Right-of-way laws exist for the protection of motorists and pedestrians. There are no winners in collisions between vehicles, or between vehicles and pedestrians. So, to reduce the likelihood of property damage, injuries and even death, Montana has common sense right-of-way regulations in place for situations where there are no traffic signals or signs.
Summary of Montana’s right-of-way laws
The right-of-way laws in Montana can be summarized as follows:
Pedestrians are bound by right-of-way laws, as are motorists.
Common sense suggests that in a car/pedestrian conflict, the pedestrian will be the loser. Therefore, you are required by law to yield right of way to a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is in violation of the right-of-way laws.
Pedestrians who are carrying a white cane, or accompanied by a guide dog, always have the legal right of way.
Pedestrians must cross at intersections and at crosswalks.
When entering or exiting an alley, driveway or parking lot, or crossing a sidewalk, you must yield right of way to pedestrians.
When entering a roundabout, you must yield to traffic that is already in the circle.
At unmarked intersections, you must yield to traffic approaching from the right.
At four-way stops, the driver who reaches the intersection first proceeds first.
If you are approaching a road from an alley, driveway, or roadside, you must yield to traffic that is already in the roadway.
You may not block intersections – even if the light is in your favor, if your entering the intersection could cause traffic coming from your right or left to be blocked if the light changes, you may not enter.
A yield sign indicates that you must yield the right of way to all other traffic.
Pedestrians are not permitted to leave the curb and simply walk into the path of an approaching vehicle, but you still must always yield the right of way to pedestrians.
You may turn right at a crosswalk provided that the pedestrian is already in the opposite portion of the road.
You may not pass a vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk.
Emergency vehicles that are sounding their sirens or air horns, and flashing blue or red lights always have the right of way.
If you are already in an intersection when an emergency vehicle approaches, do not stop – continue through the intersection, and then pull over.
Under Montana law, funeral processions have the right of way over all other vehicles except for emergency vehicles.
You may not enter an intersection if a funeral procession is proceeding, even if you have the green light.
Common misconceptions about Montana right-of-way laws
You may think you have the right of way under certain conditions. In fact, no one has the right of way until they are given it by another motorist. Additionally, there is nothing in the law that exempts you from the duty to drive safely.
Penalties for failure to yield
In Montana, failure to yield will result in two demerit points being assigned to your driver’s license. Fines vary from location to location, but they tend to be on the high side - $186 in Helena, for example.
For more information, consult the Montana Driver Manual, Chapter 4, pages 37-40.