Who Has the Right of Way in Florida?
As a Gainesville car accident lawyer, I’m often asked by clients about Florida’s “right of way” laws. In this article you will learn about the right of way laws in Florida, as detailed in the Florida Driver’s Handbook. The “Right-of-way” is the legal right of a pedestrian or vehicle to proceed with precedence over others in a particular situation or place. Right-of-way rules and laws explain who gets to go first in various traffic situations, and who must wait. Similar to Florida’s No Fault Law, the right of way regulations in the Sunshine state are different from some other states, and the distinctions are important for you to understand. An understanding of right-of-way rules is key to avoiding car accidents and for pedestrian safety. In fact, failure to cede the right of way, specifically at traffic lights, is the second leading cause of accidents in Florida, and it’s the cause of 7% of all fatal crashes nationally. It also frequently determines who is liable for the accident. We’ll explain right-of-way rules and how they operate in typical traffic situations like traffic lights, intersections and more.
Who has the Right of way in Florida?
So, who has the right-of-way in Florida?
The answer, technically speaking, is no one. The Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law governs the rules of traffic. In its various laws it covers many of the common situations you might encounter on the roads. However, it doesn’t say who has the right-of-way in those situations. Rather, it says who must yield the right-of-way in those situations. The difference may seem like an overly fine point of legal talk. But the reason the Florida laws are written this way is because there is an overarching law that is above the laws of all the various possible traffic scenarios. This overarching law says that everyone on the road, including cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians are legally required to do everything possible to avoid an accident.
For example, in a common traffic situation the law might say that the other driver is supposed to yield you the right-of-way. For instance, if you are the first car to a 4-way stop, then the other car should yield you the right-of-way. That means you get to go first. But the overarching law also says that you must be aware of your surroundings, and if something goes wrong you need to try to avoid a collision. You can’t just crash into another car or pedestrian when you have the right-of-way without any possibility that you too will be found to be at fault. The Florida legislature, who wrote the traffic laws, wants everyone on the road to be responsible at all times.
The Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law has another overarching law that governs interactions between vehicles and pedestrians. People often think that pedestrians always have the right-of-way. But that isn’t true. There are situations where pedestrians are supposed to yield the right-of-way to vehicles. However, Florida Statutes Section 316.130(15) has an overarching rule of due care for vehicles. It says that vehicles must exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or human-powered vehicle. This rule basically states that vehicle drivers need to exercise caution around pedestrians and try to avoid hitting them, even if the pedestrian is breaking the right-of-way rules.
When Must I Legally Yield the Right of Way in Florida?
Florida is home to the most dangerous highways in America, with just over 1,000 vehicle accident crashes in Florida each and every day.
So, who has the right-of-way in various common traffic situations? The answer is that it depends. There are many traffic rules of right-of-way that combine at any given time. We’ll go over some of the most important rules of right-of-way now. We might sometimes say that one vehicle has the right-of-way in a given situation. This is just a shorthand way of speaking. Remember, in Florida, no one technically has the right-of-way. Rather, in those situations the other people are supposed to yield the right-of-way.
Signs and Crosswalks
There are many signs and signals used on the roads that tell you what to do in various places. These signals include the rules about what various lines and markings on the roadway mean. For example, combinations of white and yellow lines, both solid and dashed, having different meanings for what vehicles need to do in a particular situation. There are also numerous signs that can be posted along the road to tell you what to do or inform you about certain road conditions. The best place to learn about the meaning of all these signs and signals is the Florida Driver’s Handbook. It has pictures and straightforward explanations.
One crucial thing to be aware of are Florida’s crosswalk and pedestrian laws. Crosswalks are meant for pedestrians to crossroads. Sometimes these crosswalks are in the middle of a roadway, far from an intersection. They are marked with solid white lines and sometimes filled with white diagonal or perpendicular lines. Vehicles must stop and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and bikes that are in the crosswalk or about to enter the crosswalk. If another car is stopped at a crosswalk, and you are approaching it from behind, you must stop, even if you don’t immediately see a pedestrian crossing. Only after you are sure there is no pedestrian crossing are you allowed to proceed.
