Right Of Way And Traffic Regulations

When asked, “When does a pedestrian have right of way?”, nine out of ten drivers reply on the lines, “When on a zebra crossing”; “If a traffic light is at green for them”; or, “When a policeman holds back the traffic”. The implied assumption is that, apart from such examples as were quoted, the pedestrian never has right of way.

How very wrong this is. If you give the matter thought, you will see that there is only one answer, “Always”.

Imagine driving along when a careless old man steps out into your path from behind a pillar-box. (If it's pelting rain, he'll probably dash out!) You cannot cut into the nearside because of the post-box; and in this case you cannot swerve out because of oncoming traffic.

What do you do? Unless you wish to find yourself in Court, you brake, with a view to stopping. Yes? Why? The pedestrian is not on a crossing. He is walking unconcernedly across a place where he has no right of way. Or has he? He most certainly has. You have given him right of way by virtue of the fact that you have stopped. He is not protected by his car. If you run him over, you probably won't hurt yourself, but you might kill him. That is why a pedestrian always has the right of way.

Right Of Way As Between One Vehicle And Another

With so many vehicles on the road, there have to be rules to determine which driver has right of way when their paths conflict. If failure to observe these rules results in an accident. the driver who had right of way will generally be held less to blame. The driver who did not have right of way will be wholly or mainly at fault This is one of the things to be established when resolving insurance claims. Drivers who, when in the wrong, cause accidents, can also find themselves in Court. You must therefore have a proper understanding of right of way.

I repeat the basic U.K. rule of the road. We drive on the left. Leaving aside junctions for the moment, a general principle of right of way which follows from this, is that a car which is driving forwards on the left (i.e. on its own side of the road) has priority. A car which is overtaking another one and is on the “wrong” side, has no right of way, although it is free to do so if the road is clear.

The concept applies in exactly the same way if the car you are passing is stationary. If you have to wait, do so on your own side, comfortably back from the car you are going to have to pass round, and keeping parallel to the centre line. This avoids getting cramped up immediately behind the parked vehicle and having to cross the centre line by a much greater amount than necessary, when you do eventually go. It also means you command the best view from which to judge the right time to go.

Narrow Lanes And "Single Track" Roads

Wherever a road is not wide enough for you and the fattest lorry to pass by each other, give and take is likely to be needed if you meet someone. Always wait for someone approaching, if you are in any doubt.

On country lanes, expect idiots at each blind corner. They whizz, carefree, unable to stop. You must be slow. At a corner, walking speed may be the maximum safe - and I advise you to give a well-timed warning hoot at every tight bend where you cannot see. When you do meet someone, the first thing to do is to slow or stop. One or other of you may then have to reverse before either can get through. The normal rule of the road is to give precedence to the driver going uphill: the downhill-facing person reverses. But use common sense. If you are going uphill and have just passed a suitable place to pull into, it might be more sensible for you to back down. Usually one party stops as close to his left edge as possible whilst the other squeezes by. If a passing place has been provided, you dip into it, or wait opposite it, as appropriate. My advice to the “L” is always to let the other fellow do the squeezing past bit. At least if you are stopped, a scrape is less likely to be judged your fault!

Incidentally, never park in a single track road passing place; that would be obstruction. People do it!

Narrow town streets with parking both sides are often just like single track roads. People use spaces between the parking as passing places and the same commonsense you would expect on a single track road.

"Give-Way" And "Stop" Signs

A “Give-way” or a “Stop” sign against you indicates that the road you are approaching is a major road, a more important road than the one you are on. Traffic on that major road has right of way. If you pull out on to the major road, forcing someone to swerve, or slow down, or causing an accident, you are in the wrong.

Every driver must stop at a“ Stop” sign, BYLAW, regardless of whether the way is clear. You can go on immediately if there is no traffic, but you must make that stop first. “Stop” signs are rare, and only placed at junctions which are extremely dangerous. Stop when your front bumper reaches the solid line across the end of the road. Don't be fooled if a driver in front of you ignores the rules. Stop. You can lose your license if you don't. Your examiner must fail you if you break a law.

