California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

701. Definition of Right-of-Way

When the law requires a [driver/pedestrian] to “yield the right-of-way” to [another/a] [vehicle/pedestrian], this means that the [driver/pedestrian] must let the [other] [vehicle/pedestrian] go first.

Even if someone has the right-of-way, that person must use reasonable care to avoid an accident.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

This instruction should be given following a reading of the appropriate Vehicle Code section.

If the case involves a statutory right-of-way, the jury could also be given instructions on negligence per se, if applicable. Statutes concerning who has the right-of-way include:

Vehicle Code section 21800: Intersection Right of Way; Uncontrolled Intersection; Driver on “Terminating Highway”; Intersection Controlled by Stop Signs; Intersection with Inoperative Signals

Vehicle Code section 21801: Left-Turn Right-of-Way

Vehicle Code section 21802: Approaching Entrance to Intersection

Vehicle Code section 21803: Intersection Controlled by Yield Right-of-Way sign

Vehicle Code section 21804: Entry onto Highway

Vehicle Code section 21805: Equestrian Crossings

Vehicle Code section 21806: Authorized Emergency Vehicles

Sources and Authority

  • Vehicle Code section 525 provides: “ ‘Right-of-way’ is the privilege of the immediate use of the highway.” Courts have observed that “[r]ight of way rules have been described as simply establishing ‘a practical basis for necessary courtesy on the highway.’ ” (Eagar v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 116, 122 [107 Cal.Rptr. 819], internal citation omitted.)
  • Having the statutory right-of-way does not excuse the failure to use due care: “Of course, even if [defendant] had the right of way, he had a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid an accident, and the jury was so instructed.” (Eagar, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d. at p. 123, fn. 3, internal citation omitted.)
  • “When, as here, each motorist has acted reasonably and the pedestrian has failed to exercise due care for her own safety, the law of this state does not permit the technical violation of the pedestrian’s right of way statute to impose negligence on the motorists as a matter of law. The statute creates a preferential, but not absolute, right in favor of the pedestrian who is still under a duty to exercise ordinary care.” (Byrne v. City and County of San Francisco (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 731, 742 [170 Cal.Rptr. 302].)
  • “ ‘Even where a right of way is given by statute, if conditions so require it to avoid injury to others, the right of way must be yielded.’ ” (Bove v. Beckman (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 555, 563 [46 Cal.Rptr. 164], internal citation omitted.)
  • “Although such a driver may have the right-of-way, he is not absolved of the duty to exercise ordinary care; may not proceed blindly in disregard of an obvious danger; and must be watchful of the direction in which danger is most likely to be apprehended.” (Malone v. Perryman (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 227, 234 [37 Cal.Rptr. 864].)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 879, 880

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) § 4.15

2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 20, Motor Vehicles, § 20.68 (Matthew Bender)

8 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 82, Automobiles: Causes of Action, §§ 82.10, 82.68 (Matthew Bender)

2 California Civil Practice: Torts (Thomson West) § 25:26