Recently I was driving south on 12th Avenue and came to a stop at 2nd Street, which is a one-way street on the east side of town. I had the right of way, but a westbound driver was approaching on the one-way and showed no sign of slowing down.
Sure enough, that driver went right on through the intersection — in so doing, breaking the law. I made a right turn, as planned, and saw that the other car had pulled over at a house. I stopped, too, and we had cordial conversation. I said I had the right of way. The other driver said he thought he had it, too.
I’m not sure of the source of his confusion, but Havre drivers routinely ignore the rules of who has the right of way at uncontrolled intersections. Either people don’t know the rules or they chose to ignore them because so many other people do. People have even referred to this common transgression as “Havre driving.”
Why is this worth talking about? Most of our intersections have no stop signs, so it’s up to us to police ourselves. If you don’t know who is supposed to go first, accidents can — and do — happen. That could result in injury, and a high accident rate forces all of our car insurance premiums to go up.
I met recently with Have Police Department spokesman Ryan Pearson to go over the rules so that I could share them with you.
State law says that “when two or more vehicles enter or approach an intersection from different highways, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching from the right that are close enough to constitute an immediate hazard.”
The only exception is at a “T” intersection, where one road doesn’t cross the other but, rather, ends. In that case, the driver on the through street has the right of way.
Detective Pearson was kind enough to explain in greater detail. He wrote:
“Meaning if you are coming into a four-way intersection on opposite streets where there are no stop signs or lights, the vehicle on the left yields to all traffic on the right that would constitute an immediate hazard. If two vehicles were traveling on the same street, a vehicle wishing to turn left would yield to the vehicle that is driving straight through the intersection or making a right-hand turn.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re driving on a one-way street. You still have to yield to the vehicle on your right.
Pearson said Havre police are well aware of how often people violate the law on the city’s several one-way streets. Another problem area is 17th Street near Havre High School, Pearson said, where students usually don’t yield the right of way to cars on 6th and 7th avenues when they should.
I also asked Pearson about the rules for who goes first when an intersection has four stop signs, because there seems to be confusion about that too. The car that gets there first has first dibs, followed by the next car that pulled up to a stop sign, and on and on in that order of who got there first. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sitting longer, waiting your turn in line, than a driver on another street. The rule of who gets there first applies only to the car immediately at the stop sign.
Why don’t we know the rules or why don’t we follow them? Is it because it’s longstanding practice? How could we not know what we’re supposed to do?
What’s the solution? Here’s what I’d suggest: Driver’s education teachers could make it a point to emphasize the right of way rules to students.
I’d also be happy to see a police car parked in the 1200 Block of 2nd Street, ready to pull over any driver who blasts through the intersection without yielding to the driver on the right.
In fact, I’d bet that if the police department announced via radio station and newspaper that it would be stepping up enforcement, a lot of Havre drivers would immediately drop the Havre way and follow the rules of the road.
What do you think?
(Karen Datko lives in Havre.)