At a junction with double broken “Give-Way” lines across the end of your road against you, you must still allow right of way to the major road traffic. You need not stop if the way is clear for you to join the major road but, again, you must not be the cause of any major-road driver having to slow or swerve, or of any accident.

Rights Along The Major Road

The “security” of having right of way along the major road is not sacrosanct. You cannot blast along expecting it to be clear. Crossing or turning traffic blocking it well before you arrive, or any other such blockage, however unpredictable, take precedence.

For example, if you smash into a herd of cows just beyond a blind bend, or ram into an accident that has already happened just over a hill brow, then by definition you will have been defying the Highway Code, and driving so fast you could not stop well within the distance you could see to be clear. You would be driving dangerously.

Note that a crossing/turning driver who has moved half-way out during a long gap from your direction (perhaps in despair of waiting instead for both directions to clear at once) and who has temporarily blanked off your lane before you arrive on the scene, is arguably within his or her rights. Although the Highway Code advises against any driver blocking any junction, you have no alternative in this event but to pull up, without anger, well short, so that the “offending” driver can best see no-one is trying to pass you, once he is able to complete his turn.

As an “L” you would not be expected to follow that driver's example, still less to be “pushy” about doing so, but there may be times you have to - with appropriate huge care; there can be danger from every direction. In the sense that major-road drivers tend to assume people won't do this sort of thing (an unrealistic assumption on today's crowded roads), there is always, in so doing, a degree of danger. In the event of a crash, a judge might well find against you (though in my view mistakenly, unless you gave someone no chance to stop), thus confirming right of way for those on the major road. The beak would probably have to do so anyway, were there to be any doubt about the distance over which the major-road driver should easily have been aware you were blocking the lane.

Traffic Lights

In busy places these change right of way alternately between one road and another. Each one becomes the major road in turn. You only have right of way through a traffic light when the light shows green for you. Similarly, where a policeman or traffic warden is controlling traffic at a junction, you only have right of way when the officer beckons or is holding all the crossing traffic at a stop. But it is your look-out! Not that of the officer. Even if beckoned forward (or at a green light), you are still obliged to look out for pedestrians and stray vehicles. You cannot run people down, no matter how “wrong” they might be.

If when you are free to go forward at traffic-light or police-controlled junctions, you are also turning (right or left), notice that pedestrians crossing the neck of the road you are to enter, will be correct to expect to be able to do so without hindrance. Be prepared to wait for them. You dare not risk hitting anybody in any event, but here, right of way changes immediately you begin to turn. Whereas the green light, or the policeman's instructions, remain in the pedestrian's favor, they are now no longer in yours.

Box Junctions

Because of traffic congestion, many traffic lights and other junctions now have criss-cross yellow lines painted across the entire area. The concept (and the rule) is that you hold back from entering the criss-crossed part (even if a green light shows for you) until you can see space for you beyond it. The only exception, for which you may enter the painted area and allow yourself to have to stop within it, is if you are turning right and will only have to wait in there because of oncoming vehicles to which you must give way.

If someone fails to follow these rules and blocks you when you could have been going, or when lights change in your favor, the existence of the rules does not give you any greater right of way - annoying as it is! It would be wonderful if ALL drivers treated ALL junctions on the box junction basis. And if they did so, not just where major roads meet, but equally when they were in a queue on a major road and adjacent to any side turning. Is it too much to hope for such a utopian virtue to become universal within our driving lifespan?!

Zebra Crossings

Sometimes these crossings are additionally controlled by a policeman, traffic warden or “lollipop” person. In that case you must obey the controller's directions. But remember it will be your look-out should the controller make a mistake and beckon you into danger.

On uncontrolled zebra crossings, the moment a pedestrian places a foot on the crossing (or moves a pram out, etc.) YOU MUST STOP, BY LAW. Only if you could prove stopping would have caused an accident would you have much chance in Court if you had been reported going through. If you hit a pedestrian, you would then have, I guess, no chance!