Traffic lights are present at most major intersections and many smaller intersections. Red lights mean you should come to full stop at the stop line. Don’t go until the light turns green. Also, you shouldn’t block the pedestrian crossings. In Florida, you can make a right turn on red unless there’s a sign that says “no turn on red.” But first you must come to a complete stop at the stop line. Then check to make sure there aren’t any oncoming vehicles, pedestrians or bikes. If the way is clear, you can turn right on the red light. If you’re on a one-way street that is crossed by another one-way street going left, you can make a left turn on red. When making turns on red, you always must be in the far lane closest to the street you’re turning on.
If the light is yellow, it’s a warning that the light will soon turn red. You should stop before the intersection if you can do so safely. Entering an intersection on a “stale” yellow light is illegal. If any part of your car is still in the intersection when the light turns red, then you have run a red light.
If you have a green light you should proceed through the intersection. However, you still must yield to pedestrians or vehicles who are still in the intersection. Remember, you always have a duty to avoid collisions, even if you have the right-of-way in a particular situation. It can be very dangerous to time a light change at high speed. You don’t want to come through a light that just turned green at a high speed. What if someone is running the red light? You won’t have time to react and avoid a collision. Running a red light is the most dangerous common traffic violation. We see many serious injuries because of people running red lights.
The turn arrows at intersections have the same basic meaning of standard red, yellow and green lights. A green arrow means that your turn has the right-of-way. A red arrow means you should not turn. A yellow arrow means the turn arrow will soon turn red. A flashing yellow arrow can be confusing. If you see a flashing yellow arrow it means you can turn only if there is no oncoming traffic. If the arrow is flashing yellow, that means the traffic coming straight from the other side has a green light. So, you must yield the right-of-way to them before you turn.
Intersections with stop or yield signs are a place where accidents often occur. When you get to an intersection you must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle already in the intersection and to any pedestrians. Move forward only when the road is clear.
If you have a yield sign, you must slow down and yield the right-of-way to vehicles crossing your path. If the way is clear, you can proceed along your route.
If you see a stop sign, you must come to a complete stop at the stop line marked on the pavement. If there is no pavement marking, then you must stop before you enter the intersection. The rules for who goes first at stop signs are somewhat complicated.
At a 4-way stop sign intersection, the main rule is that the car who came to a stop first, goes first. But what happens if two cars arrive at the intersection and stop at the same time? In that case, if the cars are next to each other, the car to the right goes first and the other car yields the right-of-way. If the cars are straight ahead of each other, the rules are more complicated. In that situation it’s very important to signal. If both cars are going straight, they can both proceed. If both cars are turning to their respective right or left, then they can also proceed. In those situations, they will be turning away from each other. However, if one car wants to turn left and the other car wants to go straight, then the car going straight has the right of way. The other car must yield to it. Finally, if one of the cars intends to turn right and the other intends to turn left, then they are wanting to go into the same lane. In this case, the car turning right has the right-of-way.
At a 2-way stop, you must yield the right-of-way to those who don’t have a stop sign. If two cars come to the 2-way stop opposite each other, then they should follow the rules we just described for cars opposite each other at a 4-way stop.
An open intersection is one without any signs or signals. When you encounter an open intersection, you must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle already in the intersection or to any pedestrian. If you want to make a left turn, you must yield to oncoming traffic that is going straight. If the road you’re on is a more minor road than the one you’re crossing, then you must yield the right-of-way to vehicles on the major road. For example, if you’re on a secondary road that intersects a state road, then you must yield. If you’re on an unpaved road that intersects a paved road, you must yield. When none of these other rules apply, then if two cars are entering an open intersection at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.
Roundabouts are circular intersections without any traffic signals. All traffic must travel counterclockwise around the circle. This means you will turn right to enter the roundabout. You must yield to any vehicle already in the roundabout. You may not change lanes or stop in a roundabout. If the roundabout has multiple lanes, this means that you should position yourself in the correct lane before entering the roundabout. Once inside the roundabout, you must not change lanes as this is dangerous.
