When vehicles and traffic meet on the road, and there are no lights or signs, it is necessary to rely on right-of-way laws to guide movement. There are specific rules in Tennessee as to who has to yield right of way and if drivers fail to follow these rules damage to vehicles, motorists and pedestrians can result.
Summary of Tennessee’s right-of-way laws
The right-of-way laws in Tennessee can be summarized as follows:
You must yield the right of way to anyone crossing your path on foot or in a wheelchair.
If pedestrians are on your half of the roadway you must yield, but if they are far enough into the other half that they can cross safely, you may proceed.
You must yield whether the crosswalk is marked or unmarked.
You must yield to pedestrians when entering or exiting an alley, driveway or parking lot, and when crossing a sidewalk.
A blind person (identified by the use of a white cane, a white cane with a red tip, or a dog wearing an orange leash) always has the right of way.
You must yield to children who are playing in the road.
You must yield to oncoming and right-turning traffic when you are turning left.
In a roundabout, you must yield to traffic already in the circle.
When entering a main road from an alley, driveway, parking lot, or from the side of the road, you must yield to vehicles already occupying the road. When turning left, you must wait for oncoming traffic.
If there is a vehicle already in an intersection, you must yield to it even if you have a green light.
At a four-way stop, the vehicle that gets there first must be given the right of way. If two vehicles get to the intersection at the same time, the right of way must be given to the vehicle entering from the right.
You may not block an intersection. Even if the light is in your favor, if you could end up blocking opposing traffic should the light change, you may not proceed.
Emergency vehicles and transit buses
You must always give the right of way to an emergency vehicle when it is sounding its siren or air horn, and/or displaying a blue or red flashing light.
If you are already in the intersection, keep going and then pull over once you have cleared the intersection.
You must give the right of way to any bus or other public transit vehicle that has signaled, and is moving into the roadway from a designated stop.
Common misconceptions about Tennessee right-of-way laws
Not all states have laws requiring ordinary motorists to yield to public transit. In fact, Tennessee is one of the few, and sometimes motorists are confused as to their responsibilities. Although you have to give the right of way to a bus that is pulling away from a stop, you are not legally obligated to wait for buses that are dropping off or picking up passengers, in the same way as you would for a school bus. However, in the interests of safety, you should proceed with caution.
Penalties for failure to yield
Failure to yield right of way in Tennessee will earn you four demerit points on your driver’s license. Fines vary by jurisdiction, but if your failure to yield results in injury, the state will assess you a fine of $250 in addition to any local penalties. If your failure to yield results in death, the state-assessed penalty is $500.
For more information, refer to the Tennessee Comprehensive Driver License Manual Section B, Chapter 4, Pages 53-54.