If a pedestrian is standing on the curb or in the centre island of a zebra crossing, then you do not in law have to stop. But you must be ready to stop in case that person steps out suddenly. It is more courteous, and very often more sensible to stop anyway and let him or her cross.

Always try to stop gently and several meters short of the zebra lines themselves. There is a broken “official” give-way line about one meter short, but I believe it is better not to go right up to that mark. My way, gives pedestrians peace of mind and a better chance for them to spot those loony law-breakers who try to shoot past you. (Motorcyclists frequently do it!) Use your handbrake and come out of gear. As soon as the last pedestrian clears you can go. Leave a reasonable time after that person has passed so as not to frighten anyone. Only then take 1st gear; this removes any risk of endangering a pedestrian through an inadvertent lurch forward.

For the protection of pedestrians, stringent rules exist to prevent overtaking on the approach to zebra crossings. Zigzag white lines are marked alongside the curb and in the centre of the road both before, and after the crossing. IT IS ILLEGAL to overtake the leading vehicle (i.e. the one nearest to the crossing) once you are within the zigzag marked area. You may not overtake either on its outside or its inside. It makes no difference whether it is stopping, has stopped, or has no need to. Nor does it matter whether or not there are pedestrians on, or around the crossing. The law on this is absolute.

If there are two lanes on the approach to the crossing, then you may stop alongside the leading vehicle. Once you have done so however, there seems no part of the rule to say you should not move ahead side by side, if, by then, the crossing has cleared; nor does there appear to be any requirement to wait if the original leading car is then held longer than you, or IS slow to get on when it can, though personally I would not try to be too clever. These are fine points, no doubt liable one day to be tested in Court.

In queuing conditions, leave zebras clear. Do not stop on them, making life awkward for walkers.

Pelican Crossings

These traffic-light-controlled crossings for pedestrians save undue delay for drivers by substituting flashing amber for the normal red plus amber phase of junction traffic lights. Treat the other phases as you would normal traffic lights, i.e. Red STOP! Green GO with care! Steady AMBER - STOP! unless you cannot do so safely.

The flashing AMBER stage which follows red allows you to go as soon as the crossing clears. You GIVE WAY to any pedestrians, but once the last one has passed, you move on even if green has yet to appear. The signal facing the pedestrians during this phase is a flashing on/off green man warning them not to start crossing as the lights are about to change; the bleep, bleep which informs blind people they may walk across safely also stops.

You should be alert, ready for stopping, if people are on foot near a pelican. Even if they have crossed already before steady amber and then red come on, you must still STOP. On dual carriageways you will often see drivers overtaking through green pelicans despite people standing waiting. The Highway Code warns you not to do this; hold back 'til after. For practical purposes the best drivers treat arriving at pelicans as if zigzag rules applied. (Many of them have zigzag lines painted in any case.) When first to have to stop, they never frighten pedestrians by rushing up to the stop line, or disturb walkers by impatient blipping of the accelerator whilst they are waiting. As at a zebra, they await the last biped before engaging 1st gear.


Generally, traffic coming from the right - that which is already on the roundabout - has right of way over traffic entering. Exceptions are rare but in a few places broken “give-way” lines across the roundabout lanes dictate otherwise. Apart from these, you are, therefore, invariably in the wrong if you collide with a vehicle that comes from your right on a roundabout.

Lane Changing

Keep in the middle of whichever lane you are in when there are several from which to choose. People also expect that you will STAY IN LANE, unless you signal an intended change.

A lane change to left or right demands a flashing indicator signal if anyone else could conceivably be affected. (Sometimes that will include people ahead as well as behind.) If you are moving lanes prior to making a turn, you will be wanting your flashing indicator anyway; it just needs to begin earlier, before the preparatory lane-change, and then remain on. If you are only changing lane, for example to pass round road works or because someone in front is going to turn right, a brief signal is all you need.

Part of continually watching far ahead will be spotting when you will require to swap lanes. It is this anticipation that gives you the chance to pick the right moment. It provides the time to watch your mirrors so that you can see your signal is “accepted” by those behind, before you move smoothly across.

