Simple rule determines right of way
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist (Victoria) December 31, 2009
There’s a simple rule to follow when you wonder who has the right of way on the road: “The wanter waits.”
This rule is universal, convertible and reversible. It is the rule upon which all other right-of-way rules and laws are based. In essence, it is the only rule of driving worldwide because it combines the laws of physics with a good dose of common sense.
For instance, a vehicle making a left turn must yield to oncoming traffic because the left turner “wants” to use the opposing lane to complete the turn. The oncoming vehicle, travelling straight through the intersection, does not want to use any portion of the left-turning vehicle’s lane. The left turner must, by law, yield the right of way in this situation.
When each vehicle has equal regulation, meaning both drivers facing one another have a stop sign or no stop sign, a green light or any sign of equal regulation, the same “wanter waits” rule applies.
The “wanter waits” rule is reciprocal, as well. Drivers wanting an angle parking spot, for example, should yield to those vehicles wishing to back out of the parking stall.But if drivers want to leave that same angle parking spot, they must yield to through traffic on the street. This is too often misunderstood.
In its simplest application, the driver wants a green light and therefore waits for the red light to change to green. The driver with a stop sign yields to the one with no stop sign. We all yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk, marked or unmarked. We want the space and therefore wait. The same applies to cyclists and scooters.
The “wanter waits” rule is the simple application of both courtesy and the right of way.Once a learning driver is taught this simple rule, it is easy to figure out new situations. The driver wanting the traffic circle must wait for drivers already in the circle.
The rule that the driver on the right has the right of way only applies when drivers arrive at a point such as at a four-way stop at the same time. In this situation the driver on the right goes first.
The rule does not apply when all four cars arrive at a four-way stop at the same time. All the drivers are on somebody’s right in this situation. This is when eye-to-eye contact will usually solve the problem. There is no rule to handle this occurrence. In my experience, the driver with the Rolls Royce goes first while everyone else pauses to admire the car, or the driver in the worst-looking beater drives forward as everyone else backs off, fearing a collision.Drivers merging with traffic on our highways should wait for a good space before entering, but always remember the freeway traffic must make space for entering traffic at a merge; that is not so at a yield sign. The drivers on the freeway will usually change lanes to help the entering vehicle.
A driver’s politeness and knowledge shine through when this happens.
Traffic-control personnel, whether police or flag persons, always take precedence over signs or streetlights. Do as directed, regardless of the colour of the sign or light. Watch the police officer or flagger and be very conscious of distracted drivers at this time.
We owe a debt of gratitude to people who are empowered in these scheduled and unscheduled congested conditions. Remember they are there in a dangerous environment to help us, so help them by being alert. If traffic lights fail, it is mandatory to use the four-way stop rule.
In every driving experience, common sense and courtesy when applied will make you safer. When uncertain, the “wanter waits” rule will see you through.
Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School
on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.
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