​Do Motorcycles Have the Right of Way?

Motorcyclists have the right of way under some circumstances, but not always. Like motorists driving passenger vehicles, the specific circumstances dictate who has the right of way. Motorcyclists and motor vehicle drivers alike must obey the right-of-way rules, as violating them can cause a collision. In case of a motorcycle accident, contact a San Jose Motorcycle Accident Lawyer for legal assistance.

When drivers fail to give motorcyclists the right of way when appropriate, motorcyclists can suffer severe injuries.

Traffic Laws Dictate Who Has the Right of Way

Motorists and motorcyclists encounter an endless number of scenarios on the roadway. In any given situation, the right of way may vary. Some common right-of-way scenarios include:

Four-Way Stop Signs

When you encounter a four-way stop sign, the vehicle that arrives at the intersection first has the right of way.

However, it is not always easy to determine who reached the intersection first because:

  • Some motorists do not come to a complete stop at the sign, instead rolling through continuously
  • Vehicles approach stop signs at different speeds, making it difficult to determine who “reached” the sign first
  • Lines of backed-up vehicles at a four-way stop sign can be difficult to keep track of

If another motorist breaks the right-of-way rules at a four-way stop, it is best to put safety first. Allow the motorist to proceed before you even though they have acted negligently in disobeying the right of way.

Two-Way Stop Signs

At two-way stop signs, traffic traveling in two directions (East-West, for example) will face stop signs. Motorists traveling perpendicularly (North-South) will not have a stop sign. The motorists who do not encounter stop signs have the right of way. Therefore, motorists who arrive at the two-way stop must look both ways before proceeding through the intersection.

If two motorists reach the stop sign traveling in opposite directions, and one of them is turning, the motorist who reaches the intersection first has the right of way.

Yield Signs

When you encounter a yield sign, two lanes of traffic merge into one. The lane that is merging into the other will have a yield sign. Drivers in the lane without the yield sign have the right of way.

Yield signs require you to stop if there is incoming traffic but not if the lane you are merging into is clear. It is not illegal, therefore, to proceed through a yield sign without slowing down if conditions make it safe to do so.

Traffic Lights

Traffic lights can be confusing for inexperienced drivers and can become dangerous when motorists disobey right-of-way rules. More than half of all accidents happen at intersections.

Motorcyclists and other motorists must be aware that:

  • Pedestrians in crosswalks have the right of way
  • When there is a green light, those turning left must yield motorists who are proceeding straight through the intersection
  • Those turning right must yield to any traffic crossing the intersection
  • A red light means that you must not proceed through the intersection

Whether someone is on a motorcycle, driving a motor vehicle, or operating any other type of vehicle, they must understand and abide by the right of way at an intersection.

Turning Lanes Without Traffic Lights or Stop Signs

When you turn at a location without a stop sign or traffic light, oncoming traffic has the right of way. You must ensure that any lanes you are crossing are clear of traffic before you make the turn. Unfortunately, other drivers often misjudge how fast a motorcycle is going and turn in front of the motorcyclist.

These are just a few examples of rights of way. If you encounter another circumstance on the roadway and the right of way is in question, act with caution.

The FHWA has a comprehensive list of traffic signs and what they mean, some of which have implications for the right of way. You can consult this list to be ready for any signs and signals you may encounter on a public road. Other drivers should do the same, but they might not take the time to ensure the safety of others on the road.

The Consequences of Motorists and Motorcyclists Violating Rights of Way


Accidents are the most obvious consequences when motorists fail to honor the right of way. Written and unwritten rules of the road allow motorists and pedestrians to operate safely, and disobeying the right of way can throw this delicate balance into chaos.

Violating the right of way can lead to:

  • Head-on collisions
  • Side-impact collisions
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Collision where a motor vehicle slides under a large truck
  • Various other types of collisions

A motorist who violates others’ right of way can also cause motorcycle accidents. A motorcyclist may have to swerve suddenly to avoid a collision, and such sudden motions may cause them to lose control, strike a stationary object, fall from their motorcycle, or suffer other dangerous events.


Injuries That May Occur When Someone Violates Their Right of Way

Any accident has the potential to cause severe injuries, including:

  • Severe cuts
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Internal injuries
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Amputation

Motorcycle Accident Injuries can lead to many other problems. Liable parties should be responsible for the cost of your accident-related damages.

What Damages Can a Victim Recover if Someone Violated Their Right of Way and Caused a Collision?

An attorney can seek compensation for any losses caused by your accident, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Lost earning power
  • Vehicle repairs
  • Replacement of a totaled vehicle
  • Temporary transportation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Medications

Motorcyclists face a disproportionate risk of serious injury and death. When someone violates the right of way and strikes a motorcyclist, they may face liability for extensive medical costs or even the victim’s death.

What Should I Do if Someone Violated My Right of Way and Caused an Accident?

You can hire a motorcycle accident attorney to seek financial recovery for your accident. The attorney will review your collision and resulting damages. Your lawyer may then advise you on whether to pursue a lawsuit or insurance claim. With legal representation a lawyer will handle either process from start to finish.

Call a Motorcycle Accident Law Firm Today to Seek Compensation for Your Accident

Robert Bohn Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

Motorcycle Accident Lawyer, Robert Bohn

Do not wait to get legal help after a motorcycle accident. A motorcycle accident lawyer may have a limited time to file your case, and cannot start your lawsuit or insurance claim until you contact them. Call a San Jose Personal Accident Attorney in your area today for your free consultation.