Sometimes, when traffic in the next lane is heavy, you will find speeding up to move ahead of someone is the appropriate thing because you can see that's what he or she is expecting (but look out in front!); more usually you would slow a little and move in behind.

If your appropriate left or right flashing indicator is only for a lane change, not for a specific turn you are shortly going to make, remember to cancel it directly you are in the new lane.

Mirrors are not always quite enough with which to survey behind before lane changes, if traffic is heavy. You need to confirm, with a glance over the appropriate shoulder, that no one has been hidden close behind in a blind spot

In terms of right of way, you ought never to force anyone behind to have to slow or brake, still less swerve, in order to let you move over. However, whenever someone wants to come in front of you, let him, or her, in. There may be life-saving urgency unseen by you; and there is simple courtesy…

Sometimes, if you are too late for a lane change and there is no sign of whoever is behind giving you a late chance, you simply have to forget it; do whatever those in your present lane are doing, and sort yourself out later. Do not just come to an abrupt halt in the middle of a fast road!


It is illegal to reverse further than necessary. While reversing, you never have precedence. If anyone comes in your way, STOP. Let them pass; move forward if this will help. Remember, pedestrians can be pint-sized (i.e. children). Get out and look first if you have the slightest doubt that the ground is clear behind.

Traffic Regulations

These could fill an entire book with a mass of legal jargon. However, the major ones are all spelled out in the Highway Code. You must understand them, despite the gobbledygook which you will find even in there. Below, for your information, I give a general list of the main offences for which the law can clamp down upon you. The list must only be regarded as a guide, since Acts of Parliament are subject to frequent change; new offences are added, or old ones are re-defined. The latest position therefore always requires to be checked.

Causing death by driving dangerously.

Driving at dangerous speed or in a dangerous way, or without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other road users.

Obstruction by parking, or dangerous parking.

Parking without lights at night, other than where allowed.

Disobeying a policeman's, traffic warden's, or school crossing patrol's, signal, or a traffic light, or a mandatory sign.

Crossing a double white line where there is a continuous line on the side nearest your vehicle.

Driving or attempting to drive, or being in charge of, a motor vehicle, with more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of your blood, or, with more than 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of your breath, as measured by breathalyser. (Up to the 50 microgram level, you have the option of taking a blood or urine test to confirm or disprove a breath test.)

Driving under the influence of a drug.

Driving with uncorrected defective eyesight.

Driving an unlicensed or uninsured vehicle, or whilst you are disqualified.

Driving with faulty steering, or brakes, or with defective tires.

Driving with your flashing direction indicators out of order.

Driving without a horn; hooting while stationary unless in danger, or between 11:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. in built-up areas.

Failing to stop after an accident and give particulars to anyone reasonably requiring them.

Driving without a license, failing to sign your driving license in ink, or failing to notify your change of address to the authority.

Driving without “L” plates, or unaccompanied, before passing your Test.

Failing to produce your certificate of insurance and your vehicle M. O. T. certificate (if appropriate), when required, or, instead, to present them within seven days at any police station.

Opening a car door dangerously. (This includes danger to pedestrians…).

Breakdowns And "Warning Triangles"

These triangles are worth keeping in the car. In the event of any accident or breakdown obstructing the road, they should be placed well back (the legal minimum is 50 meters), and by the road edge, so as to warn further traffic from behind.

Always get off the road, if possible, should you break down. On a “fast” road you are in considerable danger. Push the car or drive it “on the starter” in 1st gear (not possible with automatic transmission). If you cannot get clear of the road, use the hazard warning four-way flashers, and at night, sidelights too; open the boot lid or tail door, and leave the back seat squab or some large object leaning up against the middle of the back bumper where it won't obscure your lights. This will alert traffic from behind that your car is stuck. Open the bonnet so that approaching traffic is warned too. Keep children and animals under control, and if there is any danger that your vehicle could be smashed into, take your passengers to a place of safety, off the road, away from the car.

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