One tricky kind of intersection you might encounter is a roundabout with a 4-way yield sign. As with all yield signs, the most important rule is to slow down and proceed with caution, yielding the right-of-way to any vehicles already in the intersection. In fact, if there is any doubt as to the safety of proceeding, one should come to a stop at a yield sign. When two cars come to a yield sign at the same time at an intersection, the car on the right has the right-of-way, just like with a 4-way stop. But, just like with a 4-way stop, if one car reaches the intersection first, even if just by a little bit, the other car must yield – even the other car to the right.
If you’re trying to enter a road from a driveway, alley, or the side of the road, then you must yield to vehicles already on the road, including pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk you’re crossing.
On the Highway
On Florida highways with multiple lanes you can pass another vehicle on the right or on the left, provided you do so in a safe manner in a proper lane. You must signal before changing lanes. You must signal before merging into a lane in front of another car and must leave adequate space so as not to impede that car.
Passing on two-lane roads is much more dangerous. There are a variety of rules to follow when passing on a two-lane road. For instance, you may not cross solid lines to pass in this way. When you pass another car on a two-lane road, you must signal before passing and before merging back in. You also should alert the other driver to your intent to pass by flashing your lights or tapping your horn. You also must time your pass so that you don’t come within 200 feet of any oncoming traffic.
When merging onto a highway you should turn on your signal to show your intent to merge. You should adjust your speed on the straight part of the on-ramp so that you can merge into the traffic speed safely. You must yield the right-of-way to vehicles already on the highway. When exiting a highway, enter the exit lane and use your signal to show your intent to exit. Don’t make last minute moves into exit lanes. Always be sure the way is clear before changing lanes.
Florida has something known as the “Move Over Law.” This law requires you to do certain things when approaching stopped law enforcement, emergency, sanitation, utility, or towing vehicles. If you see one of these kinds of vehicles stopped by the side of the road you must do the following:
- If you are travelling on a road with two or more lanes in your direction, move over one lane to the left so that the lane closest to the emergency vehicles is clear when you pass
- If there is no lane you can move into on the left, or if it is unsafe to move into it, then you must slow down to a speed that is 20 mph less than the posted speed limit. If the posted speed limit is less than 25 mph, then you must slow down to 5 mph.
The purpose of the move over law is to protect the emergency personnel and you while you pass them.
Sharing the Road
Florida’s right-of-way laws are essential so we can all share the road in a safe and efficient way.
Bicyclists are legally defined as a vehicle in Florida and have all the privileges, rights, and responsibilities of a motor vehicle on the roads. But bicyclists can also choose to use sidewalks and crosswalks. When a bicycle is on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk, vehicles must treat them as pedestrians.
If you’re in a vehicle and you encounter a bicyclist using the roadway or bike lane that is part of the road, it’s important that you treat them with caution and maintain a safe distance. You must yield to bike’s travelling in a bike lane. When passing a bike on a two-lane road, treat them like a slow-moving vehicle. You are not allowed to pass a bike and then immediately turn right in front of it if doing so will endanger the bicyclist or force them to slow down.
Make sure you check for fast-moving bikes on sidewalks before turning right on red or when pulling through a sidewalk to get a better view of the road. Since bicyclists have the right to use sidewalks, you would be at fault for hitting them in these situations.
Pedestrians are the most vulnerable people on the road. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle or bike is likely to have serious injuries. For that reason, Florida law has strong protections for pedestrians. In many situations, but not all, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Even in situations where the pedestrian doesn’t have the right-of-way, like jaywalking, vehicles have an overarching duty to be careful and not endanger the pedestrian. On another page we go into detail on all the specific right-of-way rules pertaining to pedestrians.
The main right-of-way rules that affect pedestrians all center around pedestrians crossing roads. In general, whenever there is a marked crosswalk on the pavement, vehicles should yield the right-of-way to pedestrians to cross the road. At 4-way stop intersections pedestrians also have the right-of-way to cross, even if there is no marking on the pavement. At intersections with pedestrian traffic signals, pedestrians must obey those signals. Finally, if there are no nearby marked crosswalks or intersections, pedestrians may cross the road. However, they must yield the right-of-way to any vehicles.
