What Exactly Does a Yield Sign Mean for the Driver?

The right-of-way concept is essential for all drivers operating vehicles on the road, but in many states, there’s a little bit of confusion about exactly what it means. Traffic laws in some states will always say that the Yield sign means right-of-way must be given up to other drivers and pedestrians, but they often don’t go much further than this, so it’s left up to the driver to interpret exactly what it means.

The most general interpretation of the Yield sign is that it means you must give up the legal right to go first on the road or through the intersection you’re facing. If you or some other driver on the road does not yield right-of-way, there’s the possibility that you may end up colliding with other cars, bikers, and possibly even pedestrians.

Here is an overview of which individual has the right-of-way in the most commonly occurring circumstances on the road:

  • Controlled intersections – this is an intersection that has either a traffic light or a stop sign directing traffic. This is the simplest scenario for determining who has right-of-way because the traffic lights or the stop signs will guide all motorists through the process. If you should arrive at a stop sign at the same time as another vehicle, you are obliged to yield the right-of-way to the car at your right.

  • Uncontrolled intersections – these are a little more confusing since there are no stop signs, traffic lights, or Yield signs to direct traffic. Generally speaking, you should yield the right-of-way to vehicles already in position at the intersection, and whoever arrives at the intersection first should be the first vehicle to go. Just like with stop sign behavior, you should always yield the right-of-way to the car at your right, when you’re not sure about the situation.

  • T intersections – these are intersections that occur when a dead-end road merges with a through street. If you’re driving on the road that is a dead-end, you are required to yield to all vehicles going by you from either the left or the right.

  • Multiple Lane intersections – this situation occurs when either a one or two-lane road intersects with a much larger highway or road. In situations like these, all drivers on the smaller road are obliged to yield to cars driving on the much larger highway. It’s good to be aware of the fact that these larger roads will generally have higher speed limits than smaller roads will so be on the alert for faster traffic.

  • Highway on/off ramps – it can often be very tricky getting onto a highway exit ramp or off from one, especially when there are a number of lanes on the road, or when traffic is exceptionally heavy. All drivers who are on an access ramp have to yield to vehicles that are currently traveling on that same exit ramp. It occasionally happens that traffic leaving an interstate road will merge into its own distinct lane. In this case, all-access ramp drivers need to yield right-of-way still, although vehicles coming onto the highway are required to yield to traffic coming up behind them.

Some other cases where you will be required to yield the right-of-way to other drivers:

  • After returning to the roadway when your car has been parked

  • For pedestrians walking with a white cane

  • When turning left, and you should be sure to look for pedestrians as well as vehicles

  • In situations where you’re driving on an unpaved road which joins with a paved road

  • At a yield sign

  • To people who are using a seeing-eye dog to guide them

  • At uncontrolled intersections when there are other vehicles already in position at the intersection

  • To pedestrians on a crosswalk

  • At T intersections, where you are required to yield to all vehicles on the through road in front of you.

How do yield signs vary globally?

Around the world, the Yield sign retains the same basic shape in virtually all countries, that being the shape of an inverted triangle. In most countries, there is also a red border around the edge of that triangle, which is intended to get the attention of all drivers. The big difference comes as you might expect in the wording, which is placed on the sign, and here is a sampling of what you might expect to see in other countries.

Australia has a sign accompanied by the words Give Way, all in capital letters, whereas Ireland simply posts the word Yield in capital letters, although the text is different in Irish-speaking areas. The New Zealand sign looks very much like the modern United States sign, with a red border trim and the word Yield printed in the middle. Some countries have no verbiage whatsoever printed in the middle, but simply display the inverted triangle with red border trim, accompanied by a yellow center.

These countries include Poland, Iceland, Greece, Sweden, Vietnam, and Finland. There are a great many countries that have adopted the inverted triangle and red border trim with either the words Yield or Give Way printed in the center. The recognized international standard for a Yield sign is the inverted triangle with red border trim and a white center.

Should you yield or stop?

While you’re always best off consulting your state’s traffic laws in order to be sure about the meaning of a Yield sign in your state, there are some rules of thumb that generally apply everywhere. There’s a major difference between a Stop sign and a Yield sign, in that a Stop sign is not subject to interpretation – you must come to a full stop every time you see one. Then you can proceed when it is safe to do so.

A Yield sign is much less concrete in its meaning, and it does not require you to stop unless you see that the situation warrants it. What you should always do with a Yield sign is slow down and check for the presence of other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. When there are other individuals at the same intersection with you, or when you’re attempting to merge onto another lane, that’s where the right-of-way concept comes into play.

You can determine who has the right-of-way in most situations by consulting the guidelines up above so that you will have an idea of what to do in practically all situations. If there is any scenario that is not covered in the descriptions above, you’re always better off to drive defensively and yield the right-of-way to others. That way there would be no chance of becoming involved in an accident, or of having another car appear out of nowhere to collide with you.

It is only necessary to stop when you see a Yield sign if you feel that the situation calls for it, and there may be several other vehicles that have right-of-way over you. For instance, if there are two or three other cars at an intersection, and they all arrived at basically the same time, that would probably be a situation where you should come to a stop, and let the other cars proceed. Ordinarily, however, it will be sufficient to slow down, assess the traffic situation, and proceed when it is safe to do so.

If you need access to traffic control equipment such as safety signs or barricades, contact the professionals at Worksafe Traffic Control for more details.