Riddle me this, Seattle

When approaching an intersection (by car) where nobody has a stop or yield sign, and there is no traffic circle, who has the right of way?

I’ve asked this question many a time since living in Seattle, and nobody seems to have a definitive answer. Of course, nobody seems to be as bothered by it as I am either. But there has to be a definitive answer, right?

12 Comments so far

  1. litlnemo on November 11th, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

    The person who gets there first has the right-of-way. If it is a tie, the one on the right has the right of way.

    It’s in the WA State Driver’s Guide. Page 41.


  2. kayvaan on November 11th, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

    yep. it’s the driver on the right. basic driver’s ed. ;)


  3. manuelw on November 11th, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

    That is called an uncontrolled intersection.
    Somewhat related trivia: Jaywalking is legal if you are crossing the street between two uncontrolled intersections.


  4. heidi (heidiu) on November 12th, 2008 @ 6:50 am

    Thanks everybody – I should have just asked the Metblogs readers a long time ago. References AND trivia – awesome!

    In the state where I learned to drive, there is no such thing as an uncontrolled intersection, so if you don’t have a stop sign, you can assume you have the right of way. It’s taken some getting used to for me to learn to check the other side of the intersection to see if they have a stop sign, since my instinct is just to blow right through.


  5. wesa on November 12th, 2008 @ 10:12 am

    It’s the one on the right. Always. :)


  6. dawgson on November 12th, 2008 @ 10:52 am

    I also grew up in a state without uncontrolled intersections — I find them completely terrifying. I’m surprised they don’t cause more accidents, but I think they go a long way to explaining the very tentative, stop and start nature of many Seattle drivers.


  7. heidi (heidiu) on November 12th, 2008 @ 11:00 am

    Thank you Dawgson! That is what I was getting at – it’s not really about who has the right of way, it’s more about how do you know when you’re at an uncontrolled intersection and should slow down to check for cross-traffic? I’ve developed a sense for it over time, but it just doesn’t seem safe to me.


  8. mmbb on November 12th, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

    my mnemonic for remembering this traffic rule is to "(always yield to and) never hit somebody on the driver’s side of their car"


  9. alejo699 on November 12th, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

    I actually noticed the brightly striped poles on stopsigns long before I even realized Seattle had uncontrolled intersections. I’d been driving right through signless intersections for months before I noticed there were no stopsigns the other way either.


  10. matt0the0engineer on November 12th, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    The nice thing about turning circles is that it doesn’t really matter as much in case of a tie. Because the person to your right is going around to the right and so are you. It’s sort of a self-solving problem and really the only rule is that the first person to enter the circle has the right-of-way.

    Oh, and to turn left you have to go all the way around unless you’re in a large vehicle that can’t make it around the circle. Which may be one reason you don’t see many extended-cab trucks on Queen Anne.


  11. heidi (heidiu) on November 12th, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

    Oh yeah – I had heard that you could go left around roundabouts, so that’s good to know.

    I’ve gotten used to the roundabouts, which were also new to me when I moved here. But the uncontrolled intersections? Not so much. I wonder why they even exist? All I can think is that it saves $ on signage.


  12. stan on November 13th, 2008 @ 7:45 am

    Tangentially: Regarding pedestrians, if I remember the RCW correctly, any intersection counts as an "unmarked crosswalk".



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