Right of way and motor vehicle accidents

Imagine this scenario: a pedestrian is in the process of crossing a major road at the intersection. The signal changes before the pedestrian reaches the other side of the road. The light turns green for the cars waiting at the intersection. Should the cars wait until the pedestrian reaches the curb before entering the intersection? Yes.

Consider another scenario: a car wants to turn left at an intersection, and another car is traveling in a straight line in the oncoming direction. The car turns, and the oncoming car hits the passenger side of the turning car. Who has the right of way? (This is an actual situation reported by the Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/serious-car-crash-closes-innes-road-eastbound)

In both cases, a plaintiff has to show the defendant was negligent in order to seek damages for the injuries that he sustained. Therefore, establishing right of way can be a crucial aspect of any motor vehicle accident personal injury claim.


It is well established in law that pedestrians crossing the street have the right of way. When a pedestrian enters an intersection on a green light, he is entitled to finish crossing the street safely even though the lights may change. It is therefore the duty of the drivers to verify that the intersection is clear before accelerating. This is also applicable at unmarked crosswalks (any street intersection is deemed a crosswalk; even though there may not be any painted lines indicating it is so). However, the pedestrian has a duty to enter into the intersection only when it is safe to do so when he sees oncoming traffic.

A Right of way is not absolute

The right of way determined by law entitles a driver to rely on his right of way until it is clear that the vehicle that does not have the right of way is not permitting the right of way. If a collision occurs, the driver of the vehicle who did not have the right of way (i.e., the car turning left in the second scenario) and who did not allow it to the vehicle that had it must show that the vehicle with the right of way had the opportunity to avoid the accident. If this is proven, then the vehicle with the secondary right of way may have a case in negligence against the other driver (i.e. the vehicle turning left may prove that the other vehicle driving in a straight direction was negligent).

Establishing that the defendant was negligent because he did not respect the right of way or he did not avoid the accident when he was in a position to do so is essential to any personal injury claim for a motor vehicle accident.

Our Ottawa car accident lawyers can assist injury victims in their claims for compensation arising out of motor vehicle accidents.

If you or someone you care about was injured in a car accident, please contact one of our lawyers for a free consultation. We work on a no-fee-until-you-win basis. Call us at 613-315-4878.