Public Right of Way Law: Navigating Right of Way Accidents

pedestrian right of way law

What is public right of way law? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines right of way as “a precedence in passing accorded to one vehicle over another by custom, decision, or statute.” 

Colorado Revised Statute section 102, states: “[r]ight-of-way” means the right of one vehicle operator or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle operator or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed, and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other. C.R.S. 42-1-102(82).

Essentially, public right of way law refers to the legal rules all drivers must follow within any given region. These laws typically keep drivers safe and maintain peaceful roadways for other vehicles and pedestrians. When an accident occurs on a roadway, right of way law will likely come into play to determine fault.

How are Public Right of Way Laws Determined?

In Colorado, the “rules of the road” depend on where a given roadway is located. Generally, roadways are governed by local municipalities, i.e. cities and counties. Cities have the power under the state constitution to regulate vehicular traffic upon their streets. Municipalities are encouraged to adopt the Model Traffic Code for Colorado which is codified at C.R.S. 42-4-101, et seq. While municipalities generally have the option of adopting the State’s Model Traffic Code, municipalities are not allowed to adopt rules or regulations which conflict with the Model Traffic Code on streets designated “state highways.” 

Assuming a roadway is not a state highway, any conflict between a state traffic statute and a municipality’s ordinance is resolved in favor of the local ordinance. See City and County of Denver v. Henry, 38 P.2d 895 (Colo.1934). 

bus public right of way law

Who’s at Fault?

Determining who’s at fault for a motor vehicle collision is not always a straightforward analysis. If someone ran a red light and their vehicle collided with yours, the other party is clearly at fault. Sometimes, however, determining which party is at fault requires a more careful analysis of Colorado’s public right of way laws. This more in-depth work is best handled by a Denver personal injury attorney

While it would be difficult to summarize the myriad of different right of ways which could apply to any given circumstance, below is a summary of some of common public right of way law questions: 

  1. Who Has Right of Way at an Intersection?
  2. Who Has Right of Way When One Vehicle is Turning Left?
  3. Who Has Right of Way When a Vehicle Enters a Roadway?
  4. Who Has the Right of Way, a Pedestrian, or a Vehicle?
  5. Who Has the Right of Way on a Mountain Road?
  6. Who Has the Right of Way Near Construction?
  7. Who Has the Right of Way in a Crosswalk?
  8. Who Has the Right of Way, a Bus, or a Vehicle?

1. At an Intersection

When two vehicles approach an intersection at the same time, the driver on the right side has the right of way. Said another way, the driver on the left yields to the driver on the right. See CR.S. §42-4-401.

2. When One Vehicle is Turning Left

If you are traveling straight along a roadway, you have the right of way vis-à-vis vehicles attempting to turn left in front of you. See C.R.S. §42-4-702.

3. When a Vehicle Enters the Roadway 

A driver traveling along a roadway has the right of way over any vehicles entering (heading into the roadway or backing into it) the roadway from parking lots, driveways, or private roads. See C.R.S. §42-4-704

4. Pedestrian or Vehicle?

A pedestrian within or about to enter upon a sidewalk has the right of way as to any vehicles about to cross a sidewalk to enter or leave a parking lot, driveway, or private road. See C.R.S. §42-4-710.

Pedestrians are required to obey traffic control signals designed for that purpose, i.e. crosswalk signals, etc. See C.R.S. §42-4-801. When there are no traffic control signals or they are not working, a pedestrian within a crosswalk has the right of way and drivers approaching much yield. If a pedestrian crosses a roadway at any point other than a crosswalk, the pedestrian has to yield to the right of way of all vehicles on the roadway. C.R.S. §42-4-803. Unless a traffic control signal allows it, a pedestrian may not cross an intersection at a diagonal. 

Of course, a pedestrian or bicycle rider cannot suddenly enter into the path of a vehicle if doing so would create a “immediate hazard.” See C.R.S. §42-4-802. Further, if a vehicle has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross a roadway at an intersection or crosswalk, any vehicle approaching from behind the first vehicle must also yield. Id. 

5. On a Mountain Road

On narrow, steep mountain road, the driver going uphill has the right of way as to the driver going downhill. Meaning, the driver going downhill is required to get out of the vehicle’s way going uphill, unless its more practical for the other driver. See C.R.S. §42-4-711.

mountain road right of way law

6. Near Construction

Any construction or maintenance worker or vehicle in a designated work area has the right of way. As does any authorized service vehicle with its lights flashing. 

7. In a Crosswalk

A pedestrian who is properly in a crosswalk has the right of way over vehicular traffic. See CJI: 11:4; C.R.S. §§42-4-801-3; 42-4-805-8.

8. Bus or Vehicle?

Generally, if a bus is in front of you and has just stopped to let off passengers and is signaling, the bus has the right of way and vehicles must allow the bus to reenter the lane. See C.R.S. §42-4-713.

Reasonable Care Right of Way Law

It is important to remember, that even if a driver, pedestrian, or cyclist has the right of way, that person still must exercise reasonable care considering the existing conditions. Having the right of way is not a justification for failing to exercise reasonable judgment and care. See CJI 11:2; Denver Equipment Co. v. Newell, 169 P.2d 174 (Colo.1946). 

Talk to an Expert on Public Right of Way Law in Colorado

Navigating the intricacies of public right of way law can be challenging, luckily, those involved in an accident do not have to do it alone. If you’ve been injured due to no fault of your own, contact our leading Denver personal injury law firm, CO Trial Lawyers for a free case evaluation now. Call 303.390.0799 today to get started.