, or how the accident occurred? Eltringham Law can help. Contact us today to learn more about your rights after a car accident.

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