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Misconceptions about right-of-way in Washington: Part 2

On the road, right-of-way is an important guide to safety. In the courtroom, it can also help an accident victim prove that the other driver is at fault for injuries and damage. Every driver in Washington should understand when to yield and when to proceed to avoid dangerous crashes.

In part one of this mini-series, we cleared some confusion about unregulated intersections and pedestrians. In part two, we will discuss intersections with broken light signals and sharing the road with special vehicles.

Washington traffic laws include instructions for drivers when a regulated intersection is broken. Drivers may have legal reason to believe that the light signals are broken if they show signs of malfunctioning, such as flashing yellow for all directions. In this case, drivers should treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Come to a complete stop and check for other vehicles before proceeding.

However, cyclists and motorcycle riders also have a unique rule for turning at light-regulated intersections. Because many of these intersections use sensors in the road to detect cars, the light might not change if the sensors do not detect the size or weight of these smaller vehicles. State law allows these motorists to safely turn if the light does not change after a complete light cycle. They still must yield to oncoming traffic, however.

Drivers must take note of certain service vehicles. Ambulances, firetrucks and police vehicles that are using sirens have the right-of-way in just about any circumstance. Drivers must slow down and move over to the right side of the road, allowing the emergency responder to quickly pass to the left. Transportation vehicles also hold priority as they re-enter the roadway after picking up passengers, for example. Drivers must particularly respect the path of school buses to keep children safe from harm.

If you are unsure about who has the right-of-way, it is better to stay cautious. Aggressive maneuvers risk crashes that can cause life-threatening damage.

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