The facts of an auto accident are often disputed or open to interpretation.  Once an injured person or their attorney have investigated the auto accident, determination of fault is made in reference to rules of the road.

The analysis of fault for an auto accident is not always cut-and-dried. Violation of a rule of the road does not equate to “automatic” liability. Rather, violation of a rule of the road that causes an auto accident is merely evidence of negligence. The evidence can be refuted by other evidence and legal argument, depending on the facts and circumstances of the auto accident.

The rules of the road that might apply to an auto accident are too numerous to fully list and analyze here, but some common auto accident scenarios include:

  • When two vehicles simultaneously approach an uncontrolled intersection, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. RCW 46.61.180.
  • Vehicles intending to turn left within an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield to vehicles approaching from the opposite direction. RCW 46.61.185.
  • Vehicles facing stop or yield signs, or entering arterial highways, must yield the right-of-way to other traffic. RCW 46.61. 190, .195 and .200.
  • Vehicles entering highways from private roads or driveways must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the highway. RCW 46.61.205.
  • Drivers must also yield the right-of-way to authorized emergency vehicles, and to vehicles and pedestrians in highway construction or maintenance areas. RCW 46.61.210 and .215.
  • Every driver must give an appropriate signal before turning or moving right or left upon a roadway. RCW 46.61.305.
  • The driver of any vehicle must not make a U-turn unless such turn can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic. RCW 46.61.295.

Determination of who was the favored driver in an auto accident is an important factor in assigning liability.  Still, all rights-of-way are relative in that a duty to avoid an accident rests upon both drivers. Liability can be split between the favored driver and the disfavored driver. Nonetheless, the primary duty to avoid an accident falls upon the disfavored driver.[1]

A driver with the right-of-way must exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety, but

a favored driver may assume that disfavored drivers will yield the right of way until the favored driver becomes aware, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have become aware, that the right-of-way will not be yielded.[2]  A favored driver is entitled to a reaction time once it becomes apparent that the disfavored driver is not going to yield, and split-second computations of time and distance are insufficient to prove comparative fault for an auto accident.[3]


The care required of drivers will vary depending on the surrounding circumstances, such as weather, traffic, and road conditions.[4]


The “deception” doctrine defense may be available in an auto accident if a favored driver’s conduct has deceived a reasonably prudent disfavored driver into believing that he or she could proceed with a fair margin of safety.[5] For the deception doctrine to apply the alleged wrongful conduct must have actually deceived the disfavored driver.[6]


Sometimes drivers allege sudden failure of equipment, such as brakes. For brake failure to be a valid defense, the driver must prove that the brakes suddenly failed, and that the disfavored driver did not know, and had no reason to know, of the defective condition of the brakes.[7]


Liability is often not clear. Even when liability for a motor vehicle accident is clear, insurance companies frequently dispute the amount of damages a person injured in an auto accident is entitled to as compensation. It is best to seek a free personal injury case evaluation early.

[1] Sanchez v. Haddix, 95 Wn.2d 593,597,627 P.2d 1312 (1981); see RCW 46.61.180.

[2] Jones v. Widing, 7 Wn. App. 390, 392,499 P.2d 209 (1972); Massengale v. Svangren, 41 Wn.2d 758, 252 P.2d 317 (1953);

Maxwell v. Piper, 92 Wn. App. 471, 963 P.2d 941 (1998); Grobe v. Valley Garbage Service, 87 Wn.2d at 231; Robison v. Simard, 57 Wn.2d 850, 851, 360 P.2d 153 (1961).

[3] Jones v. Widing, 7 Wn. App. 390, 392,499 P.2d 209 (1972); Massengale v. Svangren, 41 Wn.2d 758, 252 P.2d 317 (1953).

[4] Ulve v. City of Raymond, 51 Wn.2d 241, 317 P.2d 908 (1957).

[5] Oliver v. Harvey, 31 Wn. App. 279, 282, 640 P.2d 1087, review denied, 97 Wn.2d 1020 (1982);

Hammel v. Rife, 37 Wn. App. 577, 582,682 P.2d 949, review denied, 102 Wn.2d 10 7 (1984); Bockstruck v. Jones, 60 Wn.2d 679,374 P.2d 996 (1962); Ward v. Zeugner, 64 Wn.2d 570, 573,392 P.2d 811 (1964).

[6] Tobias v. Rainwater, 71 W n.2d 845, 853, 431 P .2d 156 (1967).

[7] Witte v. Whitney, 37 Wn.2d 865, 226 P.2d 900 (1951).