Ask a trooper: right-of-way at an uncontrolled intersection

Question: This question is about the right-of-way at an uncontrolled intersection. What I want to get straight here is that I am NOT asking who has the right of way when vehicles arrive at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time, what I am asking is specifically — when the vehicles do NOT arrive at the same time, does the vehicle arriving first always have the right of way, even if one car may be making a turn in the intersection and the other is going straight?

I have always been taught that the vehicle that arrives FIRST, irregardless of who is turning and who is not, has the right of way. I have looked for the answer to this question for a long time, and not found it. Can you help? Thank you.

Answer: You have to understand that the traffic law in Minnesota does not give anyone the right of way. It says who has to yield the right of way. Not all driving circumstances or situations are covered specifically in the law, and there are also exceptions in many of our state statutes for various traffic laws. They are not always “cut and dried” nor are they as “black and white” as we want them to be (or as we wish they were).

In your scenario it is probably a reasonable assumption that someone arriving first at an uncontrolled intersection would get to go first, no matter which way they are going, but unfortunately, sometimes drivers have to yield the right of way anyway just to avoid a crash. Our laws were made so we can try to prevent crashes but we have other problems to contend with. Some of those problems are that drivers are not paying attention, some drivers are drunk or are on drugs, some don’t know the laws, and many other problems.

All I can tell you is what the law says and you will have to figure it out from there. In part, and according to M.S.S. 169.20, Subdivision 1, “When two vehicles enter an uncontrolled intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. When two vehicles enter an intersection controlled by stop signs or by blinking red traffic signals requiring drivers or vehicles from any direction to stop before proceeding, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. At an uncontrolled approach to a T-shaped intersection, the driver required to turn shall yield to the cross traffic. The driver of any vehicle traveling at an unlawful speed shall forfeit any right-of-way which the driver might otherwise have hereunder.”

For left-turn situations, M.S.S. 169.20 Subdivision 2 says, “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.” Hopefully you will see your answer here, and drivers everywhere will pay attention to their driving as we all work together to create a traffic safety culture in Minnesota.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow, Minnesota State Patrol, at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, Minn. 56501-2205. (Or reach him at jesse.grabow@state.mn.us)

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