Ambulances and Other Emergency Vehicles
Vehicles and pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to law enforcement, fire and other emergency vehicles using flashing lights or sirens. You must pull over to the closest edge of the roadway immediately and stay stopped while the emergency vehicle passes you.
When approaching a blind or visually impaired person you must come to a complete stop and yield the right-of-way.
When approaching a disabled person or children you must also come to a complete stop and yield the right-of-way.
If a school bus displays a stop signal and you’re moving in the same direction as the bus, you must come to a complete stop and remain stopped until the signal is withdrawn, and all children are away from the road.
If you’re travelling in the opposite direction of the bus, then you must also come to a stop unless there is a raised barrier or unpaved median at least 5 feet wide in the road.
When children or school crossing guards are in a crosswalk, you must yield to them. Come to a stop and do not enter the crosswalk until all children and crossing guards are clear of the road.
You must yield to buses who are signaling to re-enter the roadway from a designated pullout bay.
You must yield the right-of-way to funeral processions. Once the lead vehicle has entered the intersection, all the trailing vehicles have the right-of-way to enter the intersection, regardless of what the traffic signals are saying. The trailing vehicle should have their headlights or hazard lights on to show they are part of the procession.
Failure to Yield Right of Way in Florida: What Happens
Without an accident
If you fail to yield the right-of-way in traffic in a situation where the law says you should yield the right-of-way, then you may be cited by a police officer. This can result in a fine and points on your license. The right-of-way laws are essential parts of the traffic laws. When drivers and pedestrians obey these laws, the roads are much safer.
With an Accident
When a traffic accident occurs, it’s usually because someone failed to yield the right-of-way in the proper manner. The issue of liability, or fault for the accident, will depend a lot on who improperly failed to yield the right-of-way in the situation. If everyone else was following the rules and you failed to yield the right-of-way when you were supposed to, and this led to an accident, then you will most likely be found to be at fault in the collision. Here are some examples of how right-of-way rules affect the issue of fault and liability:
- A pedestrian enters the road abruptly, not at a marked crosswalk or intersection, and is struck by a vehicle travelling at the posted speed limit. Here, the pedestrian will probably be found to be largely at fault and liable for his own injuries. A pedestrian has the right-of-way to cross at marked crosswalks and intersections, but not to just cross anywhere on a street without warning. However, vehicles also have a duty of care to watch out for pedestrians and avoid hitting them. Depending on the facts, the driver could be found partially at fault if they were aware of the pedestrian at the side of the road and did nothing to avoid hitting him.
- Two cars come to a 4-way stop at the same time, at opposite sides of the intersection. One car signals a left turn and the other doesn’t signal at all. Both cars proceed and collide as the first car turns into the path of the second car. Here, the car going straight has the right-of-way and the turning car should have let it go first. The turning car has the most fault here. However, both cars have a duty to avoid a collision, so the car going straight may have some liability if it could have avoided the collision but didn’t.
- A bicycle is riding in the bike lane at the side of the road. A car passes the bicycle and then immediately slows down to make a right turn. The bike doesn’t have time to slow down enough and hits the car that has turned in front of it. Here, the car has not yielded the right-of-way properly to the bike and is at fault. The bike was in front of the car and there wasn’t enough space for the car to pass and turn without hindering the path of the bike. Again, the bicyclist’s actions will also be looked at to see if he could have avoided the crash by being more careful.
Remember, even if you have the right-of-way in a situation under Florida law, you’re still required to do everything possible to avoid an accident.
What to do if you’ve been injured by someone who failed to give you the right-of-way
If you get injured in a traffic accident because someone else failed to properly yield you the right-of-way, then you will have a strong case to recover damages, and can refer to our guide about what to do after a car accident that’s not your fault
Make sure you notify the police at the scene. Tell the police officer what happened. Hopefully they will cite the other person for a traffic infraction for their failure to yield the right-of-way. Make sure to get treatment for your injuries. Then speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to protect your claim for damages. Remember, don’t make statements to the insurance companies before consulting with an attorney.