Failing to yield the right-of-way was the number one cause of car accidents in Alabama in 2015, according to Alabama Department of Transportation statistics. (Alabama Department of Transportation 2015 Crash Facts, p. 20, available at drivesafealabama.org.)
There were 21,684 crashes with a primary cause of failing to yield, according to the police officers who reported the crash. Eighty-five of them were fatal.
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What is Failing to Yield the Right-of-Way?
It is the right of one car to go onto or across a road before another car in traffic. So, failing to yield the right-of-way means not allowing the car that is supposed to go first to actually go first. Drivers must be alert to traffic signals and signs that require yielding or stopping in deference to another driver.
Yielding the right-of-way is also necessary to protect pedestrians (i.e., walkers). All vehicles, even those facing green lights, must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk.
Obviously, this does mean that a car can legally hit someone who is not lawfully within the intersection or a crosswalk! Doing so would not be failing to yield the right-of-way—because the jaywalking pedestrian does not have the right-of-way—but it may be violating a driver’s duty to keep a lookout ahead of and take care to avoid hitting anything.
Failure-to-Yield Car Crash Statistics
Laws governing which driver has the right to go first are in place to protect people. Failing to yield the right-of-way often causes collisions—more than 20,000 times a year in Alabama alone. These crashes often feature a driver who is obeying traffic laws running into the driver who has failed to yield. Sometimes, it is not clear which driver is at fault. For example, consider merging onto a highway.
If a crash occurs between the merging vehicle (Car B, say) and a car on the highway (Car A), the determination of who was at fault is not a simple matter of red-light-versus-green-light. Did Car B have enough time and space to merge until Car A suddenly sped up or changed lanes at the last moment? Do the drivers of the two cars clearly remember, after the fact, exactly what happened?
When a driver fails to yield the right of way, it may be considered negligent. When our lawyers bring a case to trial, we will need to show that the other driver’s failure to yield caused the victim’s injuries and damages. In some cases, the failure to yield may constitute negligence per se. In most cases, the jury must decide who is at fault.
Deciding Fault in a Failure-to-Yield Case
Fault is not always cut-and-dried even in a “simpler” situation involving a traffic light. Drivers and passengers, especially in serious crashes, sometimes cannot remember the impact at all. If they do, they may not remember the details. Unfortunately, too, not everyone tells the truth.
Physical evidence such as skid marks, the positions of the vehicles when they come to a stop, images if there are traffic cameras nearby, and the details of the damage to the cars must be brought to bear on the question of fault.
The police accident report or crash report is very important to the determination of who was at fault, but it does not by itself determine who was at fault. The police officer who comes to the scene of the accident will often not be more than minimally trained in accident reconstruction. A private accident reconstruction expert may have to be retained to investigate the crash and testify about who was at fault.
At Fault Differences in Alabama
The question of who was at fault in causing the accident is even more important in Alabama than in most other states. This is because Alabama is one of only a handful of states that is what lawyers call a “pure contributory negligence state.”
Each state has its own laws regarding contributory or comparative negligence. In most states, fault is apportioned: If the driver of Car B is 75% at fault, the injured driver of Car A is 25% at fault, and Car A’s driver brings a claim and is determined to have $100,000 worth of lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, and other damages, then Car A’s driver will ultimately get $75,000—75% of $100,000.
In Alabama, though, Car A’s driver will get nothing. Even if Car A’s driver is only 1% at fault in causing the accident, he will get nothing. Any negligence by Car A’s driver that contributes to causing the crash, in other words, will preclude him from any compensation.
If Car A’s driver is to get any compensation, it is critically important that he not be found to have any fault at all. If you have any questions about contributory negligence, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm.
What Determines Which Car is Supposed to go First?
That depends on the situation, of course, and failure to yield accidents may happen in many different ways. Right-of-way is determined by the laws of each state, and most states have adopted variations on a set of statutes called the “Rules of the Road.” The following scenarios are based on Alabama law:
- At an intersection with stoplights, a car at a green light goes, and a car at a red light stays where it is. If Car B, with the red light, goes on through the intersection in front of Car A, which has a green light, Car B’s driver has failed to yield the right-of-way to Car A.
- Suppose Car B has a green light, and so do cars traveling the opposite direction. Car B is allowed to turn left, but its driver must let oncoming traffic to go through the intersection first. Only if the oncoming traffic is so far away that Car B can safely turn left without impeding the oncoming cars is it allowed to do so.
- At an intersection with stop signs in the north-south lanes and no traffic control devices in the east-west lanes, vehicles traveling east or west have precedence over those traveling north or south. If Car B is heading north and fails to stop at the intersection, Car B’s driver has failed to yield the right-of-way to cars going east and west.
- At an intersection with no traffic control devices in either direction, the car that arrives at the intersection first goes first. If two cars arrive at the same time, the car on the right goes first. If these rules are not followed, there is a failure to yield.
- When a driver is merging onto a highway, the cars already on the highway have the right-of-way. If Car B moves onto the highway when there is not enough time and space to do so, its driver has failed to yield.
- Similarly, a car entering a roundabout must yield to vehicles already in the roundabout.
- Cars facing flashing yellow traffic lights must yield to other traffic.
- A car pulling into a street from a private driveway must yield the right-of-way to vehicles already on the street. If Car B backs down a driveway into the street in front of Car A, this is a failure to yield.
Contact Us for Your Failure-to-Yield Car Accident Case
Our attorneys are very experienced in representing people who have been injured in failure-to-yield car accidents and sorting all these issues out. If you are in this situation, call us we will be happy to help.