Right-of-way laws are in place to provide people with the guidance they need to know how to react in the presence of other drivers or pedestrians. They determine who should have the right of way, and who should yield it in a variety of different driving scenarios.
No one should ever think that they automatically have the right of way. There are many scenarios that can occur in traffic, and the most important thing is to make sure that you don't cause an accident. That means that, at times, you are going to have to yield the right of way.
Summary of right-of-way laws in Maryland
The laws regarding the right of way in Maryland are simple and succinct.
In an intersection, you must give the right of way to the driver who gets there first. If you are unsure, yield the right of way to the other driver. If you both get to the intersection at the same time, the driver on the right had the right of way.
If you are turning left, then traffic that is facing you has the right of way.
Anyone who is already in the intersection has the right of way.
Pedestrians are required by law to obey traffic signals, and can be fined just the same as motorists if they fail to do so. However, because a driver of a motor vehicle is far less vulnerable, he or she should give the pedestrians the right of way, even if the pedestrian is in the wrong. Essentially, you may as well not worry about whether a pedestrian has a legal right to cross or not –all you have to do is make sure you don’t strike a pedestrian. Let law enforcement worry about penalizing pedestrians for jaywalking.
You should, of course, be particularly alert to blind pedestrians, who can be identified by white canes, guide dogs, or assistance from sighted people.
Police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles always have the right of way, assuming that they are using their sirens and flashing lights.
If an emergency vehicle is approaching, you are required by law to get out of the way. If you are in an intersection, proceed and then pull over on the other side. If you are not in an intersection, pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so.
Common misconceptions about the right-of-way laws in Maryland
Drivers always fear the accumulation of points on their license, and may panic over moving violations like failure to yield. The fact is, though, you will have to accumulate between 8 and 11 points before you are in danger of suspension, and failure to yield is only going to earn you 1 point. So pull back, regroup, and try to drive more responsibly – you are not in trouble just yet. You will be assessed a fine of $90, though.
For more information, consult the Maryland Driver's Manual Section III. B page 8-9, VII.A-B page 28.